Leadership Lens: Tim Sheehy on entertainment districts, remote work and building consensus

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On the latest episode of Leadership Lens, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce president Tim Sheehy joins BizTimes Media managing editor Arthur Thomas and Marquette University president Michael Lovell to discuss how sports and entertainment districts help a city grow, how remote work is changing economic development, short and long-term ideas for addressing crime and safety, making tough decisions and building consensus, and learning from other business leaders.

Here are a few highlights from the conversation. Check out the entire episode for more insights:

On remote work:

“This is clearly for everybody in the c-suite today the great conundrum, and the only thing they’re sure of is they’re not going to go back to the way it was, that their employees are in the office from 8 to 5, five days a week, that is not going to re-emerge post-pandemic,” Sheehy said.

Companies are struggling to figure out how they will offer flexibility to their employees without losing culture and connectivity that is bolstered by working in a physical office, he added.

It also creates challenges for cities as they seek to retain residents who now have more freedom in deciding where to live and work.

“Pre-pandemic, there were probably 90,000 people working every day (in) downtown (Milwaukee) in an office. At best we’re back to 40,000 and that’s probably not five days a week, so the dust has to settle and companies are trying to figure out how best to settle it,” Sheehy said.

He described remote work as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, people can live anywhere and if they go somewhere besides Milwaukee, then they are not making the purchases that come with daily life in the region. On the other hand, Milwaukee has a chance to keep or attract people in the region who may have gone elsewhere in the past.

While remote work play a role, Sheehy doesn’t expect companies to widely go completely remote.

“I still think that companies are going to make decisions by and large on the basis of where they can physically recruit and retain people and they’ll work flexibility and they’ll allow remote work, but they still have to anchor themselves somewhere,” Sheehy said.

Building consensus and making decisions:

Leading an organization made up of companies from across southeastern Wisconsin means Sheehy has many stakeholders with differing views on a wide range of issues. While that can make the job challenging, it also provides clarity on what is needed to move forward.

“I think like a lot of organizations, and ours especially, we’re beholden to our members and our customers and if we can’t reach a consensus then we’re not an effective advocate and so we spend a lot of time talking, listening, informing, taking in information, so we can make a decision that’s based on consensus,” Sheehy said.

Building consensus can help MMAC be a better advocate for its members, Sheehy said, but it takes more than reaching a simple majority.

“It’s the first thing I’ll tell our board, if it looks like it’s a 60-40 split or even a 70-30 split, I’ll say we’ve got to go back and do more homework because we’re not going to be effective externally, if we’re not aligned internally,” Sheehy said.

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Arthur Thomas
Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.