Thrive + Inspire: Former Texans President Rootes Says ‘Commit to Pushing Back’

AN INTERVIEW WITH Jamey Rootes, former President of the Houston Texans

When did you know that something big was going to impact Houston? It was 7:30am on Wednesday, March 11, 2020, and I was participating in one of the first-ever meetings of the Greater Houston Partnership Executive Committee to be conducted via Zoom. The normal public policy and economic development focused agenda was hijacked by a discussion regarding the potentially devastating impact of a new and highly contagious virus. It was hypothesized that this virus, the novel coronavirus, could absolutely overrun the capacity of our local health system. I was skeptical. I thought, "We have the largest medical center in the world. It would take something of biblical proportions to exhaust our medical capacity." As I learned, Covid-19 was pounding Europe, especially Italy, but we had yet to have a documented case of community spread in Houston. That was all about to change.

How did you adjust and overcome obstacles? My primary concern was the safety of our staff, which we also call "teammates." We needed to find a way for all of our teammates to work from home, and we had about 72 hours to get that done. The only problem was remote working was not something we had ever tried before. I visited with Jeff Schmitz, our CIO, to see what it would take to quickly get our staff working from home. He gave me a look that said, "Are you out of your mind!" I asked him to get to work and let me know if there is anything at all that he would need to make it happen. I asked him to push beyond can/can't thinking and only consider "what's it going to take?" As I expected, our IT team had everyone working from home right on time. Monday, March 16, at 8am.

What is the secret to staying hopeful and forward looking? Fortunately, our organization has faced a number of crisis situations in the past — 9/11, hurricanes, floods, lockouts — so we have a pretty good toolbox to get and keep everyone's mind right. I have termed them the "plays" for handling adversity. One of those plays is to simply commit to pushing back. Decide that this is not going to defeat us, and we are going to do something about it. Another is to stay "Positively Focused," which is shorthand for control what you can control, ignore what you can't control and be sure to remind yourself of the positives to counterbalance the overwhelming negativity you are hearing and seeing. Third is to believe that we can overcome this.

The next thing we had to do was to pivot from our established priorities for the year to something that would address our current reality. We had anticipated another record year and had a great plan to deliver that, but current circumstances would require all of us to embrace a new plan. It was my job to create and clearly articulate that new plan: Take care of our teammates, build our team, support our community, embrace our customers, engage our fans, prepare for our season.

What's new for 2021 that you are excited about? I'm excited to get together with Texans fans again, experience tailgating and the rituals and traditions of game day that have become a Houston institution the past two decades. And my new book, "The Winning Game Plan."

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