Entrepreneurial work ethic and optimism as a leader with Victor Hoskins | Changemaker

Entrepreneurial work ethic and optimism as a leader with Victor Hoskins | Changemaker

In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Victor Hoskins, President and CEO of Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, shares how his upbringing influenced him and the many successes and challenges Victor has faced along the way.


Some highlights:

The value of education

Understanding poverty and how it motivated Victor Hoskins

The story behind majoring in Urban Studies at Dartmouth

How to improve team culture at work

How Victor Hoskins led and cooperated to help the region land Amazon HQ2 

How to lead and motivate a team

Victor Hoskins vision in forging a regional alliance for economic development 


Also mentioned in this episode:

Jim Hankla

David Rubenstein

Michael Bloomberg

Robert Ehrlich, Former Governor of Maryland

Vince Gray, Former Mayor of District of Columbia, Washington DC

Nestle, Gerber, Grant Thorton, CGI, Amazon HQ2


Books

21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie



Connect with Victor Hoskins:

Fairfax County Economic Development Authority

LinkedIn


Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:

MahanTavakoli.com


More information and resources available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website: 

PartneringLeadership.com



Transcript

Mahan Tavakoli: Welcome to Partnering Leadership. This week, I have an energizing conversation with Victor Hoskins, President and CEO of Fairfax County economic development authority. 

Listen in to find out how Victor's upbringing influenced them. The emphasis he plays that his mother placed  on his education. And the many successes and challenges Victor has had along the way. Most especially the win that he was a part of in bringing Amazon HQ two to Arlington and Alexandria, which became a win for the entire region. Victor has received numerous awards, including in 2019 being recognized by the metropolitan Washington council of governments for his collaborative leadership. 

There is a lot to learn from Victor Hoskins, his optimism and his energy by themselves will lift you up. 

So here is my conversation with Victor Hoskins.


Mahan Tavakoli: Victor Hoskins, welcome to Partnering Leadership. So thrilled to have you on.

Victor Hoskins:  Glad to be here. Mahan, glad to be here. 

Mahan Tavakoli: Now, Victor, all of us are impacted by the place we grew up and the time we grew up. So let me know a tiny bit about the whereabouts you grew up and how that impacted who you've become. 

Victor Hoskins: Yeah. So I began my life on the South side of Chicago.

And for people who know Chicago, the South side is predominantly African American. I grew up part of my life in a public housing project called the Dearborn homes. They actually are still standing there just recently renovated recently being the last decade. And they're right behind the Illinois Institute of technology.

And that was a campus that was right near us. But in any case, I was raised primarily by my mother with my other five brothers and sisters. My father passed away when I was a year old, so she was really a person that we kind of had as a mother and father for many years. And then I spent my high school years in Southern California.

We moved to Southern California, my mother remarried later on in life and we moved this up. I'm in California and I went to high school there. So I think that the real shaping of my life they'll happen in Chicago because, living in Chicago, living on the South side, understanding transportation. Because really, even in Chicago, the young kids take transportation.That's amazing. Either you're on the L or central or the bus, so you can get around a city pretty easily. And then in Chicago, there were a lot of free museums. So the Museum of Science and Industry, The Shedd Aquarium, all these, you know, the Museum of Natural History and the Chicago Museum of Art, all of these assets were always available for kids.

So I went to them all the time. I spent most of my time in the summer, actually in the museums. And I think it really shaped the way that I understood a city. And I think most of all though, the skyline of Chicago, cause even when I was a kid, the skyline of Chicago was mighty. I think Chicago is probably the only city in the United States where people can quote a planner, often people quote Daniel Burnham.

And he's the one that really did the redesign of Chicago. This was after the Chicago fire, it was roughly the 400th anniversary of Columbus discovering America. And it was a world's fair, but Chicago was a whole new city at that time, and it risen from its ashes, but he used to say, make no small plans.

They have no magic to serve really in souls. And that kind of quote, that kind of thinking is what I grew up with as kind of a backdrop to almost everything that I did.

Mahan Tavakoli: Now, Victor, by almost all counts, you are an extremely successful person. So would you say that growing up in the projects had an influence on your eventual success?

Victor Hoskins: Yeah, I would say it did. I think, there are a couple of things that, when you grew up in public housing, a couple of things that at least I remember. Number one, I remember, it's hard being poor. Number two education was a route out of the projects to success.

And my mother always said that to us and we were the first generation to go to college. My mother was Italian, father African-American and we were the first generation really from both to go to college. So she really hammered that into us. We all believed in it. Everybody in my family spent some time in college.

My brother Jesse was probably the pioneer. He did, I think accounting and marketing. And then I had a brother, Chris, he did his bachelor's and masters in art at the Art Institute of Chicago. And I was the last one. I was the trailer. I was the last child one out of six, but then understanding that if you're going to change your condition, you really have to work for it.

And that work is really what I put into it. And that's what I really learned is that everybody needs to work. I remember my brother, Jesse, even when I was like three or four years old, I remember him going to work. As a matter of fact, at IIT, he was a dishwasher at IIT. He would bring his check home and him to my mother.

I mean, it was, everybody was on board. My sister was working, she was, I think she was like 13 or 14 years old, but we all worked early on. We all worked very hard. I started, I think I had a paper route at age nine. I opened up a paper stand at 10. I started a grocery delivery business while I was running. I did my paper stand on Sundays and that's free me up for the week.

