Nate Feltman: Mitch Daniels inspires next-generation leaders

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This week, IBJ honored former Gov. Mitch Daniels with our Michael A. Carroll Award at our Engage Indiana event. The award is named after the former deputy mayor of Indianapolis and Lilly Endowment executive and honors someone who shares the qualities Michael Carroll exhibited in his service to his community: determination, humility and devotion to improving Indianapolis and the state as a whole.

Daniels’ decade as president of Purdue University is well-documented. Among his accomplishments: a decade-long tuition freeze; the acquisition of Kaplan University, which is now growing as Purdue Global; the development of the $1 billion Discovery Park District; and his work with Indiana University President Pamela Whitten to reimagine and strengthen both Purdue’s and IU’s presence in Indianapolis.

As governor, Daniels commenced an era of fiscal responsibility that saw billions of dollars of debt erased and Indiana’s first triple A credit rating; made historic infrastructure investments spurred by his innovative lease of Indiana’s toll road; reformed government, bringing more efficient and effective services to Hoosiers (e.g., BMV); achieved historic tax cuts; and engineered a deal to build Lucas Oil Stadium and secure Indy as the home to our beloved Colts long into the future.

Daniels served Indianapolis and then our country with distinction during his stints working for Mayor and then Sen. Richard Lugar, President Ronald Reagan and President George W. Bush. And he enjoyed a successful business career at Lilly, where he eventually served as the company’s president of North American pharmaceutical operations.

But when IBJ Editor Lesley Weidenbener set out to write IBJ’s Michael Carroll Award story about Daniels, she did not focus on his long list of accomplishments.

Instead, she chose to focus on something that arguably is even more important and not quite so obvious: Daniels’ impact on the next generation of Hoosier leaders who have been inspired by his focus on thinking big, tackling the tough challenges and making Indiana a better place to live and work.

That’s because Daniels’ impact on young leaders didn’t stop when he left the Governor’s Office or when he retired from Purdue. It continues today through the Mitch Daniels Leadership Foundation, where 125 people from 23 Indiana counties have been fellows and have worked on challenges related to early-childhood learning, literacy, workforce development, hunger and more.

This year, the foundation welcomed its sixth class of fellows—a group of 25 Hoosiers from 10 counties who range in age from 23 to 49. That geographic representation is especially important to Daniels, who hoped the foundation would serve aspiring leaders from every corner of our state.

“We want to enlarge [the fellows’] sense of what’s possible and, I hope, provoke them to think about the next round of changes, big changes that would make this a better state,” Daniels told IBJ.

I also happen to be one of those people who have been inspired by Daniels. His vision for Indiana inspired me 20 years ago when he began traveling around Indiana in that famous RV. So much so that I was moved to volunteer for Daniels’ first gubernatorial campaign and then to work for him, eventually serving as his secretary of commerce.

Daniels’ philosophy of working hard, thinking boldly, keeping score, delivering results and lifting everyone up continues to inspire me and countless Hoosiers. Thank you, Mitch, for leading by example and inspiring the next generation of Hoosiers to always aim higher.•

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Feltman is publisher of IBJ and CEO of IBJ Media. Send comments to nfeltman@ibj.com.

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