Q&A: Alan Armstrong
President and CEO, Williams; 2015 chairman, Tulsa Regional Chamber
Alan Armstrong, president and CEO of Williams, is the 2015 Tulsa Regional Chamber chairman. His top priorities in 2015 are: investing in corridors of excellence, improving education, leveraging Tulsa’s strengths and encouraging young professionals.
Alan Armstrong’s career with Williams moved his family around the country. Now, as the company’s president and CEO, Armstrong is committed to improving the community to ensure that Tulsa attracts high-caliber employees from around the world.
After spending several years on the Tulsa Regional Chamber Board of Directors, Armstrong will serve as chairman in 2015. According to Chamber President Mike Neal, Armstrong is a good fit for the position because “Williams and the Chamber share many of the same goals toward seeing Tulsa succeed and become economically strong.”
From his office at Williams, Armstrong has a view that encompasses most of the Tulsa region. As Chamber chairman, the view will be a daily reminder of the region he is working for and the vision he’s tasked with realizing.
How do you describe the mission of the Tulsa Regional Chamber? People have many different expectations of the Chamber, but I think it’s a place where business leaders come together to bring about change in the region and make our community a better place.
During your term as Chamber chairman, what’s on your to-do list? I have four main goals. First, I’d like to invest in what I call “corridors of excellence.” You can tell when a city has been well-planned and well-maintained. Thinking about where people are likely to go when they visit Tulsa, I’d like to develop infrastructure downtown and toward the river that communicates how much we care about our city.
My second goal is to continue to find ways to improve education in our region. When people are deciding whether or not to move to Tulsa, I want them to be impressed by our education statistics, not concerned by them.
Thirdly, I want the Chamber to leverage Tulsa’s strengths, of which we have many. As a city, our philanthropic efforts are tremendous. Tulsans genuinely care about our community.
Leveraging our strengths ties right in to my fourth goal, which is to encourage Tulsa’s young professionals. Hands down, the most inspiring thing to me about my upcoming role with the Chamber is the great energy and passion you’ll find in the Tulsa’s Young Professionals organization. You’d be hard pressed to go anywhere in the country and find young people who are that committed to making their city great.
In the past two years, you and representatives from the Tulsa Regional Chamber went to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Others visited Portland, Oregon, too. What ideas or inspirations were brought home from those visits? The trip to Pittsburgh really helped bring some cohesion and passion around our vision for the Arkansas River. After that trip, City Councilor G.T. Bynum did a really nice job putting the river development wheels in motion, and Williams has been very committed to the Gathering Place project.
One of the main things that I took away from Portland is that they took some extreme measures to become a very distinct city today. Tulsa shouldn’t try to be Portland. But we can be inspired by their commitment to a direction that makes them distinct.
Do you feel like the Tulsa region can be that committed? I do. A Gathering Place is a great demonstration of that. I’m very hopeful about the combination of A Gathering Place, the river and downtown. Portland has several areas that have a real sense of place. Tulsa can accomplish that, too, but in our own unique way.
What are some challenges you foresee for the Chamber? As a region, I think we need to understand that what is good for Tulsa is good for the region and vice versa. I love to see downtown Tulsa flourish, but I’m not interested in loft apartments being built downtown, for example, only for the sake of Tulsa’s city center. The young people who live in downtown lofts now are very likely to purchase homes in Owasso or Broken Arrow in the future. I believe that, to the degree we are successful downtown, we are successful for the whole region.
Also, we need to be funded at levels appropriate for a city of our size. If we can’t attract great people, it would be very difficult for companies like Williams to succeed in a very competitive marketplace. I’m a conservative thinker when it comes to government, but I believe we need to make sure we are adequately funding education, infrastructure and public safety and stop apologizing for what that costs.
What causes are you particularly passionate about and why? I have a bent toward helping people who are willing to work hard, but just need some assistance to get to where they want to be. For years, my wife, Shelly, and I were involved with The Center for Individuals with Physical Challenges, which is now called The Center. That’s a fantastic place that helps people achieve things that they didn’t otherwise believe they could achieve. It’s also important to us to make education relevant for students. That’s why we’ve been involved (personally and corporately) with Junior Achievement, KIPP Tulsa College Preparatory and Teach for America.
Obviously, you have a busy schedule. Why is this position with the Chamber important enough to add to your schedule? (Laughing) A lot of people have been asking that question. Ultimately, my focus is making sure that I’ve done all I can to make Tulsa a place where Williams can thrive and succeed. It would be unfair of me to not step up to a role where I can do all I can to effect change.
How do you feel your career at Williams has prepared you for your new role at the Tulsa Regional Chamber? I see my Chamber role as bringing a diverse group of people together to move in one direction. Running Williams is no different. The Chamber has already decided on our legislative priorities for 2015. Now, my job is to remind people what we as an organization agreed to and stay committed to addressing those priorities.