So I was delivering groceries during the week, and this was all after school. So, really being entrepreneurial. Understanding that everybody needs to work. That work is good. Listen, if I wanted to go to the movies, I had to have money and if I was going to have some money I needed to work. So I think that understanding poverty can happen to anybody, in that.

There were great people everywhere. There were fantastic people in my public housing project. And then when we moved to a working class neighborhood later on, there were great people in that neighborhood. So great people everywhere, and you can find role models everywhere. And that's what I did. I looked for role models.

I looked for people who were doing things I wanted to do. I have to tell you the story about ties. This is one of those things that I do remember. I think I was about nine or 10 years old and I was doing my paper route. I came home late in the evening in the winter. It was freezing.

And my mother said, “So what do you want to do when you grow up?” 

And I said, “well, yes, I don't want to do this.” 

“So what, what do you want to do?” 

I said, “I want to be like Mr. Ice.”

So there was this guy across the street, Mr. Ice, and this Mrs. Ice. Wonderful family of four. They have four kids and the two of them, and he would go to work every day with a tie on. And with a briefcase, I'd see him walk out of his house, with his tie on, in his suit and he'd hop in his theory and he drove off his green fury to work. And I just thought that was the coolest thing in the world. His wife was a really wonderful lady. His kids were really cool and they always had something interesting that they were doing.

So I said, that's what I wanted to be on. Be like Mr. Ice,  and Mr. Ice wore a tie to work. And so for me, the kind of summary of Mr. Ice was, I wanted to wear a tie. So I wanted to wear a title work. So when these kids stopped wearing ties to work, it kind of freaked me out because it was just the opposite of what I thought success was.

Mahan Tavakoli: That's wonderful visualization though. You knew from the beginning where you wanted it to be, how you want it to work. 

Now, Victor, how does a kid growing up in the South side of Chicago and the projects, and then through L.A., end up at Dartmouth? 

Victor Hoskins: Well, I was very fortunate in that when my mother remarried, my step father had wanted to move to Southern California. And moving to Southern California actually was a great opportunity for me because instead of living in the inner city of Chicago, I was all of a sudden in the suburbs. Almost everything is a suburb in Los Angeles.

I mean, it's just one big, massive. The County is 4,200 square miles. The city is 420 square miles, it's just massive. So we were about 20 miles outside of L.A. in a suburb, and boy, it was really an easy place to live in. I mean, relative to the toughness of a city like Chicago, it was a very kind place to children.

You felt safe all the time. You always were able to get to resources. The high school I went to was amazing. It was the most fantastic high school that I could imagine going to. And I went there for all four years. There were only two weeks I didn't go there. Two weeks I went to Church Kaga vocational high school, which was not a very good high school in Chicago.

The rest of my high school career I spent at Monrovia high school, which was amazing. And by amazing, I mean that the teachers love to teach and not all kids love to learn, but most of the kids love to learn. 

I guess I tested well. So when I tested and I did those standardized tests, I came out at the upper end of the statistical curves that put me in this gifted group of classes, which meant that I got a lot of attention.

These classes were very small. I mean, most of the classes in the high school were probably 20,30, you know, 40 kids. Our classes were 10 and 11, 12 at the most. And we really had a lot of resources made available to us. I guess they would be the AP classes today. But in those days that were mentally gifted minors is what they call it.

They got that term from, but it was fun. Fabulous in that you could do research and I had the opportunity to research and strangely enough, I went to summer school, every year. Even in the first year of high school, I went to summer school because I love school that much. I just enjoyed it that much.

And some would go to summer school and I would take math courses and geometry courses and anything that I was interested in accelerating because I like math and science. And that, I think, discipline also allowed me to really focus on just being prepared for the academic world, and it just got better because I also stayed out of trouble by playing football.

So between football and the academics, all my time was absorbed. And that's really what I focused on, and all of that ended up helping me come out at the top of my class. I was a scholar athlete, I was very fortunate, I was on four championship teams during my time there, which was really fabolous.

So you get this winning spirit from athletics. I started every year. So I was one of the star athletes, but also I was a star in academics and then those two things really, I guess, were formulas for me to succeed in because we were pointed to suburbs that didn't make us rich. I mean, I was getting subsidized lunches.

I mean, I ate free lunches for four years when I was in high school. I mean, we were still poor, but technically poor, I didn't feel poor. I mean, maybe we didn’t live in a great house, but I didn't feel poor. I felt like what I had was a lot of opportunity in front of me, and I just wanted to take advantage, manage it and push really hard on the academics and understand that that would equate eventually into something good, which was what my mother had always told me.

And it did. When I applied to schools, schools actually wrote to recruit me. And I ended up having a stack of acceptances. I had like 11 different universities gave me admission with full scholarships from UC Berkeley to Georgia tech, from North Dame to Dartmouth. And I had this list in front of me and I was trying to figure out where to go to school.

I mean, look, if you were going to go to school and it was going to be a free ride, you really wanted to pick the right place. And I had a teacher that was pushing me to go to Pomona college in Claremont, it's one of the Claremont colleges. They call it the Ivy league of the West. And I was really seriously thinking about going there, but it was kind of close to home. It was, like 35 miles from my house, and that seemed too close to me. 

