The Business of Government Hour


About the show

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The executives discuss their careers and the management challenges facing their organizations. Past government executives include Administrators, Chief Financial Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Operating Officers, Commissioners, Controllers, Directors, and Undersecretaries.

The interviews

Join the IBM Center for a weekly conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business.

Ken Blackwell interview

Friday, December 12th, 2003 - 20:00
Ken Blackwell
Radio show date: 
Sat, 12/13/2003
Intro text: 
Ken Blackwell
Complete transcript: 

Friday, October 31, 2003

Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Lawrence: Good morning and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, partner in charge of The IBM Center for The Business of Government. We created the center in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can find out more about the center by visiting us on the web at

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our special guest this morning is Ken Blackwell, Ohio secretary of state. Good morning, Ken.

Mr. Blackwell: Good morning.

Mr. Lawrence: And joining us in our conversation is Glen Graham. Good morning, Glen.

Mr. Graham: Good morning.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Ken, you’re almost a year into your second term as the secretary of state of Ohio. Can you describe your roles and responsibilities for us?

Mr. Blackwell: The secretary of state is the chief election officer of the state, and he or she is also the primary keeper of business records and the protector of intellectual property in the state of Ohio. So we -- the secretary of state protects corporate identities, makes sure that corporate histories and records are properly maintained, and is generally the person that is responsible on the -- in a broader sense, for encouraging civic engagement in our state community.

Mr. Lawrence: How big is your team? Could you describe what it takes to get all those done?

Mr. Blackwell: We have a team of about 160 employees and the majority of those employees are assigned to our business services sector. And so it’s where I spend most of my time concentrating on the reinvention of how we did business in that area.

Mr. Graham: And since you became Ohio secretary of state one of your projects was starting the Ohio Center for Civic Character. Can you share with us the mission of the project and describe for us the history behind the inception of the project?

Mr. Blackwell: Well, the history is -- it sort of transcends my tenure as secretary of state. I started to conceptualize this notion of using character development in a way that not only enhanced the everyday life of a citizen in his or her community, but how we could apply the a character development strategy as a way of transforming the culture of the workplace where we could improve the way people communicated and related to one another as a way of building a team and building a common language of respect. And so we hit the ground running when I became secretary of state in January of 1999. And we pulled together the entire workforce and said we want to really begin to build a true community and it started with a common language. We said we want to take some words that are frequently used, like “fidelity” and “honesty” and “trustworthiness,” and to make sure that we all had a shared sense of what these concepts and these principles were in our everyday life.

And so we developed what was called uncommon sense and it’s 20 character-building principles that sort of evolved from the workplace and out of genuine dialogue with one another so that we began by creating that language. And we started out with the assumption that character was the cornerstone of citizenship. A free people, a self-governing people had to have internal compasses by which to govern themselves if they didn’t want big government on the outside external to their family, their community governing their lives. And so we went back to some basic understandings.

You know, James Madison, the chief architect of the U.S. Constitution, was fond of saying that American civilization didn’t turn on the power and reach of political institutions. Instead, he thought that the future of American civilization rests, and these are his words, on the capacity of each and every one of us to live in accordance with the Ten Commandments of God, you know. So as far as Jefferson was concerned, the ground rules, the protocol of good living took place when Moses received the Decalogue at Mount Sinai. And so we started to build from this concept that the character was, you know, essential not only to a self-governing people, but to a free people and that applied to the workforce, you know. You had genuine relationships and you had genuine belief in the workers that they were the driving force behind an enterprise, an organization, or a workplace, that you probably were going to get better performance from that community of workers.

Mr. Lawrence: You’re the 51st Ohio secretary of state, as I understand it, and you have a long history of public service. Could you tell us more about the previous positions you held in Ohio before your current one?

Mr. Blackwell: Well, I grew up in Cincinnati, and I grew up in a public housing community. When my father came back from World War II there were still vestiges of segregation. There was a housing shortage and so we first lived in some old Army barracks and then we moved into the Laurel Homes, which was a public housing community.

