Pittsburgh's Next Decade: A Beginning

[First in an occasional series of prospective posts.]

So long to Pittsburgh's last decade. What will the next one bring? Long-range forecasts are easier in some ways than short range ones; my list of predictions for Pittsburgh's 2010 includes only one sure thing. My view of the next decade is on surer footing. These things take longer to come into focus - and most of them have been emerging for some time already.

Today: Pittsburgh's leadership.

In my view this is probably the most important thing that will happen in the region over the next ten years: The Pittsburgh-born and bred older white male leadership of the region will pass from the scene (though not necessarily this world), to be replaced by a younger corps of leaders that is more diverse in every way: age, geographical origin (within the US and beyond it), gender, professional background, color. In business, the not-for-profit community, higher education, and medicine, this shift is already underway; it will accelerate in the next 10 years. Pittsburgh's political space is a tougher nut, but it, too, is slowly evolving.

Years ago, at Pittsblog I made a fictional address to the annual meeting of the Allegheny Conference, and the Post-Gazette was kind enough to reprint it, accompanied by some brilliant art. That photo, alas, is not available with the online version: it was a murderer's row of the while male titans of Pittsburgh industry long past. The not-so-subtle message -- conveyed better by the image than by my piece -- was that not much had changed.

Even today, not much has changed. Most of the captains of Pittsburgh industry, and of most other things in the region, are still older white men. Is there a generation of younger white men waiting to take their place? Sure, in a sense; there are always white men waiting to step up and be handed the reins of power. Look across the leadership landscape, however, and you see a generation of competitors for those roles -- the CEOs, the presidents, the executive directors -- who don't fit the standard model, who wouldn't have been eligible to belong to the Duquesne Club, back in the old days, and who don't necessarily feel comfortable there even now. (An aside: Is there another city in America where so much cultural power is concentrated in a single building? I have wondered for many years what would happen to Pittsburgh if the Duquesne Club were forced, by circumstance, to close.)

Competition is the key; over the next decade, no one, white male or otherwise, should expect to rise to the top because of where he or she went to high school, or because he or she grew up in the City of Pittsburgh and the other person didn't, or because he or she has the connections and resources to appear in the Post-Gazette's Monday "SEEN" report. Again, the political space is a tougher nut here, and in all areas the Old Guard likely won't go without a fight. But in time it will go, if only because there will be too many talented non-standard alternatives; even Pittsburgh's famous obtuseness about change will yield, if grudgingly at times, to the need to find the best talent, not just the usual talent.


9 Responses to "Pittsburgh's Next Decade: A Beginning"

T Murray said... 1/04/2010 1:51 PM

It might surprise some people to know that the Duquesne Club was already considered stodgy among young people on July 23, 1892 when Henry Clay Frick lunched there, then walked back to his Fifth Avenue office where he was shot by an anarchist. Frick, by the way, was bleeding profusely and near death but continued to write letters and fill out a loan application -- and he dictated a memo advising the Homestead strikers that even if he were to die, the Carnegie Steel Company would prevail. Ah, those were the days! That July, Frick set the union movement back by decades.

But if you wanted to see real power in the 19th Century, you had to travel east to the more exclusive South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club set on the banks of an idyllic man-made lake. That club, alas, shut what was left of its doors when the earthen dam it owned gave way, releasing the lake onto the hapless town of Johnstown. None of the members of the club were ever held liable for the deaths or damage caused by the Johnstown Flood.

But those days are mostly gone. Most of the power has been drained out of Pittsburgh, starting with Andrew Carnegie, who left before he ever left Frick for the more cultural New York. The Duquesne Club remains the seat of Pittsburgh's economic and cultural power only in the same way Hollywood is still the movie capital of the world -- as a metaphor. As we all know, at one time virtually every major American city had a club like it, and until relatively recently in most of those places, even a lot of "privileged" and "entitled" white males like me weren't allowed inside except to work there -- because, see, I'm Catholic. The Duquesne Club, and I am sure, the others, are still a place where CEOs and big law firm types go to impress young associates (who, by the way, are NOT comfortable there, white male or no) and clients. At the Duquesne Club, at least, the latter seem to like the food.

You mentioned the SEEN report. Personally, I don't think the SEEN report is an indication of anything, except perhaps why our major dailies are failing. Who on earth is looking at that -- other than people who've been told they're going to be in the SEEN report?

And, yes, this region is slower than some to change the racial face of our economic and cultural leadership (I suspect we wouldn't even hire Europeans to be conductors of the PSO if we could find Americans who could read music). But as for gender, so long as women want to have children and so long as they choose mates based largely on their perceived abilities as providers, men -- white men, blue men, green men -- are going to be clawing their way up the corporate latter. And that has nothing to do with "white male privilege" -- it's that men want to have sex. You want gender diversity? Teach women to seek out and marry the shiftless, and give men financial incentives to be stay-at-home dads, the way other groups are given incentives to start businesses.

