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The Face of a State Agency.

Robert Gross EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DEPARTMENT OF WORKFORCE SERVICES, STATE OF UTAH

The idea of putting a face to a state agency might seem a contradiction in terms to some. To others, it's the only way to do business. Robert Gross, Utah's executive director of Workforce Services, believes his clients deserve the best service he and his staff can give. His goal is to "set a national standard in the way we provide service to employers and job seekers."

Creating a department with this strength of vision has not been an overnight process. Since 1996, when Gov. Mike Leavitt appointed him to the post, Gross has embarked on an expansive effort to change the way employment and training services are delivered statewide. He has integrated five different state agencies (employment security, family support, job training, childcare and the state's Turning Point program) into a single department, creating "one-stop" centers that serve both employers and job seekers.

Customer service is more often associated with private-sector business than state agencies, and it was there that Gross says he gleaned his commitment to the customer. In a career of law and banking, his roles ranged from general counsel to president of First Interstate Bank of Utah (now Wells Fargo). Still, Gross says, I always believed that at some point, it would be important to render some public service. When the governor approached me about this position, it seemed like the right thing to do."

Gross intensely studies leaders whose focus is on doing the right thing, and tries to incorporate their principles into his own roles. Leadership qualities can be quite paradoxical, he says, encompassing firmness and flexibility; thick skin and sensitivity; vision and practicality.

"Above all, I've come to believe that there are three dominant themes in a great leader: personal integrity, emotional intelligence, and an appreciation for human nature -- both their own and that of other people. They have to learn to like themselves in spite of their fallibility. I try to bring out the best of these principles with my staff."

Gross' professional roles have expanded to include presidency of the Interstate Conference of Employment Security Agencies (ICESA), which has recently proposed to the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee a sweeping reform of unemployment insurance and workforce services. If enacted, the legislation will benefit every business in the state and nation, improving Funding, reducing employer tax filing burdens, expanding unemployment insurance eligibility, and improving technical and administrative aspects of the unemployment insurance program.

Gross focuses on consistency among his professional, legislative and civic roles. I try to be judicious. I ask hard questions, and I think people will tell you that I tend to be demanding, but also fair. I make my share of mistakes every day, but the more experience I get, the more I realize what great teachers mistakes are."

Lisa Cilva Ward is a freelance writer and editor based in Park City.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Olympus Publishing Co.
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Article Details
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Author:Ward, Lisa Cilva
Publication:Utah Business
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U8UT
Date:Feb 1, 2001
Words:488
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