Q&A with Garret Graves
Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities
Hometown: Baton Rouge
Full name: Garret Graves
Company: Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities
Hometown: Baton Rouge
Why do you do what you do?
The people, the area – this place is amazing. That’s why I do it. Having the opportunity work with the great folks on our team and those working on hurricane protection, flood protection and coastal restoration in our state is such an amazing opportunity. Don’t tell the Governor, but I can’t believe they pay me to do this stuff.
What is your greatest professional accomplishment?
Too tough to do just one here. The last five years have been incredible. While working in Congress, we started pushing legislation to share offshore energy revenues with states in 1996. We began a big initiative to get Congressional approval of comprehensive coastal restoration for Louisiana around 1998. In 2005, the President signed a bill that gave the state nearly half a billion dollars for hurricane protection and coastal restoration. In 2006, we were successful in sending the President a second bill that would share offshore energy revenues with Louisiana – ultimately billions of dollars. The last few years I worked in Congress — 2005 to 2007 — we were able to secure around $24 billion in authorizations and appropriations for hurricane protection and coastal restoration.. If you take the entire Corps of Engineers’ budget for hurricane protection, navigation, flood control, ecosystem restoration and other projects in all 49 other states and multiple it times three, that is what we currently have ongoing in Louisiana – it’s one of the largest public works efforts in the world – right here. Since I moved back home to Louisiana, the greatest thing we’ve done is totally restructured the state’s coastal program. Today, we’re doing 1500 percent more work with only about 10% more employees. The efficiency of the team has been great to watch.
What was your first job?
Mowing lawns and working on a survey crew in my early teens. Not sure we were really abiding by child labor laws then.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Focus on those things that you can influence rather than being distracted by things you can’t. Second, old bosses Sen. John Breaux and Cong. Billy Tauzin were masters at integrating their humor and wit into virtually everything. Everyone likes to laugh.
Who do you most admire in the local business community and why?
It is great to see folks that reinvest themselves in the community. I’ve known Todd Graves since we were in grade school – he seems to fit the bill. He has always been an impressive guy.
If you could have any job other than your own, what would it be?
After this, a barista.
What is the greatest personal or professional obstacle you’ve overcome?
Our congressional delegation tried to get a piece of offshore energy revenues from the federal government dating back to the 1950s or 1960s. Getting that one across the goal line was a heck of a battle — and well worth it.
If you started over, what would you do differently?
I wouldn’t have eaten that first Ruffles. Seriously, I really don’t have any regrets. I have made my share of mistakes and the share of several hundred other people – some pretty stupid. How you respond to bad decisions is critical – reconcile, mitigate and make a course correction. Most of my mistakes have been good learning experiences. This process will certainly continue, but it is what helps you grow. I have taken a number of risks. Some have worked out and some haven’t, but I don’t really regret the decisions or experiences because they help me to improve.
What is your prescription for life?
Thoughtfully and carefully define what success means to you, I repeat, to you, and start running.
What book are you currently reading?
Too many. Mere Christianity with a group of guys that I have coffee with once a week, The Fifth Discipline – it’s an organizational management book, and Survival by General Honore. I just spent a few days with him and couldn’t overstate how impressive he is – great guy. And, This I Believe that NPR put together.
If you could have dinner with any three living people, who would they be? (Authors? Leaders?)
My wife – doesn’t happen enough; Nouri al-Maliki — virtually starting from scratch and filling that incredible void while balancing internal relations and maintaining U.S. relations in that region, wow; and Carly Fiorina, heard her speak on management and leadership a few years ago and remain intrigued.
Who would play you in a movie?
Our son is probably the only person that would be interested in the job. By the time he turns six, even he will wise up.
What do you do to unwind?
Hike, bike, climb, paddle or run.
What is the most expensive purchase you’ve made for yourself?
When we moved to Baton Rouge, I bought a new bed without consulting my wife. I’ll be paying for that decision for decades.
What is your favorite weekend activity?
Putting the kids in the bike trailer and hitting the road. We talk and laugh for 30 miles. I could do it all day. We also enjoy heading down to New Orleans or the coast for a mini vacation..
What’s your theme song?
We push our folks hard to get projects out the door as quickly as possible. In response, they came up with a “Geaux Faster” phrase. I guess we could start singing it.
What’s your favorite spot in Baton Rouge?
Mississippi River levee.
How do you take your coffee/tea?
Black and by the gallon.
What is your favorite movie? TV show? Band?
Haven’t had much time lately. I’ll flip back through my eight-tracks and get back to you.
What is your favorite gadget?
Apple has done a great job with their user interface on the iPhone. I steal my wife’s when she isn’t looking. However, my fingers are too big to be efficient on the keyboard — have to go with the BlackBerry.
What is something that you can’t live without?
If you could change one thing about Baton Rouge, what would it be?
Baton Rouge has some incredible and very unique assets here – LSU, the Mississippi River, culture. There is untapped potential there in terms of improving the symbiotic relationship between the city and these assets.
What is your greatest hope for Baton Rouge?
I would really be excited to see an initiative to make LSU more than a four-year experience for folks – and that doesn’t just include coming back for football games. Students come here for four or five years and leave. Improving the university’s integration with the business community to provide students early access to private sector experiences and the private sector continued exposure to educational and research environments has the potential to be a real net gain. We’re working on a component of this concept to improve our coastal program.
What is your greatest fear for Baton Rouge?
LSU drops out of the top ten – it just makes people around here angry and more challenging to work with.