So I was thinking of landing in UC Berkeley, but I called my brother up before I made a decision. And my brother, Jesse, he's probably the most knowledgeable in my family about success. 

He was always successful when he said, “Victor, listen to me.”

So I started going through the list, I think the third or fourth school. I said, “Dartmouth.”

He said, “You can stop right there, forget the rest, go there.”

I said, “Do you know where this place is?”

And he said, “Yes, I do know where it is.”

 I said, “It's in the middle of the forest. They just had equal access for women like two years ago, dude, I don't know if I want to go to school like that.”

He goes, “Victor” he said, “You go to that school and your life will never be the same. You're not going to school to be comfortable. You're going to school to grow. You're going to school to make a difference. And the most difference can be made by going to a school like that. So go. This is going to be hard. You're not going to like some of it, but go.”

 And I always follow my brother's advice. So I went and it turned out to be a really great experience.

Mahan Tavakoli: What fabulous advice, and I know both your mom and your brother have had a significant impact on you, Victor, but also when you think about, you were in the gifted program, but you were also in the hard worker program. 

A gifted student that was taking summer school, along with all the sports activities that you had was going through summer school. So gifted and hard worker. So you ended up studying Urban studies, go on to MIT for real estate. I haven't run into too many high school students that say, I want to go to a top college and I want to study urban studies. 

What drove you to study Urban studies? 

Victor Hoskins: Well, you know, it's interesting when you were a freshman at Dartmouth, there is this thing called the Dartmouth plan, which gives you a lot of flexibility in when you can go because it's on the quarter system. And one of the things that they had, it was required, every freshman had to take this thing called freshmen seminar. And when I went to take my freshmen seminar, I had this friend down the hall from me when there was an upperclassmen, his name is Walter Calender.

He was a year before me. So he was an upperclassman, big guy, like a sophomore. He made it the first year. That was big enough for me. And I needed some advice, and I said, “Listen, I'm trying to pick my freshmen seminar. I said, “Where should I go? Which one should I take? 

And he goes, “Well, take something that you're interested in.”

And I said, “Well yes, and I went through the catalog and there were only a few things that I would say interested in it. Which one did you take?”

He said, “Well I took urban studies 

and I go, “That sounds cool. What was that like?”

He said “It was in future cities. It's all about future cities, 

And I go, “Oh man, that sounds like that's right up my alley.” I love cities. I mean, even though I'd gone to school, the high school in the suburbs, I'd love cities. So I said, “Yes, why don't I do that?”

And when I took the class, it was one of those classes that really gave me an interesting view of the world because, it was really about, there were I think, six books and yes, you need to write a paper on each of the books. It was a page for every two weeks. The books were all about future concepts of communities. In cities like Walden pond, Walden two would be a compact city. And these were all futuristic ideas of, like the compact city was all about 250,000 people located in a circular structure, only occupying about one square mile.

Even all the rest of the land fallow, I mean, it was like those kinds of concepts. But it was really more about thinking, how do you think about cities? And then there were some classics in it, but, and what I wanted to do really was I really wanted to change cities and I was interested in design and how design affected behavior, because I felt that the design of the projects to public housing projects really impacted how people felt about themselves and about the place. There were a lot of, I thought, physical signals there that were very negative, as opposed to when we moved to the working class neighborhood, there were a lot of physical characteristics that were positive. So I did urban studies. And I did pursue looking into redevelopment. 

Actually, I worked at the Boston redevelopment authority for a term. I actually taught in an inner city school, Pasadena, California for a term. So I took terms where I've had these experiences in the urban environment. But when I studied, I was studying primarily these physical environments affected behavior, because that was really what I was interested in. But as I became a senior, I started moving more towards the economics of urban development, and that's really how I got interested in real estate. 

And so when I went to MIT, I decided to focus on real estate, real estate finance as my discipline, because I felt like that would give me the strongest set of tools for being a professional in real estate development, because ultimately that's really what I wanted to be involved with.

Mahan Tavakoli: No wonder you have been so successful. You have such a broad, both perspective from your personal experience, but also educational experience that supports economic development. 

Now what brought you down to D.C?

Victor Hoskins: So my wife and I moved from California 20 plus years ago now. I went to Southern Cal after I finished my graduate degree at MIT. There, I first started working for the Los Angeles urban league. And then, I worked in private real estate development, for a publicly traded real estate company called New Holland and Farm. And then I worked for a private investor for three years. 

So I had a lot of great experiences, but the one that I really enjoyed was economic development manager for the city of Long Beach. And that's where I met Jim Hankla. And I need to mention Jim Hankla before I come to the East coast, because Jim Hankla was probably the most influential person in my professional career. He's one of the few people that I think really understood me. 

When I first met him, first of all, I heard about him, read about him and then I wanted to meet him, and then I wanted to work for him. That's kind of how it went. I left the private investor and I went to work for Hankla and I did that for four years. And while I was working for him, I really got a chance to meet someone that I want it to be. And by that I meant he really wanted to shape cities and change them for people's overall good. That was really his focus, and economics was his tool to get there. 

