Russ: Hi, I’m Russ Capper and this is HXTV, the show that champions Houston’s innovators and entrepreneurs. I’m very pleased to have as my guest today, Gaby Rowe, new CEO of Station Houston. Gaby, welcome to HXTV.
Gaby: Thank you very much. I’m thrilled to be here.
Russ: So, you’ve been at the helm for a multiple of three or four days now?
Gaby: It’s a long stretch.
Russ: Tell us about Station Houston today.
Gaby: I think Station Houston today is the same fabulous place it was three days ago, and I think that the way in which we think about change is to think about the future. I’m very fortunate as an incoming CEO to have an amazing organization that I get to be at the helm of and we support entrepreneurs. That is our DNA, our essence, and it goes back to the very beginning. Everything I think of when I think about the future strategy for Station is about how we can do that in the best possible way, and that means not necessarily just startups but also innovation within corporations and supporting the programming and education of talent in the ecosystem as well. It’s a pretty exciting job and a really exciting future.
Russ: You’ve kind of excited, I think, the whole city, so looking forward to that. You also were with us over here leading the Learning Steering Committee in a very progressive way. I don’t know if we’re going to have as much time or any of your time—
Russ: Fantastic. So, when you look at the future, I mean, did you show up at the job already with a plan?
Gaby: I do have the fortune of having done a lot of work with HX and having spent a lot of time with Station. I was a board member there for quite a bit of time before I joined as CEO. To think about what is great about Station, and then also what does the ecosystem need going forward? What do our entrepreneurs need? How do we bring as many investors as we can to Houston? How do we leverage our corporate resources? And this just allows me to do that as a job now instead of my second, third, fourth, and fifth volunteer job, which it was before.
Russ: One thing that I’m delighted about is that the fact that you have this job means you’re going to be around awhile.
Gaby: Yes, and I have to say that’s one of the greatest upsides for me beyond the work, which I love. I have fallen in love with this place. I haven’t been the least bit shy about my love of Houston. I tell everybody about my F-150 that I bought ten days before Hurricane Harvey.
Russ: Congratulations on that.
Gaby: Well, thank you. I love it. But really, Houston is a wonderful place. And the thing I love about Houston are the people. We talk about our buildings, and our port, and our med center, and we have great corporations, great industry, great energy, but what we have that you don’t have in other parts of the world, other parts of the country, are amazing people.
Russ: I totally agree. I try to figure it out all the time. The best that I can think about is that we’re kind of a city based on commerce and so people come here to start companies or to work and you just have that work ethic, that make it happen thing that you have quite a bit of.
Gaby: Passion. Energy. Commitment.
Russ: I came here a little bit before you, in 1973, and I’m still trying it out. I’m thinking about staying.
Gaby: Maybe give it a year or two more.
Russ: Yeah, I’ll do that. So, on the serious side, what is it about Houston that has required this incredible initiative from the Greater Houston Partnership and the Mayor’s office and a whole lot of us are saying, wait, we have to do this better. Share your perspective on that.
Gaby: I think we’re this odd mix in Houston. We have an incredibly rich history in innovation. You know, ‘Houston, we have a problem,’ is a famous expression. The fount of aerospace and the energy capital of the world, as I said before, the largest med center. We know how to innovate, we know how to grow, we know how to be successful…we’re not great at collaborating across that. Innovation has been an internal effort for most of those successful businesses, which makes it hard to be a startup. It makes it hard to find your place and, oh, by the way, we’re incredibly geographically spread out. You’ve got a good hour and a half trek to get from one side of Houston to the other.
How do we bring those parts together? Other cities have had events that have triggered that, or have geography that triggers it, or have one institution or family that triggers it. We in Houston have been looking for our thing, and I think our thing is what we talked about a second ago, which is our people. Once those people began to talk about the importance and the relevance and the engine and purpose of innovation and startups and entrepreneurs, it became a reason for us all to come to the table together. That passion and commitment and energy that brings people here is now being directed toward this cause, and the sky is the limit. We are Houston, after all.
Russ: That’s interesting. You’ve talked about bringing them to the table and you’ve talked about a problem with collaboration. It seems like this is the big collaboration of all that’s going on right now, and we hope those that are new to collaboration will join in, but from your perspective, the steps that caused us to collaborate, share what you think.
Gaby: I think that on one hand, when we look at energy, we have an industry, a business, an enterprise—group of enterprises that are used to cycles. They’re used to the boom and bust. Often, cities that will develop this kind of an ecosystem to bring new energy into an economy, something bad has happened. There’s been a bust, like the financial services in New York City, for example. The energy business is used to that. They have a plan. When you go bust, you lay people off, you find efficiencies, you shut down projects, you mothball oil rigs. When you go boom, you crash forward as fast as you can to gain all that capital and those assets until you go bust again. We’re in a different kind of cycle now. We’re in a cycle that introduces technology, that is disruptive, not cyclical. That disruption is completely foreign to that energy cycle and it has caused industry executives, professionals, to step back and say, this is a world I have to learn about. I have to engage, I have to collaborate with people that I’ve never had to come to the table with before. And the disruption causes openness that the rest of us get to take advantage of.
Russ: Interesting perspective, for sure. You know, I contend this city has a rich history in innovation. I mean, the ship channel, we do real moonshots here, not like the kind that the guys out in Google talk about, we really do it.
Gaby: The DeBakey Institute revolutionizing heart surgery. It goes on and on.
Russ: Immunotherapy. It just goes on and on. But clearly, in this sort of digital kind of a software world, we entered that big contest that’s named after that big river in South America, and that didn’t turn out very well.
Gaby: I think it depends on your perspective. From my perspective, I think it turned out really well. It got us to focus on the thing that is close to my heart, which is talent. It’s something that some of us have been talking about for a really long time, the talent pipeline, the people we bring in to drive our engine. Some of those we’re upscaling from our existing companies, some of them are in kindergarten, and all of them matter. It wasn’t until the headquarters challenge that we faced where suddenly we were told we didn’t measure up in that area, and that we needed to think about it and we needed to plan for it.
For those of us who have been screaming about it in the background for a while, we suddenly got to come to the front of the class. Talent isn’t just about what our school is doing, and we have amazing, amazing institutions here in Houston. What they need to do is talk about what comes afterword, how our institutions are collaborating with our enterprises, how our enterprises are upscaling and training and innovating within their enterprises, and how we are all working toward the same end. That’s what the talent pipeline is. It’s great to be the prize member of the class, so to speak, as a subject matter, and I think is the thing that is really driving us all to come together. As disappointed as many Houstonians were that we didn’t make the short list, I think it will go down in history as one of the greatest moments.
Russ: Gaby, I really appreciate you coming in and sharing your perspective, but as we leave right now, I feel like we haven’t covered perhaps the most important part of the story, because I know parts of it, not all of it, but is your background and what prepared you to do this. So, I want to continue on there for another episode. Is that ok with you?
Gaby: It would be my pleasure. Thank you.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Gaby Rowe, CEO of Station Houston. And this is HXTV.
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