Chamber Chairman Steve Bradshaw lays out plan for Tulsa in 2018
We sat down with the President and CEO of BOK Financial, who is now serving as the 2018 Tulsa Regional Chamber chairman.
Steve Bradshaw, who takes over as the chairman of the Tulsa Regional Chamber in 2018, grew up in nearby Bartlesville, graduated from the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond and worked for a few years in banking and investments in Oklahoma City. He has made Tulsa his home since 1984. He joined Bank of Oklahoma in 1991, not long after George Kaiser purchased the bank and helped resurrect it into the thriving $33 billion Tulsa mainstay that it is today. He took over as president and CEO of BOK Financial in January 2014.
Bradshaw has devoted immense time and effort to a multitude of institutions and charities, including the University of Tulsa Board of Trustees, the Tulsa Community Foundation, the Tulsa Area United Way, the Tulsa River Parks Authority, Junior Achievement and DVIS, to name only a few. In 2016, he and his wife, Marla, became the first couple since the 1980s to co-chair the United Way fundraising campaign.
He has two grown children and five grandkids, but Bradshaw says he and Marla have a 9-year-old English bulldog, who he says thinks she’s a child. An avid foodie who greatly enjoys experimenting in the kitchen (more on that later), he thinks he has the right recipe for Tulsa’s future success.
What’s your primary focus for the chamber going into 2018?
My view of the Chamber is that it has kind of two clear roles: The Chamber has to be the best presenter of the attributes of the city in terms of the business climate (and) of the quality of life here in the city, and (it must) be able to present that on an outreach basis to attract talent and also help existing businesses here retain talent. And the other is really eliminating barriers to that, identifying things that today can be a challenge for either growing jobs here in the market or attracting jobs and companies to the market. So, to me it’s playing both offense and defense as an effective Chamber.
You were part of the group that went down to Fort Worth in October to get some ideas, to see the things they’re doing down there.
We did and we chose Fort Worth carefully and there were some interesting parallels. They’re doing some pretty interesting things with their Trinity River project and some pretty bold initiatives that I thought would be aspirational and inspirational for the group that went there. They’re real strong in tourism and as a sports hub and compete with us for a lot of events and shows, so it’s always good to get kind of a firsthand glance at your competition. They’ve done a lot with their downtown, and there are some parallels with what we’ve seen in terms of downtown development here, especially in the Tulsa Arts District area. So all those things together, I thought, made it a really good trip and really sparked some great brainstorming ideas when we got back. So now it’s time to boil those down into some action items.
Are there things they’re maybe doing a little bit better than we are? And are there some things that we’re doing better?
I think it’s both. They’re probably a little bit ahead of us in terms of their downtown development and how they control the development there and created some public transportation, some solutions for public parking and some of those kinds of things. I think we saw some items that will be helpful to us as we look to better connect these “pod areas” downtown, whether it’s the East Village or the Pearl District or the things going on in the Arts District. From a river perspective, their project is very bold, but I think with what we’re already doing on our river and with the impact of the Gathering Place, I’d say we’re absolutely parallel if not ahead of them in that regard. But there were absolutely some learning points there, too.
What does this role mean to you? I bet they’ve approached you before.
I have some experience here because I was the board chair for Visit Tulsa, and I did that for a couple of years, and we’ve really seen that pivot. I mean, our hotel nights now are triple what they were then. That was my apprenticeship, if you will, for this role. I was asked by Mike Neal in maybe the latter part of 2014 to consider for ’18, and for me, it was a no-brainer. The way I look at it is, we have 2,200 employees here at Bank of Oklahoma and in the region, and we have thousands of customers. They all care deeply about the quality of life here, so it’s very important that the bank remain involved in that and important for me to take my turn, if you will.
What do you feel is going to be your biggest challenge as chairman? And what do you think the chamber’s biggest challenge is going to be?
One’s a very pragmatic one, but it’s an issue that comes up anytime you’re talking to existing large employers here in town or prospective companies coming here, and it’s direct flights. I think we’ve got some momentum there. It’s real important that we establish some direct link to the “business-centric”-type cities — New York, Washington, L.A., perhaps Philadelphia — because of all their international connections.
Another one for me, and I think this is a significant issue or barrier, and it’s really the lack of proper education funding — public education especially. It doesn’t take great Google search skills to quickly come to the conclusion that we have a problem. Everyone is nodding in the right direction, which means the frustration level is very high, because we haven’t come up with a solution. Finding a solution starts with responsible actions from the State Legislature. And the mayor is actively engaged in looking at a process that could potentially find some alternative funding opportunities here, which will further the dialogue and spur action to find a sustainable solution.
The third one is, I’d say, more along the lines of going on offense or being aspirational, and it’s creating more “new economy” jobs here. And by new economy jobs, I would define that as those that are generally technology-driven. Bank of Oklahoma is a good example of a company that is growing its base of technology jobs and seeing it as a challenge with the limited pool of available talent in Tulsa. And there’s not generally a project that’s been presented to me in the last five years that either isn’t a technology investment or isn’t supported by a technology investment. I think the decision oftentimes for companies like ours and others is, do I create those jobs in Tulsa, Oklahoma, or do I create them in other markets where I think the talent pool might be a little bigger? I want the answer to be, the talent pool is growing and we’re gaining a reputation here in Tulsa for having the kind of quality of life and the kind of support for entrepreneurs and for technologists to thrive here.
What do you do in your spare time?
I love to cook. And I’ve done a number of charity-type events where I cook dinner for eight people. I wouldn’t say that I’m a gourmet, but I challenge myself and really that’s a relaxation for me. If I’ve got a free Saturday night, we’re probably going to stay home, and I’m going to try to make something new.