And what he explained to me is something that I didn't even understand about myself. He said, “You think you're motivated by money, but you're not. You're motivated by achievement. That's what's going to set you apart. You really have to continually remind yourself that it's not about money. It's about others, and it's about what you achieve on their behalf. It's not your personal achievement. I know this about you because you didn't ever come here from where you were working before. You just stayed there and made a bunch of money.”

He kind of helped me realize that there is this thing inside of me, it's not inside of everyone. I mean, some people just want to build a big company and make a bunch of money. And I think that's cool too, because then you can be a philanthropist. I mean, Oh my God. I think people like David Rubenstein. Amazing. Okay. That dude is like, amazing. Talk about my idol or Bloomberg. That's even a closer one. I mean, these guys have gone out and they've just decided to do things in the public interest, even though they've become wealthy. 

That wasn't the way I was going to do it, the way I was going to do it as directly. So we moved here because my daughter was about to go to high school and my daughter was nerdy like my wife and I, in the Los Angeles school system and was not kind of a nerd.

And we felt like we either were going to move into a Beverly Hills zip code and get her to Beverly Hills high school, or we were going to move out of Southern California. And we decided to move out of Southern California. And that's how I ended up in Baltimore, where I worked as executive director for the Baltimore Tech council.

There was a greater Baltimore committee tech council that I ran. 

Mahan Tavakoli: And then you had experience as deputy mayor in DC, Prince George's County. You're one of the unique individuals in this region for a lot of people that don't understand the Washington D.C. area, is that there is a real big river between Maryland and Virginia. That sort of people don't cross that river if they can avoid it. And then D.C. is separate from the two of them, but you're one of the unique individuals that has had senior level experience in all three jurisdictions here. 

Victor Hoskins: Yes, I've been very fortunate. When I was in Maryland, I was asked to be part of the cabinet of Governor Ehrlich. And I ran housing and community development for the state, and that was a fantastic experience. 

Being a Democrat in a Republican administration was a very unique position to be in. In the cabinet, it’s even more interesting, but it was a fabulous experience, and I think what happened was through that, I developed the record  for getting big things done in a very short period of time. 

We did 35,000 housing opportunities in three years in six months and had never been done in history. And that ended up helping me get the position in D.C. D.C. was in trouble in 2011. The developers couldn't find equity or debt or couldn't borrow to build. Everything had drawn to a stand still, and Mayor Gray asked me to join his administration.

He said, “Victor, get these projects going.”

 So that's what I did.  I had a great time doing it. There was a, we had a magnificent team. He was an amazing leader. Again, that work ethic, the thing is to me at the core of everything that I've been able to do, has been a strong work ethic. 

I believe in hard work. I think hard work is fabulous. I think hard work is just good for your spirit. But it's also good for making you tough in the tough times, because the tough times come. Like these are tough times now. And frankly,  I was built for tough times. I'm looking for them. I want them to come up on me because that's what I want to fix.

I mean, that was what D.C was all about. We were able to do the Wharf, that Sydney center, Shafter in Dakota, old street market, union market, just fabulous projects. And then going to Arlington, they had lost 30, 40,000 employees. Their vacancy rate had gone from 10% to 21% and they were in a basic disaster. And where did I go? I went to Arlington to fix Arlington and I love big problems. And, we did Lidl, we did Nestle, Gerber, Grant Thorton, CGI, Accenture,  Capital Innovation center. And capped it all off with HQ 2, Amazon HQ 2 headquarters, 37,000 jobs and, two and a half billion dollar investment.

What a great thing to be involved with. And then two tech campuses. A billion dollar Virginia Tech campus, and a half a billion dollar, George Mason University, a tech campus all at once. I mean, for me, it was fabulous. 

And I had a great team, like you said, these are, these things are done by teams, they're not done by individuals. But the leader has to keep the direction straight, has to have the North star in view all the time, and can't tire because it's a long haul, it's a marathon. In the marathon, you can lose sight of the fact that the race is going to end. You can just feel the pain in your bones and your muscles and not think about the end and the leader keeps the end in mind regardless. 

Mahan Tavakoli: I do want to go into the Amazon win in a minute, Victor, but one of the things you've already shared a lot of pearls of wisdom with respect to leadership. But one of the things that I really hope the listeners get out of this is your attitude and perspective lifts everyone around you up.

So I absolutely adore that about you, because you can't help, but be optimistic about the future. Being surrounded by people like you or having a leader like you lead the organization, even in tough times as it is today. It's that attitude that really infests and infects the entire organization at a four on a positive front. 

But onto the Amazon win, was actually just on a call and people were talking about the different reasons why New York ended up not being able to make it because they're all a lot of different interests and the interests started a circular shooting squad and ended up killing the New York chances. 

What did you and the rest of the team do to make sure that would become a win both for Arlington, and I would say it is a real win for this entire region?

Victor Hoskins: Oh, absolutely, yes. Thank you, Mahan, and I appreciate your comments about my optimistic view of the world, because I am an eternal optimist. My mother says I've been that way my whole life. She said I would wake up first thing in the morning and a big old smile on my face. And it's hard to get a smile off of my face because I'm just delighted to be alive.

But getting back to the Amazon experience and why New York lost the opportunity and we were able to keep our hands on it and embrace the opportunity. I think that there were a couple of things at play. 

