Commencement Call to Action

The following remarks were written and delivered by Isaac Kos-Read, Port of Los Angeles and Graduate, Leadership Southern California 2010 on July 27, 2010 at the LSC Graduation & Class Report. He was selected by his peers to summarize the LSC experience over the past year.


Good evening.

What an honor, a humbling honor,  that my fellow classmates have selected me to speak on our behalf.

Before I begin, I would like to express our collective appreciation, first to Kevin and his phenomenal Southern California Leadership Network team. Second, to Kimberly, Gary, and all of the Board Members of the Leadership Network, especially the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.

LA. needs more organizations like the Chamber that encourage us to think about this vast region as a whole, and what we can do as leaders to make it better. This region, with its nearly 18 million people, nearly half the population of the state of California, would be the fifth most populous state behind only Texas, New York, the other 53 California counties, and Florida. If it were its own nation, it would be the 16th largest economy in the world. We need more organizations like the LA Chamber that help us remember this significance.

But Gary, Kimberly, Kevin … unfortunately, I have some bad news. In preparing these remarks, I talked to my fellow classmates, read their testimonials, asked around and well … they’re not happy.

And no, it’s not because of the economy…though that has many people down.

It’s not because of some of our friends in government who left Sacramento without a budget and who pulled a water bond we desperately need from the November ballot after finally negotiating key compromises to get it on the ballot in the first place.

It’s not because of egregious actions of those in the private sector — like BP and others — that have led to a disaster for which we all will be paying a price for years to come.

And no, it’s not because the Lakers finally beat the Celtics this year.

It’s none of that! No, the reason my classmates and I are all bummed is because this program is over. What the heck are we going to do with our extra Friday each month!?!

No more Kevin to implore us to think about leadership. No more inspirational leaders to give us real world examples of how we can delve into solving this region’s problems, and no more fascinating discoveries about our region on topics some of us thought we thought we already knew.

Now we have to actually be leaders! Wasn’t it so much easier when we were just listening and learning?

But the good news is this … while one thing ends, another begins and that’s why they call graduation speeches, “commencement addresses.” The Leadership staff were kept calling this a report and I was thinking, “Oh no, that sounds like a book report,” and I hated those!

Even worse, my parents kept telling everyone that I was going to give a lecture!

So, sorry Kevin, not a report. Sorry mom and dad, not a lecture. Instead, I’m calling this a “commencement call to action.” And if we take a moment to reflect on all that we learned over this last 10 months, in this “crash course” in Southern California, it will be easy to understand why I think of this as a call to action.

We learned the language of leadership. What is a civic entrepreneur? How do you hone your leadership skills and apply them to the intractable problems society faces, in ways that are collaborative, inspirational, and, ultimately, effective.

We learned about how inter-connected the problems are that challenge our region. This was really a powerful and recurring theme throughout the program and the source of so many “aha” moments.

Who knew that the number one liability of the Metropolitan Water District isn’t drought and it isn’t earthquakes … but energy? Met spends over $200 million every year, about a tenth of its budget, on energy costs related to importing water into our region. Think about that the next time you turn on your faucet!

And we learned that Met’s second biggest liability — again to our surprise – is workforce development. As of right now, and projecting forward for the next five years, fully fifty to seventy percent of Met’s workforce is eligible for retirement…with benefits. Our colleagues at Metro echoed this same challenge.

Who among us is going to step up and tackle the immense challenges of energy and workforce development?

We learned about LA’s fashion industry – which I have to admit was a lot of fun – and came to understand that energy, environmental and workforce policies also have a tremendous impact on this industry, which employs thousands in the region. Who among us is going to help the fashion industry and others like it continue to thrive and create jobs?

We certainly did not just learn about the challenges of the fabulous fashion industry. We also learned about the daunting challenges faced by those who live just steps away from that industry, on the street, in some of the largest homeless populations in our country. And I have to say that it was really amazing to learn that one of our classmates, because of this program, has already been inspired to reach out and begin helping the homeless.

Looking out beyond LA, we learned how a former military base went from being a potential solution to our air traffic challenges to a great park – or at least a “great turnabout” – which took several elections to settle. But as they say, all politics are local and the folks in Orange Cunty now have the opportunity to create a major new civic asset for the entire region. I believe they can do it, and that some of us in this room will help make it happen.

We learned that thousands of people transit back and forth across our border with Mexico every day, that the border region is humming with business and cultural activity, and that our future is inextricably tied to our neighbor to the south. There are certainly lots of challenges ahead in this multicultural relationship, and we will all need to work together to get past those challenges and enjoy fully the fruits of our diversity.

