Photo by Collin Richie
Hometown: Lake Charles
Family: Married for 32 years to husband, Sterling “Buck” Gladden III, with three children: Kirby, Maggie and Sterling
Profession: Vice president, government & public affairs, Cox Communications Southeast Region
Years with company: 9
Fran Gladden is quick to deflect credit for her professional success to the people around her—mentors and colleagues she has worked with over the past 40 years.
“I’ve got way too many contacts in my contact list,” she jokes.
It was a mentor, Sharon Kleinpeter, who recruited and groomed Gladden in 2009 for her current position, overseeing governmental affairs for Cox Communications in Louisiana, Florida and Georgia. She’s also in charge of internal communications for Cox’s 2,000 southeast employees.
It’s the latest of many hats Gladden has donned over the years as she has watched Baton Rouge’s economic development landscape morph into what it is today—and what it will become in the future.
A Lake Charles native, Gladden moved to Baton Rouge in 1979 after graduating from McNeese State University with a bachelor’s degree in marketing. She has called the capital city home ever since, carving out a life here for her three now-grown children and husband of 32 years.
Prior to joining Cox, she did it all—economic development planning and marketing for 11 years, then representing the state’s rural electric cooperatives for 12 years, serving on various boards in between—before working at the Louisiana Economic Development for 11 years, serving as undersecretary during former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration.
In 2008, then-Mayor Kip Holden appointed her to serve as one of the seven board members for the Downtown Development District, where she has helped with what she calls a “renaissance of activity” happening in downtown Baton Rouge. However, she attributes most of the change to DDD Executive Director Davis Rhorer, Plan Baton Rouge and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation.
Gladden says partnerships between the public, private and nonprofit sectors are driving economic development in the area, pointing to the Watermark Hotel and the flood of new restaurants that have set up shop downtown as evidence.
Twenty years ago, Gladden says, the city’s main concern was obtaining Environmental Protection Agency-mandated permits. But these new developments, she says, remedy what Gladden pegs as a key challenge facing economic development in the Capital Region today: access to a qualified workforce.
“It’s really where folks want to live, work and play,” she says. “There are 250 residential units downtown. Ten years ago, there weren’t many.”
She drew on her wealth of experience when serving on the economic development transition teams for both Gov. John Bel Edwards—who recently appointed her to his cybersecurity task force—and Mayor Sharon Weston Broome as they each started their terms. Gladden urged them to “think outside the box” with different ways to recruit industry, such as through incentives.
“I’ve always made it a point to work across parties and geographic boundaries,” Gladden says. “I feel like the most effective leaders deliver on that, when they work across party lines.”
In her job, Gladden looks to philanthropy as a way to bring people together, noting Cox employees donated $155,000 to various charities and nonprofits in the community last year through a payroll deduction program.
Building on this idea, Gladden secured eight hours of paid time off for employees when they volunteer for a Cox-sponsored initiative. Still, she gives all kudos to the employees, who logged 2,000 volunteer hours last year.
For Gladden, it’s all about giving back—and, she maintains, giving thanks where it is due.
1986: Leads business development efforts for LED when Boeing selects Lake Charles for a military aircraft maintenance facility to rebuild Air Force KC-135 jet-refueling tankers, creating 1,400 jobs
2005: Manages more than $200 million in funds awarded to LED after Hurricane Katrina
2012: Becomes vice president of government & public affairs for Cox Communications’ Southeast Region
2016: Leads the regionwide rollout of Cox Charities, a unique campaign entirely funded and guided by employees. Supervises the creation of a program that provides employees eight hours of paid time off to volunteer.
2017: Employee participation in Cox Charities doubles, increasing by 43% in the 2018 campaign
Proudest business achievement
As part of the senior management team overseeing the employee assistance program for Cox Southeast during the recovery from the great floods of August 2016. Roughly one-third of Cox’s Baton Rouge workforce was impacted by flooding. The team worked with Cox Enterprises and the Cox Employee Relief Fund to secure more than $1.2 million in support of 280 employees whose homes or property were damaged by the flood, in addition to supporting their own personal needs of rebuilding.
Best advice received
Hire talented people and get out of the way. Then, encourage them to look through all filters when strategizing about making the right decision in the workplace and it’s amazing how their creativity will surface.
Worst advice received
Don’t waste money on shoes. Someone once said, I still have my feet on the ground, I just wear better shoes!