Number one, the team in Arlington and in Alexandria really was a collaborative team. It wasn't just us in Arlington. It wasn't just Alexandria fighting forward or as fighting against one another for it. And even the state was involved with both of us and partnership. So I think that the fact that it was a collaboration made it strong, it was a big team. It wasn't just us in Arlington, I mean, we really didn't have a big enough team to win it alone. We had to have a bigger team. So I think that that was part of it. 

I don't know how New York viewed it, but that's how we viewed it. We viewed it as a team effort. So that was part of it. And then, understanding that you really need to keep everybody that has a stake involved informed as much as you can, and we worked really hard at that. We were purposeful about what we put in the public and what we kept private. There were some things we couldn't reveal because we were under a nondisclosure agreement, but anything that we could reveal, we did reveal.

And I think that, through the years, I've been at Arlington almost three and a half years at that point, almost four years, and they have seen me in action and they have learned to trust me. And they had learned to trust my judgment. And they knew that there wasn't going to be a bait and switch, and that I was going to fight in their interests.

One of the first things that I said, I said this to the state, I said this to the local leaders, I said this to my leaders that this is my team. I said, we're not buying this deal. I said somebody can buy it and they can have it. I'm not involved in it. I am not going to be involved in it. I do not want to be involved in it because that's a totally lose proposition. I said, because someone out there is going to do something crazy, like offer, multibillion dollar package. I got to tell you, I don't want to be part of that. And by the way, I don't know. I think that's going to be good for the company, and I do not think it's good for our community. I say we have a lot of power here in our community. We have incredible schools. We have amazing transportation. We have incredibly planned and really available inventory and an opportunity to grow. So for us, it was more a place that had already been created and really molding that place and, listen, informing the elected officials because they have a stake in this.

You cannot leave them out, informing the community as much as possible because they have a stake in this. You cannot leave them out. And I took criticism from both sides. I must admit, even my team members at times criticized me. But what I was trying to do is strike a balance. And I think about all of this, in this business of economic development, you always have to strike a balance. Because as I used to tell everybody, I tell them two things that they had to remember. 

Number one, steady wins the race. Steady wins the race. speculation leads to poverty, so that's one thing I would tell them. And the second thing I would tell them was this. We cannot win alone. We have to win in partnership. If we went alone and it's all to our credit, what have we done? We've done something for ourselves. But when we went together, we went in as a team. We went in as a collaborative, we've done it for the community.

And I was serious when I said, but I told this to Amazon, the Amazon negotiators, I said, look, if your deal has to go to Alexandria, I'm fine with that. I said, let it go down Alexandria. I can live with that. I said, that's fine with me.

And then, Stephanie Landrum from Alexandria said this, and if it goes to Arlington, I'm good with that. And they looked at each other. I know they were like, these people were crazy. No, we were both very serious because this is what we knew. The opportunity was so big, that it really didn't matter where it landed, you know, 37,500 employees.

I mean, actually at that time it was 50,000 that we were looking at. Because remember they cut it in half. So it’s 50,000. But you look at numbers like that 4 million square feet. Look, you cannot lose. You can be within 30 miles of the place and you were going to win something.

So that was the attitude that we took in and we felt like it both of us, and I think our teams felt this way, that it was more important for the region to win this thing than for any individual jurisdiction to win. And when it all turned out that we won, we felt blessed. Alexandria, we helped them, we fought for their Virginia tech campus. And then we ended up getting, I have a billion dollar George Mason university campus, so everybody won. And by the way, the region's winning now. I mean tomorrow, Amazon, is going to be launching like a thousand recruiters. When there are 20,000 coaching sessions , we all win. We all win. 

Mahan Tavakoli: It is absolutely a big win for the entire region, Victor. And the way you and other key people led in the process, made sure that we all became winners rather than becoming losers. 

Now you have all these wings in Arlington, lots of them, Amazon was just one of them. You mentioned Nestle, you mentioned some others and you take on and the responsibility at Fairfax. What drew you to that opportunity? 

Victor Hoskins: The first time they came to recruit me, I stepped out of the process. I said, I'm not really that interested. And the reason why, is that I really wanted to work in the region. The second time they called me and I did go through the process, they were very clear that they wanted to see a collaboration. And one of the things that I've always envisioned was an united, regional entity or even if it was just an alliance. Just an Alliance and Alliance is a big deal, but something that wasn't informed of, we were working together.

And when I I took the Fairfax job. So Fairfax, this is the second largest office market, a suburban office market in the United States. It's 118 million square feet. The only larger one is in Orange County, California so it's huge, 1.2 million people. It's the largest jurisdiction South of Philadelphia in North of Atlanta.

Okay, So it's a big job. 400 square miles. They have offices, five overseas and one in California. So it was a big job, but in that big job was also a big influence on the tone within Northern Virginia. And I realized as I was going through the interview process that from that seat, I could help forge an Alliance.

I'm working with people like Stephanie Landrum from Alexandria, working with people like Christina Winn, who had left Arlington and gone to Prince William County and had taken over, working with people like Alex Iams, who was in Arlington County now. 

Those were allies that I had worked closely with on an Amazon deal, and I said, “hey guys, why don't we figure out how to work all together?”

And everyone said, “That sounds like a good idea, let's try it.”

