Greenprints Keynote: Doug Hooker

The annual Greenprints Conference attracts leaders in sustainable design, construction and communities from across the nation to explore growth and trends in green building, sustainable development and policy in the Southeast over the course of the two-day conference. We are proud to include the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Executive Director Doug Hooker in this year’s speaker lineup. As plenary speaker, Doug will provide a regional development update.

Doug Hooker

Photo Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

As head of the official planning organization for the 10-county, 70-city Atlanta region, Doug Hooker oversees regional planning programs in the areas of transportation, community development, land use, water and natural resources, aging services, workforce development and more. Over the course of his career, he has worked for public and private sector organizations such as the City of Atlanta’s Department of Public Works, the State Road & Tollway Authority, Georgia Power, Bio-Lab, Inc. and Atkins Engineering in finance, administration, engineering, marketing and business development capacities. Doug holds a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering degree and a Master of Science in Technology & Science Policy from Georgia Tech, as well as a Masters of Business Administration from Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.

Doug was recently featured in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article written by Henry Unger as part of his “5 Questions for the Boss” weekly leadership column. The article highlights life lessons that Doug learned during periods of hardship – from facing discrimination both as a child growing up in Cincinnati and as an undergraduate at Georgia Tech, to a period of time in 1991 when he was the City of Atlanta’s interim public works commissioner and faced a Midtown sinkhole that killed two people as his wife simultaneously battled a serious illness.

Here are a few excerpts from the interview:

Q: You grew up by using your mechanical engineering degree to get hired at Georgia Power and rise up the supervisory ranks. You then got an MBA at Emory and applied for a management job at a Decatur chemical company that was growing fast. What did you learn from your hiring experience there?
A: During the interview, I asked about the job description and which box I fit into. But the HR head who was interviewing me said: “We’re trying to build stone walls, not brick walls. Every brick in a brick wall is the exact same shape. But people are not bricks. People are like stones. They have individual shapes, sizes and strengths. A good stone mason figures out the best place for that stone to fit, and he builds the wall around that stone. We want a company that has a lot of good people with all their individualities.”
Q: What did you do [while juggling the sinkhole crisis and your wife’s illness] that others can learn from?
A: I just tried to take it a minute at a time. It was tough. The lesson is — don’t be afraid to admit that you’re in a situation that you don’t fully understand. Invite people to help.
Q: After the sinkhole crisis, you continued to head the public works department until 1997. Since then, your career has taken several turns, from starting your own management consulting business to getting high-ranking positions at engineering firms. You also were in charge of the State Road & Tollway Authority from 2003 to 2005 and have directed the Atlanta Regional Commission since 2011. What have you learned about advancing your career?
A: One of the most important lessons I ever learned is that no matter how good you are at what you do, there comes a point in time when the organization doesn’t see your value the same way. Then you have three choices — you can stay and hope it will get better again, you can go to a different part of the organization that will appreciate you, or you can leave the organization altogether for somebody who will value what you already have.
It’s not that you’ve changed, but organizations change over time and people who brought you to the dance aren’t necessarily going to be there later on. There are always inflection points to ask if you are you being seen with the same value. If not, what are you going to do about it?
Q: What are you and other leaders in metro Atlanta going to do about traffic congestion, which has been getting worse year after year and will require billions of dollars to address?
A: Nobody solves congestion. What you want to do is make people’s travel time more predictable. You also want to provide a lot more options, including more transit. Our transportation system is not doing that, and our reliability is degrading each year with us not putting in a substantial investment to unbottle this.
You have to start somewhere. I think Georgians and their politicians are practical people. I think the leadership in the state will make a serious run at trying to add new funding for transportation. I think the problem will start to get resolved in a positive way.

Read the full interview.
Learn more about Greenprints.

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