The words “trust” and “respect” seemed to be on a loop Thursday night during a lecture led by a historic Wisconsin politician which commemorated a former University of Wisconsin professor.
Nearly 100 people gathered at Union South to hear the lecture, held in honor of former UW professor John Commons, which focused on the future of America’s economy in relation to its impact on society.
Former Wisconsin Democratic Congressman David Obey reflected on his time in the Wisconsin State Legislature and said teamwork was very important when he worked in state politics. He said this is a lesson that could transcend into the business world.
“When I served in the Legislature, we had friendships across the aisle, and it was the norm to bring business and unions together to sort out common problems,” Obey said. “We fought from nine to five, and after that, we were friends.”
Still, Obey saw a positive future in the world of American business. He said the younger generation is more acclimated to working in a community environment and more familiar with working in teams.
“I hope that the young generation continues to work in a communitarian view because that would be better for labor, for business and for government,” Obey said.
A member of both the private and public sector warmed the stage for Obey and also echoed some of his sentiments. Dick Gephardt, founder of the labor consultant company Gephardt Group and former Missouri Democratic Congressman, said the change could begin in the UW Business School classrooms if business leaders and labor leaders were taught together.
Gephardt zoned in on the problems he said the American economic world is currently facing and proposed some insight and solutions to the issues.
According to Gephardt, America is rapidly losing both manufacturing jobs and services jobs as a result of outsourcing. This is despite the fact the United States is in competition with countries at a much lower standard of living, he said.
“If we get on a level playing field we will have to compete,” Gephardt said.
Gephardt’s solution was depicted through a list of fundamental core ideals. He said building trust and respect between labor and business is important.
When he served in Congress, Gephardt said he learned to survive in politics from former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, who told him “don’t ever break your word.” Gephardt said there is nothing more important than trust in business relations.
The Gephardt Group, which holds such clients as General Electric and the National Football League, among others, aims to target the work culture experience as a major factor toward productivity, Gephardt said.
“It’s about building trust by communication and being honest and respecting the people you are working with,” Gephardt said.
Whether in a unionized situation or not, Gephardt said communication was key in order to succeed as a whole and as a team.
The lecture ended with a reminder by Gephardt that because of pragmatism, practicality and flexibility, America has a future in the global economy.
“American workers are the most able to fix things and fix challenges to win. I believe that we have the best workers in the world,” he said.