Women Shaping History:
Kathryn Wylde: CEO, NYC Partnership
If ever there was a turning point in her life, it was the summer after her sophomore year at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, when she first visited New York. There she was, a young girl from the “homogenized Midwest” working in a Lutheran Day Camp in Brooklyn, an area at the time that was not only full of diversity and excitement but challenge, as one of the more impoverished regions of the city. But she knew then that New York City was where she wanted to be. The turning point turned out to be a jumping off point as well, and the young honors graduate with a B.A. in Political Science soon showed her mettle and determined compassion when she came to live and work in the city in 1968. Although her first career choice in college had been political journalism, the cultural changes wrought by the sixties had not yet affected women in many fields, and so Kathryn Wylde took a side step into public relations in Lutheran Hospital, at the time, an institution in crisis, where she honed her management skills.
David Rockefeller’s vision that “big banks and business must commit to neighborhoods” was in formation and Kathryn found herself volunteering to write a task force plan for a housing program to take abandoned city-owned land and turn it into homes to attract the middle class. Soon after that she found herself tapped to assume a leadership role in the Partnership and began to apply her grassroots experience in Brooklyn to the larger urban problem of leveraging public and private joint ventures city wide. Today Kathryn Wylde is president and CEO of the New York City Partnership and Chamber of Commerce, the city’s leading business organization, and founding president and CEO of the NYC Investment Fund (the Partnership’s economic development arm) and the first woman to receive the Harvard Business School Club of Greater New York’s Business Statesman award—an internationally known expert in housing and economic development and one of the city’s most ardent and optimistic champions.
Although the Partnership has many areas in which it works public education is its number-one focus these days. Building an educated labor pool means building a strong economic base for the city—stimulating job creation and economic growth by attracting business and ensuring that the city remains a major player in the global economy. Kathryn Wylde thinks that the Mayor and the Chancellor have got it right in reducing bureaucracy, which often got in the way of negotiating school construction and renovations (now from several, down to only one, she laughs), and providing a model for how the private and public sectors can work together to address educational needs, such as the Leadership Academy for principals. It’s been a good budget year, she points out: the city has shown it has recovered from the trauma of 9/11 and cost efficiencies have kicked in, with surpluses available for the schools. And there has been a change in the academic culture. In the past, she says, school leaders tended to look inward and avoid larger public policy proposals related to education. Now they see that the business community really cares.
Though funding allocation studies show that the city is doing well on a pro-rata need—so many dollars for so many school children—the facts are that the city is under-funded in many areas that depend on ESL, Special Ed and resources for poorer neighborhoods. The Catch 22 situation does not escape her: Those schools in difficult urban areas that have somehow pulled through and demonstrated achievement—such as the Trey-Whitfield School in East NY, a private nonprofit school with an African American population that met for years in a temporary building in a church—are now recipients of Partnership funding and have a new building. Success breeds success, but at the same time becomes an excuse for those [the state, the feds] who see that success and won’t “ante up.”
Other Partnership endeavors show the breadth of the Kathryn Wylde’s goals: providing start up funding for the construction of an East River Science Park, a natural in a city known for its research hospitals and universities but ironically not yet competitive in the health care industry and bio-tech sector because of high real estate and low-incentive tax structure, she says. New York is an expensive town in which to do business. The brain power is here but not the commercial development. She would like to retire the old joke that venture capitalists come to the city with money and a moving van. She is nonetheless excited by the challenge of seeing how improved education can turn things around. In particular, she points to initiatives such as School Net, a nation-wide for-profit company based in NY but not yet operating here that can build online partnerships among all professionals involved in education—teachers, principals, medical personnel, coaches, parents—to institute, first, record keeping—“20% of NYC kids change schools each year.” Kathryn Wylde also puts her heart where her head is: she still lives in Brooklyn.#