Coming up through the Cincinnati public schools I went to Xavier University on a football scholarship, graduated from Xavier, and got involved more deeply in my community. My first effort was to become a member of the Cincinnati School Board; lost on my first time out. I was, you know, in my mid-20s and I missed by 500 votes, but I captured about 58,000 votes. And lo and behold, folks thought, hey, there might be a political future with this young man. And so 2 years out, I ran for city council and won on my first race for city council. And I served 12 years at the local government level, years as -- terms as city council member, vice mayor, and ultimately the mayor of my hometown, which was just quite a privilege and honor for me, you know, someone who had grown up in a public housing community that was literally no more than 6 blocks from city hall to ascend to being able to be mayor of my town.

And I tell people all the time I was mayor of Cincinnati after Jerry Springer. (Laughter) You know, and so I kid Jerry all the time. I say, Jerry, you know, that goes to prove that sometimes the sublime does follow the ridiculous. (Laughter) And so we both get a big kick out of that.

I then went on to HUD. I was the undersecretary of HUD with Jack Kemp, who was a long-time friend. And we went into HUD in an interesting period when we were coming in after HUD had been in the headlines for some suspected and some actual scandals. And so as we used to say we had to go in and sort of drain the swamp.

I moved over from HUD after being with Jack Kemp to the State Department where, in working with Jim Baker, I was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and I handled the human rights portfolio. I was the U.S. representative to the Human Rights Commission and did most of its business in Geneva. And it gave me an opportunity to travel the world and go into some of the human rights hotspots across the globe.

After doing that and doing that for a bit into the Clinton Administration, I had been working in Somalia, working in Bosnia, and I had led the U.S. delegation to four preparatory meetings for the 1993 Human Rights World Meeting in Vienna that year. I moved on to the University of Cincinnati where former Governor John Gilligan and I were the only two non-lawyers teaching at the University of Cincinnati Law School. When one day I got a call from a friend of mine, George Voinovich, who had -- he was the present and seated governor at that time, but he had been the mayor of Cleveland when I had been the mayor of Cincinnati. And George asked me if I would take an appointment to the post as treasurer of the state of Ohio and then stand for election in November of 1994.

So I took about a year’s appointment, became the chief fiduciary of the state of Ohio. We had under management in terms of custodial work and direct investment work, about $122 billion of assets, which included the assets of the five state pension funds. I did that for -- because I won election in 1994, so I did that for a full term.

And then 1998, I was asked to -- by the Republican Party to run for secretary of state because every 10 years the secretary of state takes on an added dimension of importance. The secretary of state is a member of the Apportionment Board that redraws the legislative map. And in Ohio, the Apportionment Board is controlled by the party that has either the governor, the auditor, or secretary of state, two of those three offices. And in this case, Republicans won all three offices. And so we redrew the maps and those maps met the constitutional test and challenge.

And it brings us up to my second term that I ran for in 2002. So I’ve had an interesting run at local, international, and state governance.

Mr. Lawrence: That’s an interesting point. Why should citizens care so much about character and what should government’s role be in its development? We’ll find out more as we continue our conversation with Ken Blackwell, Ohio secretary of state, when The Business of Government Hour returns.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I’m Paul Lawrence and this morning’s conversation is with Ken Blackwell, Ohio secretary of state. And joining us in our conversation is Glen Graham.

Mr. Graham: Good morning. Ken, you had the extraordinary opportunity to serve at the federal, state, and local level as well as diplomat. Can you tell for us a little -- can you explain for us a little bit about the difference you’ve seen in management styles and culture and personnel on those different areas?

Mr. Blackwell: The difference is generally driven by scale in terms of not only the size of the organization, but the comprehensiveness and depth of the constituency or constituencies that are served. In local politics a mayor, you can feel him, touch him, get at him, so accessibility is much more a dominant factor in local governance and management and leadership considerations. When you’re a governor, when you’re a secretary of state, or a treasurer and you’re in Columbus and you’re, you know, in a huge state, constituents have considerably less access to you. And so you don’t have that same relationship feel as a mayor or county commissioner or a township trustee might have.