So we pulled in all the 10 jurisdictions in Northern Virginia and sat down with Buddy and said, hey, look, this is not going to be perfect. We're not going to try to make it perfect, we could just try to make it good, and this was like a month after I was on board. We signed this Alliance, and we've been, we've done it for a year now. And it has been a spectacular success for all of us. There's not a person that is in this Alliance, that is not delighted that they are part of the Alliance.

It has made a big difference to all of us, and, I could talk about some of the things that we've done, but the bottom line is that that Alliance, I believe, is the beginning of uniting, the entire Washington DC region. Because after we did our Alliance, I think four or five months later, there was all of a sudden an Alliance in suburban Maryland led by David Nucci, from Prince George's County, working with Ben Wu and the other guys over on that side of the river.

Now we have the connected DMV and we're talking about, putting together a regional economic development strategy. So I think about the thing that I've dreamed of, which is this United region. And why I've been dreaming of this, is that this is what I do. 

I do know we're in a global competition. Everybody thinks we're in a regional competition. Wrong, I realized this years ago. I was in management consulting before I came back to the public sector to work for Mayor Gray. When I took that job in January, 2011, the economy was not in great shape. But this is what I didn’t know, I didn't know that Maryland was not my competition, Northern Virginia wasn't my competition. My competition was Shanghai. My competition was London. My competition was Tel Aviv, Bangalore, Mumbai. You're wrong, you’re absolutely wrong. If you're in economic development in a place like ours, and you think that you're competing against a neighbor. That's just silly. You're never going to win that way. You got to up your game. And if you're going to up your game, you gotta have a big team. And what we're doing is we're forming this big team. 

It's sort of like one of the things that I used to when I played football, one of the things I used to admire about other teams is they were so much larger. My senior year, we only had 28 players. We still dominated our league, we went undefeated. Well, the reason why is because we played together so well. But the thing that I love was when they got an injured player, like one of their lineman got hurt, they had another lineman. And when that lineman got hurt, they had another lineman. They had all these replacements. When you're just like, you got 28 people, you're running out of people. 

Look. We can't win, we're going to run out of people when we get into competition, if we're just using our resources. So having this bigger team, having this bigger scope has really changed how we play the game and how many players are in the game. So instead of a 1.2 million population, I talk about a 2 million plus population. Instead of 118 million square feet, I talk about 200 plus million square feet. 

Listen, I'm sorry, Fairfax is a cool place to go. Look, okay, we have mosaics, but you know, what have you ever been to King street in Alexandria? Oh, that's having a good time. I'm just saying that, you really are able to do more when you are bigger that way, 

Mahan Tavakoli: You know, Victor, nothing succeeds like success. So the successes you've had have laid the groundwork for the region to start coming together and pursue more successes. To your point, it is a global environment and you drive a hundred miles from this city. Most people don't know the boundaries and the jurisdictions, let alone, internationally. 

Just wondering though, we've been through the past six months, a major shift in at least the way organizations are working right now. 

What do you foresee with respect to economic development? Whether from its office perspective or just the general with respect to the competitiveness of this region. 

Victor Hoskins: So there was something that had changed in the last four or five years in economic development anyway, which is a focus on a need to think about talent. And really the talent pipeline and that whole strategy, which Stephen Murray of the Virginia economic development partnership really crafted.

Did an incredible job of crafting that, that we've taken advantage of in the state of Virginia. That piece became a critical piece for, not just Amazon, before all the other companies that would be looking at Northern Virginia as a location. And actually forget Northern Virginia, just all of the DC region, because you get to take advantage of those institutions also. So that’s one thing that changed and that was before COVID. 

When COVID hit, all of a sudden, accessing talent became harder because talent couldn't visit and you couldn't visit talent. So all of a sudden you have this virtual world that we're working in. And I think that what we've done, we've actually done with our Northern Virginia economic development Alliance, we've done a couple of things. 

We now have a joint website. It has a joint brand. Nova innovation lives here, which is what we use to attract Amazon. Every jurisdiction, all 10 are on that website and all the jobs that are available in Northern Virginia, which are about 80,000 right now in Northern Virginia, that are available on that site in many of the employers are mapped on that site. So they can see the jobs, they can see where it is. We have selected community tools on there. But all of this digital tool has become the center for us. We get about 20 to 25,000 hits there a month. So it gets a lot of traffic. And we drive that traffic from this local market, but mostly from other markets: Boston, Cambridge, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, New York and Austin, Texas.

So those are the primary markets that we're driving traffic from there to here, to look at us. Because there are what are called, we call our competitive markets. But even during that, I mean, even though we had all of that going on, we created these virtual career fairs and we had one that was focused on college students in May, we had one focused on tech professionals, mid-career, in July. And then we had one on diversity with the Hispanic chamber and at the end of July. So we're using these digital platforms, these virtual career fairs to go after talent. 

To go after companies is a whole nother thing. We have these webinars series that we do that are really crafted for each market. But then we also have COVID, so we had to help companies that were here that were hurting. So we created this 12 installment workshop series. 

Now we're on number 11, that deals with pivoting your company, setting yourself up for growth, accessing capital, all the things that companies need. But we did that as a team and somebody said, how did you afford that? We shared the load, we shared the cost. How did you produce that? We shared the cost. No one had to take the burden on alone. Everybody shared the burden, which made it actually even more powerful. 

