Lessons in Leadership

Lessons in Leadership: Smedes York’s Take on Ethics and Social Change

On November 29th York Properties Board Chairman Smedes York participated in a panel at City Club Raleigh entitled “Ethics & Social Change in the Spirit of Economic Development.”  Moderated by Wendy Gates Corbett, President and Lead Presentation Consultant at Refresher Training, LLC, the other panel participants were Ashton Smith (Citrix) and Steven Pearson (IBM).

Key takeaways from Smedes’ comments included:


Strong partnerships are critical to maintaining a healthy region.  We do not need or want to merge communities.  Key examples of strong regional partnerships include Raleigh Durham Airport, United Way of the Greater Triangle, and the Regional Transportation Alliance, among others.  Even though Raleigh is the largest city, our region only succeeds by respecting all our communities as equals.

Wake County schools

A first-rate Wake County school system is vital. The merger between the city and county school systems, effective in 1976, was essential. The city system was not “coterminous” with the city limits and we were moving toward an inner-city school district.  Our legislative delegation at the time acted with deep courage and leadership to affect this change.

York Properties and Business

At York Properties we do not want to be a “parasite company.” We are imbedded in the community; our company and our employees support many community initiatives.

A key word is “civility” for our brand and culture. I gave the example of Senator Jesse Helms welcoming his “polar opposite” Senator John Edwards. When asked why, he replied, “I believe in civility.”

A successful employee must “learn to learn.” Technology changes but what does not change is the value of face-to-face communication. John Naisbitt’s book “Megatrends” stressed a concept of “high tech-high touch.”   The more technology there is the more a personal touch (such as a phone call or a hand-written note) is noticed and appreciated.  Attitude and the ability to work as part of a team are essential. An individual needs to be put in a position where he or she can excel.  Albert Einstein put it particularly well:

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.


A “purple state” in my mind is not a disadvantage but an advantage. A purple state means we are neither Republican dominated (red) or Democratic dominated (blue) so there is balanced discussion. One party domination tends to result in negative legislation like HB2.