Business Q & A

A conversation with Jon Rosell

In the wake of the defeat of the recent sales tax propoal, Chamber chairman Jon Rosell said he wants “to focus on making sure that we are listening to a variety of opinions and perspectives and find common ground where we can agree and then roll up our sleeves and get busy and make progress.”
In the wake of the defeat of the recent sales tax propoal, Chamber chairman Jon Rosell said he wants “to focus on making sure that we are listening to a variety of opinions and perspectives and find common ground where we can agree and then roll up our sleeves and get busy and make progress.” The Wichita Eagle

You might call this another Conversation With Jon Rosell.

In a Conversation last summer, Rosell talked about his job as executive director of the Medical Society of Sedgwick County.

In December, he became chairman of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, so now he’s conversing about that, too.

Not that it was his idea.

“I’m getting too much exposure,” Rosell said. “Anonymity is not a bad thing.”

Why is the Chamber important to you?

The Chamber’s important to the Medical Society because health care is the second-largest economic driver in this region.

How does that relate to the Chamber?

The chamber, being the lead organization in the community representing business, it seemed like a natural vehicle for the Medical Society to interact with other employers and the Chamber to help not just promote all business in our region but look at how health care can continue to be an important part of our economy without adding to the cost of health care.

What do you see as the Chamber’s role in the community?

The Chamber … needs to continue to be a strong advocate on the local, state and even at the federal level growing businesses and growing jobs in our community and taking whatever steps are necessary to facilitate growth and expansion.

What are the Chamber’s goals for this year?

The recent (defeat of the sales tax proposal) was clear … that we have many different voices and opinions about the future direction of our community. As Chamber chairman, I want to focus on making sure that we are listening to a variety of opinions and perspectives and find common ground where we can agree and then roll up our sleeves and get busy and make progress.

Isn’t that kind of a tall order?

It is a tall order, but I think that the current conditions call for that kind of action, and I think the Chamber is in the right position to be able to lead that conversation.

With such a diverse group of members, what’s it like pushing Chamber agendas that not everyone in the organization agrees with?

We have a process through which we get input through a variety of different sources. Any member of the Chamber has access to a variety of avenues to share their thoughts and opinions. We survey our members. We interact with them frequently. … At the end of the day, leadership of the Chamber is charged with the responsibility of taking all that input and formulating a set of objectives, a set of strategies, that will guide our work throughout 2015.

What would you say to Chamber members – or perhaps past members – who say the Chamber has too conservative of an agenda?

A variety of different opinions regarding the direction of our community is a healthy thing. When those opinions can be shared in a civil discourse, in a constructive conversation that allows us to find common ground, then I think our community benefits. … When differing opinions square off and build different camps and refuse to communicate and interact, then I think we’re stymied. I don’t think we progress.

What’s the Chamber’s reaction to the announcement that Bombardier is halting production of the Learjet 85 and laying off 620 people here?

Our concern is for those employees affected directly. We hope that they can respond quickly and find other employment here in this community. We want to keep those jobs and families here in Wichita. We’re going to look at how we can support those. … I think the Learjet announcement is an indication of the brutal reality that we have yet to address in the community. We are losing jobs. We need to take strong, bold action … to reverse those trends.

Has the Chamber already met to start planning a strategy?

The Chamber was a part of the Yes (sales tax) campaign. We felt like that was a strategy that made sense. I think the voters had a different position. … I think serious conversations have already begun to recognize the result of the election and find common ground and move forward.

What happened with that campaign?

Every campaign … can be boiled down to telling a story and connecting the story and the rationale with voters and communicating it in such a way that it allows voters to understand and trust the proposal has merit.

With the benefit of hindsight, what maybe should have been done differently with the campaign?

Starting the discussion earlier and communicating it more broadly, more frequently. Creating more dialogue. Creating (an) absolutely transparent plan that made sense. … I think that’s what would have turned the corner.

But there were some positives, too?

This campaign galvanized many, many different folks in the community around the issue of moving our community forward, and in that sense, it was very successful even though the issue didn’t pass. … The strategy that was presented was not the exact strategy that the community wanted.

What skills do you bring to the Chamber?

I’m very fortunate to have been in the community for a number of years and built a series of relationships with a variety of different people, and I think those different relationships with a broad cross section of this community allows me … to get input from a variety of different opinions.

So who would be your dream speaker for the Chamber’s annual dinner?

Bono. Hands down. I think he has a perspective that would be a valuable one to hear.

In what way?

He would push me as an individual to think about common problems in new and creative ways, and I think he could push our community.

So can the Chamber afford him?

Ah, no. I think he’s out of our league.

Have you chosen a speaker for this year yet?

No, we have not chosen. I think somebody like Warren Buffett would be interesting. … We’ll come up with a great speaker.

Between your day job and the Chamber, do you have time for much else? Hobbies? Fun?

I love my job. I’ve got the best two jobs in town. I get a lot of enjoyment out of my work and my Chamber work. I love to do a whole variety of things. I love to fish and hunt and cook, and we have two grandchildren that we love to spoil. Love to travel.

Anything keep you up at night?

I sleep like a baby.

Do babies really sleep all that well?

That’s a good point. … Actually, I sleep great. I get up really early in the morning to exercise because that’s how I clear my head.

What time?

I get up at 4 or 4:30 in the morning. … My body has kind of adjusted to it, so I kind of like it now.

Good grief. When do you go to bed?

I try to get to bed by 10.

So you’re not getting the recommended eight hours a night?

I know my doctor’s probably going to call me on that.

What’s one thing few people know about you?

I was Li’l Abner in our high school (musical). … It was the worst example of typecasting in history. I was a skinny, blonde, lanky kid from Abilene cast as a dark-haired, hulking guy from Arkansas. A hillbilly.

Do you do any music theater now?

I only sing in my car.

Reach Carrie Rengers at 316-268-6340 or crengers@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @CarrieRengers.

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