Through our trip to the State Capitol with Acess Sacramento, we learned that our problems can’t all be solved by toiling in our own backyard…that we have to reach out to Sacramento and DC to help them help us.

I know that there is at least one you among us here that will someday serve in the state legislature or Congress, or in statewide office – or even the Oval Office! – and in that service will remember the needs of Southern California.

As much as we like to think of L.A. as the source of all good ideas – a couple of us were able to participate in the first California connections program, traveling to the San Francisco Bay Area to learn that there are some great ideas being put into practice in other parts of the state. Ideas that shape policies in both Sacramento and Washington that ultimately affect us.

I am excited to commit to you all today that this leadership program has inspired me to be part of the team that is going to expand and enhance the California connections program, and I hope that you will all take advantage of it in the future.

We had the privilege to meet and learn from visionaries like Maria Contreras-Sweet, a pioneer in the banking industry, and Steve Soboroff, a successful developer. Steve clearly inspired his group to think big and deliver on their visions. And Maria had some compelling advice for us: “master the language of your field.” She told us that when she brings her Anglo-American husband to banking events, people always assume that he’s the banker – not her.

But it doesn’t faze her. Why? Because she’s mastered the language of her field and charges right into the issues she knows — and she’s shaking up the stodgy world of banking in the process.

Who among us, five, ten, or twenty years in the future, are going to be invited to sit down with the next generation of aspiring leaders and give them the advice they need to shake up their industries?

We learned how Mayor Villaraigosa and the folks at Metro are working on what is obviously one of the biggest challenges this region has to tackle: traffic. But with Measure R and visionary implementation plans like 30/10, there’s hope that we can make Los Angeles a cleaner, more efficient and healthier community by the sea.

Ahhh, the sea…

That leads me to a subject that is near and dear to my heart these days… the Port of Los Angeles. Yes, I couldn’t help but save the best for last.

We learned about the Port of Los Angeles — America’s Port. Together with our Long Beach neighbor, the number one container port complex in the Western Hemisphere, right in our own backyard and, to my continued amazement, most people don’t even know it!

They aren’t aware of the vital role we play in the regional and national economy and they aren’t aware of the pioneering environmental work taking place here that is leading to improvements throughout the transportation industry, and making kids healthier and breathe easier right here in our neighborhoods.

I assure you that the leadership of the Port of LA is continuing in this positive direction. For example, I have the honor to be part of an amazing project: a plan to develop a world class marine research center at the Port. This center, at the Port’s historic “City Dock One”, will not only research the human-marine interface, but develop and help commercialize practical, job-generating technologies to address problems like sea level rise, declining aquaculture, and pollution from our intensive use of the sea. If you have not visited already, I invite you all to come down and get to know your port and this exciting project we’re working on!

But, I digress…

Ultimately, we learned about and analyzed the qualities of leaders. We met some from our state and our region and critiqued what they’re doing well, what they’re doing wrong and what else needs to be done.

And all of it was valuable. All of it provided a “perspective shift”, as one of you recently described it to me.

But now it is our turn to take the knowledge and perspective, and see how we can contribute, and perhaps how we can do better.

After all, we didn’t take this “crash course” just for fun. Our respective organizations didn’t pay the fee — nor give us the time off – without expecting to see some return on their investment.

We invested our time and our employers’ money in an effort to make things better for Southern California. So it’s time to take the knowledge we gained here and put it into action.

We’re certainly not going to change this region on our own. Nor should we. Of the many valuable things we learned during this program, we learned we have each other. We have this amazing leadership network and many other networks that we are all part of. Now we have to put those “networks of networks” to use.

This was such a rich experience and I think you will all agree with me when I say that the “crash course” worked. To paraphrase a great observation from one of your testimonials, “we gained in ten months what would have otherwise taken ten years!”

So my “commencement call to action” is simply this: we are the leaders we’ve been waiting for.

Let’s take this knowledge we were all fortunate enough to gain and put it into practice right away. We are the ones in position to ask tough questions, be contrarians and bring fresh ideas to the table. With knowledge comes responsibility and thanks to this program, we’ve gained knowledge that we didn’t have before. Now it’s our responsibility to put it to work!

Again, it has been an honor to speak on behalf of the Leadership Southern California Class of 2010. Now let’s get out there and lead this region to a better future!

Thank you.