I read the announcement with mixed emotions – the USGBC Board of Directors has designated Mahesh Ramanujam as the incoming replacement for CEO Rick Fedrizzi. I’m excited about the future of the organization, but it’s hard to see Rick go. Rick and I share a special friendship that has developed over a 17 year journey, from a sketch on a napkin to a global force for change. It’s hard to imagine the USGBC without Rick at the helm, and for me it boils down to a single moment in 1999.

We were at a restaurant in Chicago, breaking bread after yet another raucous board meeting. Every Board member – without fail – had a giant intellect and some with a commensurate ego. And the twenty of them were on a mission to change the built environment, right then at that meeting!

Rick was still with Carrier then, and his polished style was a stark contrast to some of the green gurus in attendance – Steven Winter, Penny Bonda, Keith Winn and Kath Williams if my memory serves me well. The restaurant owner sat us as far in the back as he could to keep us away from the polite Midwesterners. We ate and drank as hard as we had battled all day.

We were at two tables when the checks came. Someone at the guru table pulled out a calculator to work out each person’s tab based on what they had ordered. A total chaos of negotiations ensued: offers and counter offers, bills too big and too small, change demanded.

I was at the table with Rick, who immediately grabbed the check and said “I got it!” with a flourish of his company credit card. “Thanks Rick!” roared the table and the party didn’t skip a beat. Having just started my own company, this was a bold move that seemed reckless to me.

“Why did you pick up the tab for the competitors and nay-sayers that fought you all day?” I asked. Rick looked at me and answered “Because I can. And sometimes Tom, you just do what you gotta do to keep things moving.”

Rick has never wavered from that strategy – keep your friends close, detractors closer, and never lose sight of the goal. The LEED program is the BIGGEST change management initiative the world has seen in a long while, and it continues to affect millions of people every day. Good on you Rick.

Rick Fedrizzi stands with Tom Paladino and others in a photo from 2009. 

I hope the Board and Mahesh keep that page from the Fedrizzi playbook. Things will bog down due to impassioned differences. There will be a gap between leadership and certification that technology cannot bridge. The performance zealots will get out of sync with business value. Listen to the market and maybe, once in a while, pick up the tab for the whole damn squabble. Because you can. And keep us moving.

Congratulations Mahesh!

Sustainability in states, climate change

A nationally recognized leader in sustainability, Tom Paladino is the founder and CEO of Paladino and Company.

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