Dr. Henry Mckoy, Biden Presidental Appointee Talks About Leadership
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Henry McKoy is a seasoned professional in business, community and economic development, policy, government, finance, philanthropy and the academic worlds. He is a former faculty member and Director of Entrepreneurship at NC Central University. He also held appointments at UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke University, and Harvard University.
Henry, welcome to the leader’s show. It is such a great honour to have you here. You have accomplished many great things in your career. You are a Presidential Appointee of Biden Administration and you are one of the most successful people in business, community and economic development in the USA. I would love to know more about Henry in his daily life. How would you describe yourself in your own words?
Hello Detina. Thank you so much for the invitation to the Leader’s show. I appreciate it. Thank you for your kind words. It would be inauthentic to say that my daily life is a traditional one. I get the honour and privilege of representing my country and this Administration in many incredible settings. It allows me to travel to many places and meet many wonderful leaders and community members. I know that I am blessed.
However, there are components of my life that are hyper-normal. I get up in the morning. I am a former college athlete and a runner, so I still try to run 4-5 times a week. In the morning before work. I fight commuter traffic. Work with wonderful colleagues at the Department of Energy. I try to grab healthy lunches – when I don’t splurge on something less healthy. And every chance that I get, I spend time with my family – my wife, two adult, college-age children, and other family. For me, I love the simple beauties of life and love meeting people and hearing about the wonderful work going on in communities around the United States to lift people up.
How did your career in entrepreneurship start? When you were younger, did you ever envision yourself doing something like this? Was there someone or something that inspired you?
I think like a lot of children growing up, I envisioned a lot of things for my future. Different careers like a firefighter, and a carpenter, I have always enjoyed art, so at times I thought about being an animator or an artist. When I began college, I was a computer science major, so wanted to be a computer programmer. I grew up in the 70s and 80s, and certainly as the world expanded, what seemed like possibilities for what I might do expanded as well. I remember at a point in my professional life – when I was an early career banker, having a strong urge to be an educator and teach. Which I eventually did.
To respond to your specific question, I certainly did not know a ton about the Department of Energy as a child, but where the consistency in what I do now corresponds to my thoughts growing up, I did always envision wanting to help people, wanting to help communities, wanting to make the world a better place. I hope that is what I do every day. The entrepreneurial bug came very early, as a pre-teen. I wanted to find a way to create benefits in my community and in communities broadly, as well as be creative in how I did that. I thought entrepreneurship allowed both of those things. And though it is incredibly challenging, entrepreneurship can also be fun.
As for those who inspired me. That is a long list. I don’t know that I can name one specific person. Certainly, like most others, my parents and others in my day-to-day life influenced my path. That included people I encountered who were doing positive things and people who were doing not-so-positive things; people who had achieved much in their lives and those who struggled for day-to-day existence. However, I have always been someone who looked for inspiration in many places and in many lives. So, I would always tell young people, that a mentor doesn’t have to be someone that you see or talk to every day. It doesn’t even have to be someone you know. I have gotten most of my “mentorship” in life from reading books and being inspired by the stories that others have told about their struggles and challenges, and how they overcame them.
You have accepted a Presidential appointment from the Biden administration. Can you tell us a little more about your role within the US Department of Energy?
It is a privilege and honour to serve in this role and I am incredibly appreciative to President Biden and Vice Presiden Harris for their confidence in me for this position. It is especially humbling being the inaugural leader in this role. To put it in simple terms, at the U.S. Department of Energy, I lead a new office focused on State and Community Energy Programs. My team manages $16 billion in public funds that are invested in states, local governments, Tribal nations, and others to help decarbonize the planet – with our primary focus being here in the United States.
There are 5 divisions under my leadership and we are continuing to grow our team, which now is nearly 100 and counting. Our work and investments go into all 50 states, 5 territories, and Washington, DC, and all of the populations within those areas. We focus a lot of our attention on historically Disadvantaged Communities, with the intent to help them thrive and succeed. It is estimated that programs within our office, known as SCEP, touches over 250 million Americans.
What kind of culture exists in your organization, and how did you establish it?
We are a new office, so the culture is still new and being formed. However, at this point, there are a number of things I focus on every day. I work very hard to get our different divisions and teams to see themselves as parts of a greater whole, and not simply as separate parts. Our whole should be greater than the sum of our parts. This means that everyone should see themselves as part of the entire SCEP team and understand how their work impacts others and how others’ work impacts theirs’.
