Taking the Lead

by Lisa Sciortino

As president/CEO of the Frisco Chamber of Commerce, Tony Felker knows well the benefits that can be had from participating in its long-running Leadership Frisco program. 
“The phrase that we say all the time is, `You don’t graduate from Leadership Frisco, you graduate into leadership,’” he says. 
 In its 26th year, Leadership Frisco is a nine-month community leadership program that explores city government, education, service organizations, economic development and issues (among other topics) that impact Frisco and the surrounding area. 
Following thorough application and nomination processes, 25 individuals from throughout the community are selected to participate in the annual Leadership Frisco class, which begins in September with a kick-off day of team building and leadership development followed by a day-long ropes course event that build bonds between the classmates.

 Class members subsequently gather for a full day each month through the following May, attending various programs, panel discussions, site visits and similar events. They are required to attend city council and school board meetings, and also meet with various city and community leaders to learn about the people, places and practices that have helped to grow Frisco into a highly successful city. Previous speakers have included former Frisco City Manager George Purefoy, former Deputy City Manager Ron Patterson, former Mayor Bob Warren and members of the Frisco Economic Development Corporation team.

“You always hear what is it that makes Frisco special (is) partnerships … but it’s another thing to hear that from the people who built this town,” Felker says, especially those who were instrumental in helping to bring to the city such important development deals as The Star, Toyota Stadium and the PGA headquarters.

 “By understanding the past and the people that were involved in that, now you understand the fabric of what makes Frisco special in our minds (and) you’re going to be a part of that as you go forward in leadership. … It’s actually getting to see and feel what has made Frisco what it is today and by doing that … we’re going to appreciate the past and carry it into the future.”

Fresh and Relevant

Felker says about half of all chambers of commerce in the nation sponsor leadership-style programs that typically aim to develop leaders in their respective communities. 

 “Every single one is a little bit different, but I think here in Frisco we have one of the best leadership curriculums around,” he says, crediting the Leadership Frisco Advisory Committee for that. The group, which is comprised of Leadership Frisco alums and others, is “continuously tweaking” class programming as well as “securing great speakers and taking feedback from the class members” to keep the program “fresh and relevant.” 
Leadership Frisco class members are also tasked with devising ideas for and working collectively to complete a class project each year that ultimately proves beneficial to Frisco and its residents. 
 Previous Leadership Frisco classes worked to establish the city’s WaterWise water-saving initiative and the Little Free Library program. They have been involved with Special Olympics, raised funds for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Collin County and revitalized the Frisco Veterans Memorial, among other projects. 
Felker was a member of the Leadership Frisco Class III in 1999-2000 (a few years before he joined the Chamber of Commerce team), whose project established the city’s Clean It & Green It beautification initiative that continues today. 
 Over the years, “We’ve had some great class projects that have come out of it,” he says, “but the bigger point of it is the group dynamics, learning to work through a project … to coalescing behind an idea that wasn’t your idea and still moving it forward. … All of those lessons to us are far more valuable than the actual class project.” 

Felker says he makes it a point to tell class members, “Without a doubt, going through Leadership Frisco Class III was the best thing that I ever did in terms of getting plugged into Frisco — the people that I met, connections that I made, the things I learned about the community.” 

Frisco’s Future Leaders

Frisco resident Kevin Rackers is confident he will be able to say the same following his experience as a member of the current Leadership Frisco Class XXVI.  

A financial advisor with Edward Jones in Frisco, he is also a Frisco Chamber of Commerce Ambassador and previously served on the Frisco ISD Legislative Leadership Committee, which he says piqued his curiosity to “really just learn how the city works from all angles.” 
 The experience ultimately prompted him to apply for Leadership Frisco.
Rackers says he especially enjoyed attending the presentation by Purefoy and Patterson in which they shared about the development deal that brought Stonebriar Centre to the city in 2000.
 
“They just gave such fun backgrounds on … how important it was for Frisco to win that mall,” he says. “Hearing those stories and behind-the-scenes conversations about what it takes to get something like that here, it was so interesting.” 
Leadership Class XXVI’s project — planning a fundraiser to be held this spring at TopGolf that will benefit Frisco’s population of special needs individuals over age 18 — was Rackers’ idea, spawned after the class visited and learned about the work being done by several local nonprofit organizations. 
“We’re becoming very well known in Frisco for a very friendly special-needs community in our schools,” he says, but as students age out of the education system, the services available to them dwindle. “It’s back on the parents to handle a lot of the duties, so that’s our big focus that we’re trying to help them with.” 
Sharon White is a community outreach specialist with Frisco ISD. Desiring to “grow in my leadership,” she applied and was accepted to Leadership Frisco and currently serves as one of two co-leaders of Class XXVI. 
 “It is such a privilege to work with 25 different people … really headstrong, independent, voracious, articulate leaders that represent a variety of people in Frisco,” White says. “To work with those individuals and grow in leadership is a real-world training process that you couldn’t get anywhere else.” 
White says she hopes the program will help her “find my area where I can give back within the community of Frisco. … It is only great based on the individuals within that community. … It takes a collaborative effort. It takes humility, leadership, perseverance, being willing to listen to others and to say, `How can I contribute?’”
She encourages “everyone … who wants to stretch themselves to learn and grow in leadership (to) give yourself an opportunity to apply” for Leadership Frisco. 
“Recognize that you also have strengths, and you can grow in those strengths and give yourself that opportunity to be challenged,” White says. “I know this (experience) will change me professionally and personally. I will be … stepping up in different areas of the community. Leadership Frisco opens your eyes to those opportunities.” 
Lisa Sciortino is managing editor of Frisco STYLE Magazine. 
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