Mayor Nutter Gets Out of the Office. Shouldn’t You?

The Mayor's recent trip to China sets a good example for all of us.

Mayor Nutter recently made a trip to China, and this is a good thing. For the city. For him. For you! As a local business owner, I’ve always liked the Mayor. He’s navigated the city through a serious financial recession. He speaks professionally, is out and about often, and governs like a business person. He balances the concerns of residents, unions and the business community pretty well. Unlike past mayors, he’s had very few scandals, zero fist-fights in City Council, no FBI listening devices in his office (at least none that I’m aware of), no corrupt political allies or city treasurers, and no unsubstantiated payments from city vendors to his personal account. These may not seem like big accomplishments, but in this city, they are.

And now he just got back from Tianjin, China.

The Mayor took the opportunity to visit Tianjin after being invited to speak at a Beijing conference on sustainability. The week before his visit, the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia issued a one-year update on the administration’s efforts to make the city a better place for business. Overall, the Mayor received good marks.

Of course, the Chinese have a few things to teach Nutter. Tianjin is a city of 13 million people that dwarfs Philadelphia in both size and economic activity. Its port is among the largest in China (and luckily does not have to face Camden). The area has experienced double-digit growth in each of the past five years, and has attracted many multinational businesses including Motorola, Toyota and Samsung. Hundreds of countries have invested in the region and thousands of companies have set up shop there. The area has also benefited from significant government investment, something that Nutter noticed.

“Seeing what goes on here is a reminder of the things we can do and must do to maintain our presence on the world stage,” he said. It also underscores “what our federal government can do if we would have, at times, a little less debate and a whole lot more work and understand that investment brings job and activity and furthers American interests.”

For the past 23 years, Tianjin has been Philadelphia’s “sister” city. Yet Nutter is the very first mayor of Philadelphia to visit them. Why? This isn’t just a question to ask him. It’s a question to ask yourself too.

Because Philadelphia isn’t Tianjin’s only “sister city.” In fact, Tianjin is quite the social butterfly when it comes to sister cities. I found that there are least 22 cities that are “sisters” of Tianjin. Philadelphia has about a third of that. A sister city can offer much more than just good public relations. In Nutter’s case, his trip to Tianjin also facilitated ongoing partnerships with the Fox Chase Cancer Center, the Philadelphia Orchestra, a local law firm, Drexel University and the China Partnership of Philadelphia. Our mayor is the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. He represents this city well. And he’s smart enough to get out of the city as often as he can—not just to take a break and clear his head, but to learn from other cities and to promote his hometown. He’s selling the city.

And you?

How often are you getting out of the office? When do you get on a plane and leave the region? How often do you visit your customers or suppliers? When have you had your last face-to-face meeting with an important partner? Email is fine. Phone calls are good. But don’t let technology and technology geeks brainwash you into thinking you can run your business while hiding behind your computer. And don’t brainwash yourself into believing that you’re too busy to get out of the office, and that your company would fall apart without you there. It won’t. Your people are better than that. My God, even the Mayor was able to break away and leave the city in the hands of its bureaucrats. And if he can do that, surely you can do the same.