So, the point I want to make is that, that collaborative environment actually has played into what's in the future for economic development because see, right now people are really realizing this, yes, working at home is okay, but you know what? I really need to get to the office. I really need to collaborate. I really need to work with my people. I've been stymied in some ways, because I can't use my white board. I used to have team members,  impromptu do come in my office, go to my white board and put things on my white board. Ideas that they have. We can't whiteboard that way. So it's harder to collaborate. 

How do you coach a young person for growth in your organization, if you don't see them, if you don't talk to them, if you don't know what they're going through? I mean, to me, that's the missing piece. That's what we have to get back to the office. So to answer your question in brief, we will be back in the office. And I think that there's going to be a massive exodus from office space. I think there's going to be some shifting around, I think there will be some spreading out within existing footprints. I think on par. I think it's going to work out where this countervailing force of needing to socially distance needing to have more people in office is going to balance out that stay at home. And I think that this hybrid model, which I think it ultimately worked for all of us in a big way, less commuting days. 

I mean, just imagine this, I was just thinking about this. What if I only commuted three days a week? Oh, my God, my life would be different,  and two days use zoom, or work from home. I mean, what about that? What does that like? By the way, how would that be for my younger staff that has children? How's that for my older staff that has a massive commute because they bought a house 40 miles away or 50 miles away. My point is I think that all of this is going to shake out in a very positive way.

What I like to remind people of is if you look back at the last pandemic, Which was 1918. 

Mahan Tavakoli: I wasn’t around then, Victor?

Victor Hoskins: Pardon me?

Mahan Tavakoli: I wasn't around then.

Victor Hoskins: Yes. Yes, I wasn't either, but if you read the history, Okay? What came after that? The roaring twenties, Okay? Some of the greatest economic expansion in the history of our country. 

See, we've been through things like this before. We just don't remember, like you said, we were not alive. Many of our parents weren't even alive at that time. So, given the context, this feels new to us. We have some fears that I think are unfounded. And again, my positive nature kicks in.

And I tell my team and I tell companies this, okay, here we go. After 9-11, people told me I'm never going to fly again. I say, you're right. More people were flying after 9-11. Listen, pre-COVID, you're more people flying than ever before in the history of man. I mean, ever before in the history of the human race.

So what happened between 9-11 and 2020? Something happened. We adjusted. We put in TSA, made us feel more secure. We put in scanning bags, which made us feel more secure. We put in dogs, to sniff bags. We did things. We put in, bionic, I mean, bio recognition, my handprint gets me back in the country instead of somebody going through my passport.

We adjusted. That's what we're going to do. Tall buildings, not going to be another tall building built again ever. That's what they said after 9-11. I had people tell me this, never going to happen again. More tall buildings have been built since 9-11 than ever before in the history of man. Since 9-11, what happened? We adjusted. We put in systems to protect our building. We put in systems to protect our airports. We put in systems to protect, then actually we put people on planes to watch the planes? I mean, remember air marshals. I mean, come on. We do the things that we need to do to adjust. This is what Americans do the best. We innovate. We are creative. We have minds from all around the world. In those minds, come here to create this innovation. A lot of our greatest inventions did not come from people who were born in America. Let's get a clue. Zoom was made by a guy that came from China. And by the way, I love some zoom. 

Mahan Tavakoli: I have to tell you, Victor, I'm going to take a clip these past five minutes and I'm going to replay it for myself because it is wonderful hearing your optimism, but optimism rooted in reality, rooted in experience. Whether the 1918 pandemic or 9-11 or whatever other crisis. And then there are opportunities. There are people like you that have an optimistic view, work hard at it and build even stronger and better than things were before. So I actually absolutely love that perspective. 

Now we'd love to start wrapping up with getting some of your thoughts. If you were to look back and give advice to what was a very smart, very hardworking young Victor with respect to the future of professional life. What advice would you give to a younger Victor or to a younger leader wanting to become successful as you are Victor? 

Victor Hoskins: Oh, thank you for saying that. I appreciate being considered successful. 

Mahan Tavakoli: Knowing you, I know you have many more challenges ahead and mountains you want to climb Victor, but anyone that looks at your track record will see lots and lots of successes.

Victor Hoskins: Thank you. So this is the advice that I would give to either a younger me or a person that's interested in pursuing a path like this. One of the things that I would do is I would do a harder evaluation on what graduate school I went to. I loved MIT. I loved course 11, which is Urban Studies. It's where I did the department of urban studies and planning. I loved it. I love my coursework. I had a great time. 

However, I would have done more courses in this Sloan school, the business school, or HBS, Harvard Business School. I took a course in financing, economic development. The Kennedy School, but I think that I would have probably enjoyed a deeper understanding of business management.

And probably the other thing that I would have done is when I went to wall street, I probably would tell myself to stay longer.  And what I'm saying, I guess, if I'm going to encapsulate what I'm saying is, give as much time to the private sector, as you give to the public sector if you're going to do the kind of work that I do. Because, one of the reasons that I'm able to help companies is that number one, I listened to them, which I think is the primary thing. And number two, I do understand the problem they're trying to solve. If I can diagram the problem, I can actually, from my perspective, provide the support that I need to solve it. 