One of the things that runs through all of those levels of government and affects management and leadership style is the ability to communicate and the ability to not only communicate a vision, but an ability to communicate the essential results that the organization must achieve. Let me just give you an example. Max Kappelman (phonetic) was one of my mentors at the U.N. and at the U.S. State Department. And, you know, I told Max I was thrown into the United Nations and he told me don’t worry about it. He said let me just explain something to you. The U.N. is, the United Nations, a city hall with interpreters. (Laughter) You have to have the same sort of communication ability. You have to be able to knock on doors. You have to be able to sit down and engage people in conversation. You have to be able to articulate what it is that you want to achieve. And then you have to be able to get people -- you have to be able to pull people together with sometimes conflicting interests to get something done. And he made a connection for me. You know, I could take my skills as a negotiator in labor management issues at the local level and sort of scale up to the international level, but it was those same basic skills.

When we were at HUD it was fascinating to me because we went in and what we had to do was sort of rationalize the system. Within that organization there were probably 77 different and often confusing management systems. And so the big challenge within that bureaucracy and given the scale was to get in and try to rationalize a system, a system that was operated and influenced by two personnel systems. For instance, you had the career civil servant and you had the political appointees. And when I was there, and I’m not sure that it’s not unchanged today, the average shelf life of a political appointee was 18 months. And so the career, you know, civil servants used to say and they shoot and they, too, shall pass, you know.

So it was -- and that was complicated when you went over to the State Department and you saw not only career civil servants, political appointees, but career diplomats, folks who were in the foreign service professionally and it just made for interesting interrelations and interaction. And the key management strategy and feel was still communication and being able to pull people together. And so what I’ve found at all levels of government is that an effective leader, an effective manager has to be able to, you know, inspire with their -- through their personal example of people can’t see a hypocrite, they can’t see duplicity. They have to see you walking the talk and not just talking the talk.

The second thing is that you have to have an agenda, an action agenda that creates results and creates opportunity or that inspiration has a short shelf life. But the big challenge in the workplace today at all levels is to be able -- is the ability to pull together a diverse workforce, to pull people of divergent interests and backgrounds into a team. And I think that those things are all related. And it’s been interesting to see, you know, just how as time and technology has influenced -- sort of reduced the time flow on how those things sort of impact you on a day-to-day basis.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, it’s interesting you mentioned an agenda because in our last segment you talked about the Center for Civic Character and you described the Guide to Uncommon Sense. Could you tell us more about this guide? And as you were describing it briefly in the last segment I was wondering after I read it what do I do?

Mr. Blackwell: Well, after you read it we have a constant internal discussion and feedback mechanism where we not only work it at our staff meetings across the agency, we evaluate it in our annual performance evaluations. Are people actually living it or are they just giving lip service to it?

On the outsides of the organization we have the Better Business Bureau of Central Ohio that uses Uncommon Sense as a way of measuring effectiveness and performance. And they actually use it as a criteria upon which they judge the awards that they give called the Integrity Awards to businesses. We have about 18 universities that use it in their student development programs. And so for all of those external groups it’s a customized mechanism.

The center’s actually a virtual center, you know. There are about four or five employees that are dedicated to it and these are folks who are expert at training and communicating and facilitating group discussion. And they will go in and they will sit down and they will -- whether you’re talking about a business leader, a leader of a student group at the university, or folks that also use it are Jim Trusso and the Ohio State Buckeyes, they use it in terms of their leadership and team-building process -- we go in and we customize for them and help them facilitate their own game plan around these principles. There is no cookie-cutter approach here. We tell people that they have to get their own buy-in and then work their own strategy. Because what’s really key is the authenticity, the sense of genuineness that people perceive in the operation.

About 18 years ago, I read a book called Habits of the Heart, written by Robert Bellah and three or four other people, and in that book they advance a principle called moral coherence. And moral coherence is when you get your behavior to line up with those things you profess to believe. You have moral incoherence when you talk one way, but you walk another. And so we try to tell people that what’s essential to a culture of an effective organization is that sort of moral coherence within the organization and particularly moral coherence in how the leadership is perceived. You can’t, you know, say do what I say, not as I do in the world today because people take their key off of the leader’s behavior.

