Board of trustee meetings haven’t been spared in these COVID-19 times, and more virtual meetings probably took place in 2020 than in-person ones. But, trustee meetings — where you can look at the person across from you in the eyes and notice when someone starts to tap his or her fingers nervously — will most likely remain the most common forum for influencers when we get back to the way we did business.
However, it’s never been a secret that many business deals, alliances and even treasonous actions have taken place away from the long, polished table.
“Are there deals between middle-aged white men that take place on golf courses? Absolutely,” says Michael Goldberg, an associate professor for Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management. “But, it’s evolving. There are other emerging ways all people can interact. Is it happening fast enough? No. But, it’s a work in progress. I think about activities like Cleveland Clinic’s VeloSano (a fundraising initiative to support cancer research) that I did a few years ago. It was amazing to me how many different kinds of people and influential people came out to support that bicycle, cause-based, fitness-based event.”
Andrew Brickman, principal and developer with Brickhaus Partners, agrees some deals are still solidified on the green, but not as much as
in years past.
“Since the tax laws were changed back in the 1980s, you can’t deduct private club membership anymore,” says Brickman. “Also, a number of golf courses are closing.”
The idea of playing golf together to sway opinion among movers and shakers is more symbolic now, agrees Umberto Fedeli, president and chief executive of The Fedeli Group. “The most important thing is having that opportunity for three or four hours together to build rapport. Sure, you can do it with golf, but also with walking and talking or exercising together. We use the dining room. We believe magic happens when you break bread together.”
Brian E. Hall, senior vice president, Greater Cleveland Partnership, says not to underestimate the influence religious institutions have in the region. That influence can be subtle or overt and affect political, economic, ethical and moral issues. Faith-based institutions that have representatives on Cleveland boards include: Catholic Charities, Church of the Covenant, Cleveland Friends Meeting (Quakers), Cleveland Hillel Foundation and the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. Also, Mt. Zion Congregational Church, Olivet Institutional Baptist Church, Pentecostal Church of Christ and University Circle United Methodist Church.
“Every Sunday, someone in a pulpit is trying to influence people,” says Hall.
David Gilbert, president and CEO, Destination Cleveland, and president and CEO, Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, acknowledges that influence also happens in places other than where someone is publicly recording or taking notes.
Gilbert says he is a “big believer in big problems being solved collaboratively.” That approach, says Gilbert, is more successful “than a program owned, run or managed by one entity, whether that is public, private or civic.” He’s optimistic that Cleveland is starting to embrace that cooperative attitude.
“COVID-19 aside, human interaction is very important. It’s hard to get something done, especially in a collaborative manner, without getting to know people. There are times when things don’t always get done in public forums, and side conversations and back room deals are important,” adds Gilbert, referring to casual encounters that are vital for further action. “Oftentimes, private conversations between trusted individuals or groups can help. But, if side conversations are the only way things get done, there is less of a chance that the outcome will be long lasting and effective for the community,” he cautions.