I cannot tell Microsoft how to create a successful software program. But if Microsoft, like it has recently done, is going to make a decision for corporate headquarters, and I'm competing against another jurisdiction. Well,  they decided to put their 400,000 square foot research and development facility with 1500 employees in Fairfax County. Well, if they're going to make that kind of decision, I have to listen to them and understand them better. And that's why I'm thinking that even with the knowledge that I have, I would have liked to have more. And I think that's only because I just want to win more.

I want to figure out how to win the ones that I lost, but I think that, really giving a balance to business and public service, I think is important for those that are deep in the business, I would suggest, doing some work on the public service side. Just so that you understand, people wonder why I'm so passionate about this work. 

And I tell my team this, and I've said this publicly. When I save a job, when I help create a job, I save a household. I create support for the household. Every job is a household. It’s not a person. It is not a job. It is a household. And in many cases, it's multiple households. Like if you held it in my neighborhood, you probably were not just supporting your family, but also maybe your cousin and your uncle.

It just happens. It's just how families are. Everybody's not equally talented. Everybody's not equally resourced. And how you use these resources is really important. In these households man, it makes a difference to these households. And that's what I think of every day, and that's why I approach it with so much passion.

Mahan Tavakoli: Well, Victor Hoskins. I am glad that you are on our team in this region. The purpose driven leader that you are. And the person that has achieved a lot of success for this entire region. One final question, when people ask you about leadership, Victor, are there any resources, books? Anything that you tend to refer people to, that you got some of your leadership insights from?

Victor Hoskins: So there's a book called the “21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” and it's written by John Maxwell. And it is one of the best books on leadership that I've ever read. And I think it's one of those books that is a must read. There's a book that I've read, over and over again. A classic, and it is Dale Carnegie. It is an amazing book. I'm still trying to become a book, how to make friends and influence people. Between those two books, I think that there's so many relationships, and value lessons, and lessons about leadership. And how about how to convince them or help somebody understand your perspective as you lead.

Because the thing about leaders is that you don't always have the answer, but you know the direction. The thing about leaders is that you don't always know the exact solution, but you know the characteristics of that solution. So for you, it's the 80 20 rule. I'm not going to let perfect get in the way of good. I'm not going to sit here and fight for a hundred percent when I got 80% and I know that's pretty good, and I know that's right. And I think that's the hardest part about leadership. And I think those books, those two books in particular help people sort out the issue of not having the exact, precise, solution, but knowing that direction. Because life is about North stars, it's about setting a goal and then pursuing it.

And I've been very fortunate that I've had a lot of things that I've tried to do, actually come to fruition and it's always happened through other people, and working with other people. So Mahan, thank you so much for  really talking to me today. 

Mahan Tavakoli: Absolutely. Thank you very much, Victor. I look forward to having many more conversations with you as I'm sure both in Fairfax County and for this entire region, you will continue to achieve more on our behalf and have an impact on the communities that you were talking about. Thank you, Victor Hoskins. 

Victor Hoskins: You're welcome. Thank you, Mahan. Have a great one.



Victor Hoskins

President and CEO of Fairfax County Economic Development Authority

Victor Hoskins joined the Fairfax County (Va.) Economic Development Authority (FCEDA) as President and CEO in August 2019. Since his arrival, Microsoft, Facebook and Google have all announced locations in Fairfax County. In his first year, he and the FCEDA team easily exceeded office space leasing and job creation goals, and generated more earned media than ever, in spite of coronavirus-related limitations on business activity. Mr. Hoskins and his team launched a groundbreaking talent initiative to help companies attract the workforce they need to succeed in Northern Virginia. In its first two months, this initiative involved more than 30 companies and 35 institutions of higher learning, including seven historically black colleges and universities, 7,000 job opportunities and 1,700 applicants.

In addition, Mr. Hoskins spearheaded creation of the Northern Virginia Economic Development Alliance (NOVA EDA) that includes 10 jurisdictions. NOVA EDA launched a COVID-19 response that is guiding thousands of businesses through loan and grant programs throughout the region. In Fairfax alone, there has been assistance provided to 5,000 businesses from March to July 2020.

Previously, Mr. Hoskins was director of Arlington (Va.) Economic Development. In that role, he led the team that successfully attracted Amazon HQ2 to Arlington County, a deal that will bring between 25,000 and 37,850 technology and corporate headquarters jobs with an average salary of $150,000 to Arlington, stimulate creation of another 75,000 jobs in the Washington region, create innovation campuses in Arlington and Alexandria, and generate up to $4.8 billion in revenue for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

While in Arlington County, Mr. Hoskins also successfully implemented an Innovation Strategy that moved the economy toward technology and private-sector commercialization. In 4½ years, he and his team created or retained almost 82,500 jobs from 251 companies including Nestlé, Grant Thornton, Lidl, MasterCard, Deloitte, PBS and Opower-Oracle.

He previously worked in private real estate investment on Wall Street. Additionally, he served as Deputy Mayor of economic development for the District of Columbia and led the turnaround of the District’s economy with projects such as The Wharf and City Center. His career work has resulted in almost 390,000 jobs, and he has led teams that negotiated more than 750 major business deals involving $30 billion in investment.