So we go in and we go in and we preach and teach, you know, that sort of principle. Because what is at risk today in business organizations, government organizations, higher education, people believe that there is a disconnect, that there is a bankruptcy of ethics. And so we go in and say the key to making this work in any culture is leaders how live it and believe it and pass it on.

Mr. Graham: Ken, what are you -- what’s the feedback you’ve received from other public officials?

Mr. Blackwell: It’s been fascinating. We now use it in our effort to tell people how important it is that their campaigns be guided by these uncommon sense principles. People are looking for character-based leadership. But from my standpoint as the state’s chief election officer, I want to give people a renewed sense of faith in the dignity and the integrity of the political process. And it’s an easier sell for me today because, you know, ranked below politicians today are corporate leaders, you know. (Laughter) And so now I have corporate leaders’ attention. You have college coaches who are coming in and saying, you know, this is important to the character development of my teams. And so we believe that it is building the moral authority to lead that is so essential in transforming or for leaders or managers to transform their organization.

Mr. Lawrence: That’s an interesting point. In Ohio, the secretary of state is also responsible for running elections. What’s the state of election administration in Ohio now? We’ll ask Ken Blackwell, the Ohio secretary of state, to tell us more about this when The Business of Government Hour returns.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I’m Paul Lawrence and this morning’s conversation is with Ken Blackwell, the Ohio secretary of state. And joining us in our conversation is Glen Graham.

Mr. Graham: Ken, during the 2000 presidential election there were many questions regarding the voting system and election process. What do you think of the Florida recount and what are your thoughts on the punch card ballots that were used?

Mr. Blackwell: I was in Florida for the controversial 35, 36 days where, you know, things were going back and forth around the final tally of votes. And I was there and I watched in an up close and personal way the tables where the recount were taking place. And so you could see somebody at one table, you know, holding a ballot up to the light and saying, oh, I see light around this chad so, therefore, that’s a ballot -- I mean, that’s a vote. And then you had the pregnant chad, the hanging chad, the dimpled chad, you know, you-name-it chad. And there were no statewide standards that said that no matter where you are in Florida, if you use a punch card system this is what constitutes a legitimate vote.

Contrast that with Ohio. We had statewide standards and so we have -- at that time, we had 70 counties that were using the punch card system of our 88 counties. And so whether you were in the Northeastern corridor or the Southwestern corridor, if you were voting on a punch card machine in Ohio, you didn’t have a question about what constituted a vote because you had the statewide standard.

So it was the absence of a statewide standard which drove the whole notion of equal protection under the law that opened the door for federal intervention and consideration there was a problem. So you saw a lot of focus on the punch card system as being the culprit in that situation. It probably was a combination of an antiquated and outdated technology and the breakdown of architecture built around that technology that would have included standards and a professional oversight that would have eliminated some of the controversy.

But we did focus on the punch card system. And recently the -- well, last year, in October, the President signed the Help America Vote Act, which basically targeted the punch card system for elimination across the country. In Ohio, we have started to implement the Help America Vote Act and we are now waiting on the flow of federal dollars to be complete so that we, in the next year, can eliminate the punch card system. What we’re looking for is a system that is more reliable, more accurate, and easier to use, and this new technology provides us with that capability.

Now we’ve had a hiccup in July of this year. Johns Hopkins University researchers started to raise some serious questions about the vulnerability of electronic touch pad systems, which are the dominant systems in the new technology. And that has caused us to have to construct a very robust security validation testing and evaluation process, which we’re now running the vendors who have made it through our process, we’re running them through this robust validation, the security validation process. We think that by the end of the year we will have sufficiently kicked the tires on the new technology and then we know that it’s very, very important to protect against and give people the full confidence that they are protected against voter fraud and that the final counts actually reflect the voters’ will. We will have to make sure that our architecture around this new technology, the procedures, policies, and personnel are tight and well-trained.