This is more challenging in a hybrid-work world, but we spend a lot of time on it. Beyond that, I often remind my team members that the work that they are doing is incredibly important work, that they can see and touch. I want every team member to recognize the value of their work and contribution to making communities across America better and stronger – and more resilient. I want that culture of service to spread far and wide within the office.
Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing humanity in the 21st century. It is estimated that by the year 2100, the temperature would rise by 4 degrees, which could reduce the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 30% in the worst case. How would you describe the relationship between climate and the USA economy?
It is impossible to separate the impacts of Climate Change and the US economy. As the planet continues to warm, it impacts everything from our food supply to the ecosystem and weather patterns. As storms become more violent, communities are destroyed and displaced. That has an impact on the workforce, education, and so many more aspects of the economy.
On the other side, we now have wonderful opportunities to include historically Disadvantaged Communities in the plan and economic activities and opportunities of decarbonizing the planet and building environmental resilience across society. Regardless of what side we are looking at the equation from, the relationship between the climate and the economy is undeniable.
You were the lead entrepreneurship faculty and Director of Entrepreneurship at NC Central University in the School of Business and have also had an appointment at Harvard University Kennedy School’s Ash Center, where you were an Associate Fellow of Municipal Innovation. Part of your job was to lead the effort to launch a national network of economically inclusive and equitable cities. How significant is this for the economy and people of the USA? Can you tell us more about your projects?
Communities are like people, they often learn from one another. So, the vision behind the national and global network of equitable cities was to create a network of “teaching” and “learning” communities focused specifically on equitable economic outcomes. The vision was to create a way that leaders, particularly at the local government level, could begin by assessing where they are in their equitable journey and then create a plan of action for moving along that trajectory towards more equitable outcomes for all their residents. Equity has always been important to the economy and people across America, and it is only increasing in its importance.
My work at North Carolina Central University, a historically black university, demonstrates that brilliance exists everywhere – as well as the fact that all populations need to be connected to entrepreneurial and economic ladders in America. We cannot rise to our highest level as a country, or an overall society unless every person has the true opportunity to achieve their highest stake in life. The more people we can connect to quality jobs, opportunities, and livelihoods, the better we will be as a nation. All communities should have the ability to thrive.
I come from an academic background myself and I believe education is key to innovation. According to you, how important is innovation in economic development and how this is going to evolve in the next ten years in the USA?
Innovation is at the heart of any society’s advancement. The planet is literally evolving, and society and our learning have to evolve with it. It is also important that we continue to approach challenges in new ways. We need new ideas and visions for moving our world forward, where more people benefit from advances in quality of life and economic opportunity. Education is the cornerstone and foundation of all of this. We must all continue to learn each and every day.
One of the things that I express to my team members and audiences far and wide is that SCEP and DOE should get smarter with every dollar that we deploy into communities. We should always be learning about what we have done right and what we have done wrong, and how to become more efficient, effective and impactful in those investments. So, we are a learning organization – or I hope we are – we should not “do” without thinking – and we should not “think” without doing. All of that activity is driven by internal and external education. Over the next decade, that ability for us to learn from our activities and to innovate in our work will only become more important to growing the economy and doing so in more equitable ways.
What are your future projects?
Right now we are doing everything that we can to make the greatest impact that we can with the $16 billion in funding that we are responsible for deploying, as well as finding more effective ways to coordinate with our DOE sister agencies – where we collectively manage $100 billion in funds – and partnering with other federal agencies.
Across the federal government, we have over half-trillion dollars in capital to deploy that came from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act. We will do everything we can to make every single dollar invested count. Our biggest future project is to focus more attention on going deep into community engagement across America. We want every community to feel like they have a trusted friend and partner in SCEP and DOE.
What advice would you give to many aspiring young entrepreneurs who dare to dream big regardless of the circumstances they may face?
My advice would be to follow your passions and interests. It's hard to know where those roads will lead you, but if you are open and put in the work, it can pay off. I am a testament to that. I am a testament to being able to rise from the most economically challenging of situations and achieve hopes and aspirations beyond the imagination. I always encourage young people to keep dreaming and don’t give up. And not to be afraid to think and act differently. The world needs entrepreneurs and dreamers – specifically those who dream about making the world a better place. That is the only way that we move forward as a society.
Thank you very much for the interview.