The below column was written exclusively for The Lake Norman Citizen Newspaper and appeared in the April 6, 2016 issue (page 39 – For the Record)
Nearly a quarter of a century ago, a man of boundless energy, laser focus, and a commitment to higher education took the helm of Central Piedmont Community College. In 1992, Dr. Tony Zeiss became just the third president of a community college that today serves 70,000 students a year.
Under Tony’s leadership, the college has grown from one campus to six, including the Merancas Campus in Huntersville. Dr. Zeiss has created a “learning college” whose mission is not simply to transfer knowledge from teacher to student but to create an atmosphere that allows students to discover knowledge, to apply it, and in essence become a problem solver.
Early in my career with the Lake Norman Chamber, I had the privilege to sit down with Beverly Dickson, the Dean of the Merancas Campus at the time. Beverly, who served on my board for six years, pointed out that the traditional four year college, while providing a “college experience,” was becoming unaffordable and less accessible for many students.
Enter Zeiss who understood that employers in the Charlotte region and beyond are challenged to find knowledgeable and skilled workers. Tony and his team set out to create a culture that prepared students for the workforce and deliver area businesses and industry high caliber employees committed to their task.
In 2005, the Lake Norman Chamber partnered with CPCC in a Workforce Development Summit held at the Merancas Campus. Highlighting several of our Lake Norman companies such as Lowe’s and Daetwyler, the theme of the summit was “Get ‘em While They’re Hot.” It was the title of Dr. Zeiss’s book on how to attract, develop, and retain peak performers in the labor shortage we faced at the time.
Tony gave me a copy of the book and made a little notation within its cover. Looking at it the other day, I also noted several turned down pages and highlighted text that I’m often guilty of doing to my favorite books.
Zeiss writes, “Today’s leaders must learn to think globally, appreciate cultural diversity, develop high technical skills, build partnerships, and share in decision making.” Zeiss goes on to point out the critical skills needed to succeed are – the ability to communicate and create employee support for a shared vision, unwavering integrity, a focus on results, and a commitment to customer satisfaction. More than a decade later, his words are still the foundation for success today.
The campus here in Huntersville trains firefighters and police through their Public Safety program and Criminal Justice Academy as well as collision repair, emergency medical training and general public education.
On April 14, Dr. Tony Zeiss will speak to business and community leaders at the Lake Norman Chamber PowerLuncheon for the last time as President of CPCC. Although I suspect he will still be impacting the next generation of employees and business leaders in other ways.
Joseph Addison once said, “I consider the human soul without education like marble in a quarry, which shows none of its inherent beauties until the skill of the polisher fetches out the colors and makes the surface shine.”
The next time you call that electrician to your house, have an EMT respond to a family emergency, have your car repaired at a nearby body shop, or have an accountant work on your taxes, remember that skilled worker may just be a product of our community college system.
Dr. Zeiss has taken a block of marble, shaped our workforce and revealed the community we could be. It’s a legacy of promise and opportunity and the best work of any life.
Bill Russell, Huntersville, NC
Bill Russell is the President & CEO of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce which serves 1,000+ business members in the Huntersville, Davidson, Cornelius, and greater Lake Norman region.