Mr. Graham: Ken, you mentioned the Help America Vote Act. Were you involved in any of the legislative discussions around that and do you think that that sweeping reform was necessary?

Mr. Blackwell: I was deeply involved. Luckily for me, the chairman of the committee on the House side that dealt with election reform was Bob Ney. Bob Ney is not only a colleague and an outstanding leader, he’s a friend. And so I was intricately involved in working with Congressman Ney and his staff. And then Steny Hoyer on the House side, but on the other side of the aisle, and I worked -- and his staff worked many hours together. On the Senate side, Congressman Dodd and his staff worked tirelessly and we also worked with Senator Mitch McConnell. So I was involved.

I went up and I spoke to the committees on both the Senate and the House side about what I thought had to be in this bill. And I’m deeply appreciative that some of my ideas were incorporated in the final bill that was passed.

Mr. Graham: Ohio recently approved a list of vendors to supply Ohio counties with new voting machinery. Can you talk about the process and the challenges that the Help America Vote Act provides your office?

Mr. Blackwell: Unlike some other states, like Georgia, our state legislature said that we could only embrace this election reform if the federal government was going to pay for it. And so the Help America Vote Act became essential to us in Ohio. And the dollars associated with it became even more essential because without those dollars we can’t get it done. But we set up a very elaborate evaluation process of the vendors that wanted to supply this service to the people of Ohio. And we ended up with four vendors and we ended up with them initialing preliminary contracts, which would provide Ohio with not only four providers, but two systems: the electronic touch pad system; and what is called the optical scan precinct count system, which is the optical scan is like the old SAT test where you color in the oval and then it’s electronically scanned and gives you quick results.

But the difference is, one, there is less paper involved with the voter and the optical scan still involves paper. And a lot of people feel just more comfortable with being able to see how they’re voting as opposed to this or the electronic touch pad system.

We feel real good about our ability to deliver. We got the best price in the country. We brought in a team of experts, computer science experts, and trained negotiators to complement my internal staff and we negotiated the best price in the country. One of the deals that we were able to negotiate is that if, in fact, these companies go out and give any other state a better deal, we get their price. So we feel real good about what we were able to do and the comprehensiveness of our package in terms of training, of election officials, of public education component, the maintenance and warranty components, and Election Day service.

We have one of the best packages ever put together. And the National Association of Secretaries of State and other election -- associations of elected officials have used this and actually made sure that these -- our plan was -- and contracts were distributed to others so they could use them as models.

Mr. Graham: What type of changed management processes are the vendors suggesting that you put in place to help voters use these new machines?

Mr. Blackwell: The first and more interesting thing is that we had to make sure that people understood that you can have all the modern technology that you want, if, in fact, the election officials didn’t understand it and couldn’t convey confidence to the voting public, then there was going to be a breakdown. And the essential ingredient in the election process in a free democracy is the belief that the final vote actually reflects the will of the people. And so it is understanding that you can’t manage elections from -- and administer elections from Columbus, Ohio, or any state capital, that you’re still dependent on the execution of a well-managed election at the local level.

And so that goes back to setting objectives, making sure that people understand the anticipated results, and then making sure that they are sufficiently educated at the local level. It doesn’t do me any good to be able to be the world’s most articulate secretary of the state on these matters and I haven’t been able to communicate that at the point of execution, and that’s the local level. So we put a lot of emphasis on working with our 88 county boards of elections, making sure that they are well trained and most -- and well equipped.

You’d be surprised at the politics of it all. And I say that in a sense that county boards of elections have to get most of their resources from county commissioners. And these county commissioners in Ohio basically are saying, look, we were not Florida. We didn’t have a fiasco and what is this new technology going to cost us, you know? And so you only have -- you just don’t have the confidence issues, you have the cost issues that people perceive as being problematic.

