On the changing face of New Orleans
As the vice president and regional manager of Cox New Orleans, Greg Bicket learned a lot from Hurricane Katrina: “Lots of lessons about human resiliency, endurance, generosity and perseverance.”
Like many companies that survived the storm, the people Bicket works with made the largest impression on him and Cox. “We learned that the greatest impact of true disasters for many is emotional, rather than physical or financial. We were reminded that our people here are tremendous. Many worked straight through the storm and for weeks afterwards, too many hours a day, every day of the week, to accelerate the return of our services to Cox customers. We looked out for each other and for our customers. We did our best. We never wavered from our commitment to trying our best to satisfy each of our customers, one at a time.
“Cox is an extraordinarily principled company,” Bicket adds. “We have a sense of values that guides our decision making, and it really helped us in this situation. We didn’t have to ponder what to do, even though it was an extreme situation. Our company’s values guided us through a lot of complex issues during and following Katrina and Rita.”
But it wasn’t just Cox New Orleans involved in their rebuilding efforts. “All of us here were overwhelmed with the help we got from our colleagues at other Cox systems around the country,” Bicket says. “Together, Cox employees donated over a million dollars to help Cox employees here, and then the Cox family matched it! We have helped out our systems in Hampton Roads, Virginia, with Hurricane Isabel, and when Cox Pensacola got hit by Ivan. They were there for us when Katrina came to town.”
Though Bicket is optimistic about the future, he believes trying times remain ahead. “We all recognize that we live in a unique and wonderful city, and that this area is well-worth preserving, but we have to get together soon. Fractured factions chasing too many disparate agendas is confusing Washington. And they are growing weary of hearing us quibble. This is a dangerous business when our government has a short attention span. If the Dutch can defend their country from the seas, and London can construct floodgates to prevent storm surges up the Thames River, we can protect one of America’s most beautiful, most historic, most fun cities. We have to make it so.”
“I think Katrina has taught our city a lesson about priorities,” Bicket adds. “The storm won’t always miss us. Our parade can get rained on. But we can again become a great American city. We have to sign on for the hard work it takes to regain our size and economic impact. The future of New Orleans and its surrounding communities is as bright as we make it.”
Edward “Buddy” Butler
“As I tell everyone I speak to—my friends in New Orleans and around the nation, as well as my employees—this is a very interesting time to live here and a rare opportunity to do something different with your life, with your job, with the city, with the school system…you can go on and on. It’s also a rare opportunity to give something back,” muses Edward “Buddy” Butler, former group president of Regions Bank.
“We lost so many things, but I’m very optimistic,” Butler smiles. “There seems to be a great desire from people of all levels to come home, but it’s difficult. I think people are waiting to see how their neighborhoods will come back. No one wants to be the only one on their block. This city is old, strong and resilient. Whether good things or bad things happen, we keep coming back and that’s because of our people. I’m optimistic that, though the process of rebuilding will be slower than we like, we will come back strong.”
“[Regions Bank has] only been in New Orleans for 12 years, and we, like everyone else, don’t know where we’re going, but we know we’ll be here. We’re looking for new locations for branches to serve areas that are coming back quickly. We haven’t lost any customers and we see that we will only get bigger and stronger,” Butler predicts. “Banks are one of the keystones for economic development because we lend money, and starting new businesses and helping remaining businesses to rebuild and grow is critical.”
Since December 31, Butler has been operating as a representative of Regions Bank on projects related to the rebuilding of the city. “I’m on the convention board, the tourism board, the governor’s advisory board and I’m working with one of our executive vice presidents in charge of planning. We’re going to concentrate more on New Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parish to help with anything they need. We’re also going to assist in the rebuilding in any way we can.”
“I’ve been in the banking business since college, and my career has been good,” Butler says. “Before the storm, New Orleans had some serious issues, and now I feel that I’m in a position in my career to do something positive. My whole family is here. And I’m proud that my family feels the way that I do about New Orleans and wants to stay here with me. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Our culture is unique; we’re a little eccentric; and we liked and still like who we are. This city gets in your blood and you would rather be here than anywhere else.”
“When the streetcar rolls down St. Charles Avenue,” Butler promises, “I’ll know that we’re back, and I’ll be on that car.”
At first glance, Tim Williamson seems like an unassuming, fun-loving and casual guy…until you hear him speak about New Orleans. “We could be the model of how you innovate a city,” Williamson says emphatically. “New Orleans could be a cutting-edge city with a very progressive, forward-thinking community. I think in five years you’ll see a city that has a population that is engaged and motivated, because at the end of the day, they built it.”
“I think anyone with a dream has an incredible playground that they’ve never had before [in New Orleans],” Williamson says. “When the smoke clears, this city is going to be rebuilt by pioneers and entrepreneurs. What we have now more than ever is a national network that wants to get engaged. For the first time, entrepreneurs have a network nationally and around the world that are engaged, which is something we’ve never had. It’s going to be hard, but it’s an unparalleled opportunity.”
Williamson, who is a co-founder of the Idea Village, has big dreams for the nonprofit corporation and New Orleans. “We say that we’re a community of entrepreneurs and those who believe in them. One day we foresee there being a physical village, an innovation campus. It would have entrepreneurs, musicians, artists, food incubators, lawyers, accountants, venture capitalists, the universities. It would be a campus that would be a manifestation of all of the innovation. And from that campus, it will start to populate and grow to begin to build mini villages all around the city. New Orleans will have an entity that will basically become the hub of innovation to rebuild the city.”
And at the heart of that hub will be the Idea Village, and in Williamson’s mind, the 20- to 40-year-old age group. “That group needs to partner with existing leaders. People have been thinking of this city as returning to the way it was, but this next generation can see it as it might be, and that’s what we need. Over the next five years in New Orleans the exponential change—good, bad and ugly—is probably going to be one of the most interesting rides any of us will have. We’re going to look back in five years and if you had one slice of that change, you’ll be able to say for the rest of your career, I did that, I changed that forever. It’s time for the next generation of leaders to step up. If you’re smart, committed and you work hard, don’t ask for forgiveness. Just go for it and you might be the one who leads everyone else.” Williamson did, and just look where he and the Idea Village are headed.