Mike Madison said... 1/04/2010 2:18 PM

I think that Hollywood still is the movie capital of the world, not in the sense that most or even many movies are made there, but in the Willie Sutton sense: It's where the money is. And the same claim might be made about the Duquesne Club today. Even as metaphor, the institution (Hollywood, brooding brown building) matters. SEEN, for what it's worth, doesn't matter to anyone except those who look for themselves in its pages -- but that fact matters, too, in the same metaphorical (and sometimes literal) sense: SEEN shows us where the money is.

As for gender (and religion), one only need to look around executive suites and boardrooms across America to observe a trend that is coming to Pittsburgh, sex and family notwithstanding. The post has little to do with what I want (though if I were asked, I would say that it is what I want). The post has to do with what I think is going to happen. The prediction has nothing to do with whether anyone thinks that gender discrimination or sex discrimination is real.

T Murray said... 1/04/2010 3:10 PM

Well, now, for those of us who grew up in the South Hills, Mount Lebanon was always the reviled metaphor -- you know, the place where "the money" is.

As for poor Willie Sutton, well, he didn't have an especially clear picture about the corporate structure of banks, did he? Given that he believed "the money" was in those little local branches he robbed.

But that's all beside the point. To me, the Duquesne Club has become a fancy restaurant. "The money" is up that street in the US Steel Building and over at Kirkpatrick and in a thousand other places where big salaries are paid. For my much smaller pot of money, the Duquesne Club isn't even a good get-your-blood-boiling metaphor any more. But that's me.

As for race and gender, you are correct: the world is changing. If we could actually deal with the social maladies of the inner city, the way Daniel Patrick Moynihan and others tried to, instead of buying votes there (as one party seems content to do) or ignoring it (as the other party seems content to do), the racial composition of corporate boards, etc. probably would start to change to my satisfaction. As for gender composition on boards, etc., one need only look around to know that this will never, ever mirror the percentage of men and women in our population, as some people think is a crucial goal, until people shed these constricting gender stereotypes that insist men are breadwinners, period, and that women are the primary, nurturing parent. Common sense.

T Murray said... 1/04/2010 3:12 PM

For those of us who grew up in the South Hills -- Mount Lebanon was the reviled metaphor. You know, the place where "the money" was.

Mike Madison said... 1/04/2010 3:23 PM

Even for those of us who didn't grow up in the South Hills, Mt. Lebanon retains much of its weird metaphoric power over the region, and there are plenty of people there (mostly, the ones who I used to critique on another blog) who like it that way.

As do places like the Duquesne Club. As a restaurant, it is thoroughly mediocre and wouldn't survive a month in what is increasingly a competitive Pittsburgh dining market. So why is it still here? Inertia is one explanation, but that can't be the whole story.

In San Francisco - another town with a serious "old money" crust, like Pittsburgh - places like the Pacific Union Club and the Bohemian Club are mostly relics of a bygone age; even as metaphors, outside of a very thin slice of the socio-business world, no one pays them any mind. I've learned that everyone in Pittsburgh reads a different history into its major institutions; a place like the Duquesne Club still occupies psychic space for a lot of people who like to do nothing but dismiss it as a group of snobs. Those stories end up making a fabric, and that fabric allows a place like the Duquesne Club to be perpetuated. As the power structure of Pittsburgh changes over the next decade, it will be interesting to see whether the club adapts - or dies.

T Murray said... 1/04/2010 4:14 PM

"The Duquesne Club still occupies psychic space for a lot of people who like to do nothing but dismiss it as a group of snobs. Those stories end up making a fabric, and that fabric allows a place like the Duquesne Club to be perpetuated. "

Excellent point, Mike. That is my experience, too. The Duquesne Club is a kind of Rorschach inkblot of a once-powerful institution that somehow retains its hold over Pittsburgh's imagination, but perhaps only by default.

For some of us, it is nothing more than downtown's main country club (without those nasty fun amenities -- like a swimming pool or paddle tennis, or whatever the hell people do at country clubs). I, personally, think that description is the most factually accurate.

For a lot (most?) people, though, the Duquesne Club remains the touchstone of class envy for
Western Pennsylvania -- the anti-working man or woman behemoth. It retains that hold over people possibly because nothing has come along in the past 30 years to take its place, and possibly nothing ever will.

Jonathan Potts said... 1/05/2010 11:03 PM

Surely, Mike, you'll concede that the Duquesne Club makes a mean macaroon. How does that fit into the Cupcake Class theory? Is the macaroon the cookie of old-guard Pittsburgh?

Mike Madison said... 1/06/2010 11:05 AM

JP, I wrote about the distinct "Macaroon Class" back in 2008. Here's the link. Short version: Macaroons, somewhat surprisingly, are the cookies of the old guard everywhere, not just in Pittsburgh. When club-baked macaroons get scarce, then the club class itself won't be far behind. Cupcakes are the people's pastry.

Jim Russell said... 1/06/2010 11:40 PM

Cupcake folk art

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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at]gmail.com. Mike also blogs at Madisonian.net, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

All opinions expressed at Pittsblog 2.0 are those of their respective authors and of no one (and no thing) else, least of all the University of Pittsburgh.

Pittsblog 2.0 has a motto: "It's steel good in Pittsburgh." Say it aloud, with a Pittsburgh accent.

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