But when -- my job as a person who has been in the position of being a fiduciary and a locally elected official, I had to go down and talk to those county commissioners and say, look, just basically understand something. We now have a punch card system and we have a rule in Ohio that says each election you have to print up 102 percent of the number of registered voters in your county. And when you have elections for only 19 percent, 36 percent, you have enormous waste of printing and paper costs. With these new technologies you don’t have that waste. And so there are repurposed dollars that you can put against the maintenance, professional training, public education. And once you sit and work people through it they begin to get a better understanding and they embrace the technology. People resist change and, unfortunately, a lot of people, you know, are 21st century Luddites. (Laughter) They want to just smash the new technology before they tackle it and attain it.

Mr. Lawrence: What does E-government mean in Ohio? We’ll ask Ken Blackwell, Ohio secretary of state, to give us his perspective when The Business of Government Hour returns.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I’m Paul Lawrence and this morning’s conversation is with Ken Blackwell, Ohio secretary of state. And joining us in our conversation is Glen Graham.

Well, Ken, in the last segment we talked a lot about the logistics of elections, but you’ve also been outspoken about the need for campaign finance reform. Could you describe your thoughts and also tell us about campaign finance reform efforts in Ohio?

Mr. Blackwell: People understand that money is the mother’s milk of campaigns. But the question that always arises is what is the influence of money and can you follow the money? And so transparency becomes a driving issue in all campaign finance reform discussions. And in Ohio, we’ve placed a priority on moving towards full disclosure.

I happen to believe that every dollar that’s involved in the political process should be fully disclosed. I don’t get so caught up on how much money one contributor or a group of contributors contributes if I, in fact, as a voter and as a taxpayer can understand how much money they’re giving. But when they can hide that money and have an impact that is not fully disclosed I think what you do is you drive voter confidence down because they begin to believe that that money has a greater influence than their particular level of participation. And so you’ve seen a tremendous falloff in civic engagement and voter participation not only across the state of Ohio, but across the nation.

And so campaign finance reform, driving for full disclosure, is a way of making that whole process more transparent for the purpose of building voter confidence and encouraging broader participation.

We in Ohio were recently a part of a study, a joint study done by the California Voter Foundation, the Center for Government Studies, and the UCLA Law School. Ohio ranked as the fourth best state in the Union for campaign finance disclosure laws and practices. And we scored number one for our electronic filing program, which we feel real good about because it allows participants and observers of the political process to get information quickly about the impact of money and who gave what to whom. And then we ranked third for public accessibility to campaign finance data. So we’re going to drive from third to number one there and from fourth to number one in the country.

Mr. Graham: Ken, earlier this morning you mentioned your Business Services Division. Can you detail some of the changes that have taken place since you’ve taken office?

Mr. Blackwell: It’s a great example of how you use modern technology to transform a unit or an organization. When I became secretary of state one of the great challenges was that I understood that my office was sort of the gateway to business opportunity. It all started with our office. That’s where you got your corporate identity and you incorporated your business. And when we took office in 1999, it was taking about 15 weeks to incorporate a business in the state of Ohio. Today, we’ve moved that through the use of E-mail and Internet technology and toll-free telephone numbers and we’ve been able to reduce that to 1 to 3 days and, in most cases, you can get it done in 1 day.

What we had to do there was make some major changes in the infrastructure and in the technology infrastructure. For example, when I went in I sort of managed by walking around. And so I was starting on my first day to get flooded with complaints about how slow the office was moving on incorporations. I asked people some simple questions. How many phone lines do we have? We were getting about 125,000 calls a month and we only had 11 phone lines, you know. And so I knew instantly we had to get more phone lines. And so we instantly moved up and went over and had them make the case to the legislature to get about 102 phone lines.

We then started to look at Internet technology and said how much of this can move towards a 24/7 operation and move to the consumers through the use of the Internet? And then we really found that the people who didn’t like standing in line saw the E-mail communication as a way that they could communicate more effectively with us in a more time-efficient way. So by using these technologies we were able to radically reduce the time that it took to incorporate a business. But we made people understand that we were part of an operation, part of a state that wanted to be more inviting to business and make it easier to start and to do business in the state of Ohio.

