By: RDG CEO Clint Nessmith
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” -Margaret Mead
This is the second in a series of client profiles of organizations with which RDG has had the pleasure to work with over the past 26 years. We will be highlighting key leaders in organizations of all shapes and sizes – Chambers, Economic Development Organizations, and other types of public-private partnerships.
RDG first engaged with the Baton Rouge Area Chamber in 2021 when they launched their latest five-year strategic planning process, which ultimately became known as the BRING IT! Baton Rouge strategy. BRAC recognized the importance of dovetailing strategy development with the subsequent funding campaign, so RDG had an opportunity to observe and coordinate with the strategic planner, EY Economic Development Advisory Services, throughout their process. This partnership led to BRAC being optimally positioned to launch a funding campaign which exceeded its target funding goal.
I admit I did not know Adam well prior to our work with him and his team. However, by the time we wrapped up our campaign, I did so with a new friend that I also highly respect as a leader in the Chamber and Economic Development industry. Let’s get to know Adam Knapp, President and CEO.
1. When you were a child, what did you want to be as an adult?
It was all over the place. Early on, I was fascinated by my grandfather’s rock collection and wanted to be a geologist like he was. Then I had a brief interest in a career at NASA after going to Space Camp. In high school, I got interested in marketing. Some friends and I made t-shirts and hocked them around school. At one point, we made shirts about a controversial Louisiana governor’s race, where we depicted our parish (county) seceding to Texas. They sold like crazy. If only we had access to e-commerce back then…
2. What was your first job?
Besides doing odd jobs for family friends, my first W-2 was with a small video rental and camera repair store in high school.
3. Where did you go to college? What was your favorite class and why?
I went to Davidson College in North Carolina. My favorite class was a fantastic, four-semester seminar called the Humanities Program. The idea of the course was that the Big Questions cross almost all disciplines of learning and must be taught by experts in those disciplines. It was team-taught by professors from across history, art, science, languages, and literature, and pushed you to develop critical thinking and writing skills.
4. If you could only pick one hobby that you enjoy, what would it be?
I love traveling, if you count that as a hobby.
5. What is your favorite thing to do on weekends?
I like to take our kids to do something or go somewhere that they haven’t before. They are nearing the ages where they aren’t going to want to spend time with their parents, so my wife and I are trying to milk this moment as long as we can.
6. Which leadership book or writing have you found most impactful on your leadership style?
I liked the book, Leadership on the Line, by Marty Linskey and Ron Heifetz. It gets to the issue that real leadership can cause pain when you challenge long-held beliefs and entails navigating serious professional and personal risks. That’s a good one. A better story though is this: I met an Israeli serial entrepreneur years ago who gave me a book while pointing out that people take themselves too seriously and wrote books about obvious topics. The 107-page book he gave me was called How to Shit in the Woods.
7. Who is an important mentor and what is something they taught you that you would like to pass along to other leaders in the chamber and economic development industry?
I started out in economic development working in the Governor’s Office in Louisiana and was mentored by the Chief of Staff to look at economic development as much broader than the purview of just that one state agency. There need to be clearly defined roles for economic development across almost all government agencies, and – ideally – they are all part of a data-driven strategic plan. That same lesson holds true in regional EDOs and chambers that we have to work with a wide variety of stakeholders to move the needle on regional priorities, and we operate best together with a shared strategic vision and plan.
8. Thinking about the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s strategies for the next five years, what are you most excited about relative to its potential impact on your region?
I really like what we are doing with our talent strategy, which is cross-cutting and ambitious. That said, like how you don’t have a favorite child, I’m really excited about almost everything in the plan, which has big initiatives that we’re pursuing on diversification, inclusion, and livability.
9. If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be and why?
Pizza and beers with the cast of Saturday Night Live. Pure entertainment.