Leading the Leaders
Terry Strine could have retired to a life of ease. But when you believe the country is headed down the wrong road, you have to act. Meet his new young leaders.
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“He did an excellent job,” says du Pont. “I made a few comments, but I would give it an A-plus.” The ex-governor was especially impressed by the list of more than 100 prospective speakers Strine had targeted—but had not yet signed up—thanks to his years in politics and business.
Encouraged by du Pont and others, including Governor Jack Markell, Strine fleshed out the program, talking to organizers of similar efforts in Maine, Virginia, Colorado, Oklahoma and Florida. He recruited a board of directors, formed a 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable foundation, then sought nominations for participants in the program from local leaders in business, industry and politics. For the first class, he says, he and Sandy—his partner in business as well as life—talked to “35 or 40 candidates, offered slots to maybe 20, and 17 said yes.”
“We wanted people who were in the 25 to 40 age bracket,” Strine says, “people who had been in the real world making a living for a while, had their first level of education under their belt, and had 30 or 40 years ahead of them to make a difference—people who are bright, articulate, principled, have the stuff of leadership.”
Requiring a significant time commitment, the program comprises 10 monthly sessions in board rooms, public buildings and private homes across the state. It begins with an orientation in January and ends with graduation in December. A typical month includes three sessions, the first running from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on a Thursday, the second on Thursday evening, typically hosted by a Leadership Delaware supporter and featuring a keynote speaker, then an all-day session on Friday.
The wide-ranging subject matter includes charter schools, organized labor, medical malpractice reform, Delaware agriculture, global warming, term limits and redistricting. Among the speakers: State Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery; Bob Byrd, chair of the Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council during former Governor Ruth Ann Minner’s administration; Sam Asher, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Delaware; John Byrne, professor and director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy at UD; John Sweeney, editorial page editor of The News Journal; Congressman Mike Castle; several state and county officials; and, of course, Pete du Pont. The group travels to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Aberdeen, Maryland, and other places to gain insights from individuals and programs not available in Delaware.
Graduating fellows, Strine says, “are more informed than our elected officials in Dover, or certainly in Washington.”
Such an ambitious program is not inexpensive. Strine estimates the cost at about $4,000 per fellow. The inaugural class was charged nothing. This year, the fee was $1,000 per person. The remainder is covered by foundations and individual contributions. The Strines take no income from the program. This year they were, in fact, the second-largest contributors—behind the Longwood Foundation—at $14,250. “This is our way of giving back,” Strine says.
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