But it also had to -- that transformation involved changing the way that we did things with our people. We had a relatively high absentee rate. People were not cross-trained. And so we, in fact, had to create incentives and sanctions and expectations that we expected people on the job and that the job could actually be fun. But what we found out was that it was so taxing and so exhausting because they didn’t have the training and the technology to make it easier, they were swamped and they were burnt out. And instead of, you know, just taking it day-in and day-out, in some units there was an absentee rate of, you know, upward to 20, 25 percent a day. So we changed all of that through our Uncommon Sense Program, making people understand that they matter, that they were part of a team, but that they had to actually live the change that we were advocating from the top of the organization all the way to the base of it, and we were able to get that done. And now people actually feel good about what we’re doing.

We were able to move our entire operation, reduce our dependency on general tax revenue by 64 percent over a 5-year period. We are now operating on an enterprise model where we -- our dominant revenue comes source of revenue comes from user fees that are based on the real cost of delivering a service, not one penny more. People actually, when they can see the value of those user fees, they pay it with a smile. And that’s what we’ve been able to accomplish. We drove a cultural change, which actually changes the way we do business and the way we embrace technology.

Mr. Lawrence: I thought it was interesting as you described that you described both the technology and people. So I’m curious, how would you summarize the lessons learned from that experience for others?

Mr. Blackwell: Any technology in and of itself can give you efficiency, but not necessarily give you effectiveness if you don’t bring people around to, first, embracing the technology and then mastering it, and so that’s been our key. And so in a cultural sense what we say is that competency and character standing alone or good traits in and of themselves, you fuse competency and character. And not only do you get, you know, a better workforce, you get better results and you have people who enjoy delivering those results.

Mr. Lawrence: Ken, you’ve had a very interesting career that’s rich with experiences. What advice would you give to a person interested in a career in public service?

Mr. Blackwell: I think, first, probably would be what I tell people with any professional development aspirations, know yourself. Be comfortable in your own skin. Understand that, you know, if you want to be a self-starter and a self-manager and a leader that it really starts with your internal compass; that people read your behavior more so than they hear your words, you know. So live what you say that you believe. And if you do that you have a chance of inspiring others just through your example. And that applies to anyone in a public service career or a private sector career, people who aspire to be leaders.

And I guess my grandmother gave me some good advice when I was growing up. She said, you know, there are three books that you need to master and if you master them you will have mastered the art of good living. She said the first is your datebook or your calendar. It tells how you spend your time and with whom you spend it. And I found out that effective leaders and effective people tend to spend their time with other effective people and people who are of strong character.

She said the second book is your checkbook. She said how you manage your resources actually will indicate what’s important to you. And in government, you know, we can do a lot of things with the resources that we have, but we can’t do everything. So we have to make some tough public choices about what it is that we do, what our competencies are, and how we do those things well.

She then told me that, you know, in my family we were a strong Christian family, but it could have been a grandmother in a strong Muslim or Jewish family or, you know, Hindu family. My grandmother said it was the Bible. And she said this, in fact, will help you choose the path of conviction over the path of convenience. And for me that’s been the key, to understand that, you know, my leadership is not only character-based, but faith-based and that there is a roadmap for me.

And those three books, you know, how I -- am I a steward of people’s money as if it was my money? Who do I associate myself with? And, you know, what is my internal moral compass, my character development driving force that allows me to live the change that I, in fact, advocate?

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Ken, Glen and I want to thank you very much for joining us. I’m afraid we’re out of time. Thank you for squeezing us in your very busy schedule.

Mr. Blackwell: Well, thank you all. I -- if there are listeners out there that want more information, please go to

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you very much.

Mr. Graham: Thank you.

Mr. Lawrence: This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with Ken Blackwell, the Ohio secretary of state. Be sure and visit us on the web at There you can learn more about our programs and research, and also get a transcript of today’s very interesting conversation. Again, that’s

This is Paul Lawrence. Thank you for listening.

Ken Blackwell interview
Ken Blackwell

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