What Powers Houston? People. With Houston’s history, diversity, knowledge base, know-how, and innovation edge, Houston’s economy has global impact.
What’s the outlook for Houston’s economy?
We talked to Amy Chronis, managing partner for Deloitte, and Niloufar Molavi, global leader, oil & gas, partner at PwC US for their take. These two dynamic women are not only leaders at Big Four accounting firms, but they both chair Houston’s most influential business development groups.
An energy transition leader??
Chronis acknowledges we’re facing big challenges and believes getting back to in-person activities is critical to economic recovery. “Houston’s economy faced a double whammy with COVID and the energy downturn – getting Houston moving again is very important,” she says.
She emphasizes the importance of transitioning from fossil-based systems of energy production and consumption to renewable energy sources. She believes this energy transition presents both tremendous opportunity and a threat for Houston. “The global transition has accelerated, and it is critical that we lead this effort so we do not fall behind more broadly,” says Chronis.
Houston has a long record of being a leader in technology innovation, Molavi notes. “If we step back and think about the technology that has been developed in the energy industry, we realize Houston is a center for tech – way beyond any computer or phone that consumers can touch and feel,” she says. “Houston’s collective energy industry players have the history and the teams that have led the entire industry to this point, so they have the ability to be at the forefront of energy technology for the future.”
“Consider what Texas has done with shale,” says Chronis. “It’s been like a gold rush, capturing the attention of the rest of the industry.”
The importance of being in-person
There’s another form of energy production that the pandemic has diminished, and that’s the energy produced when teams get together in the same room to brainstorm, problem-solve or simply have a discussion.
“Today we’re all tasked with finding that right mix going forward,” says Molavi. “We know using technology helps us be more effective and efficient, but there’s something to be said for bringing people together and brainstorming and collaborating.”
Chronis agrees. “While we have all adjusted to this virtual style of work, it is difficult to replicate the deep connections that you capture in person,” she says. “The Partnership thrives on convening and building consensus to solve Houston’s challenges – getting back in person is critical.”
Diversity in a diverse city
No doubt the energy industry remains a huge part of Houston’s economy, but virtually all industries can experience growth through technology and innovation. “While the tech/innovation sector is powerful on its own, our legacy industries are due to evolve through tech and innovation,” says Molavi.
“Not only are our people diverse, but so are our industries,” says Chronis. “Our companies solve the problems that matter, and many are ripe for technological disruption, which makes Houston attractive to a number of tech companies looking to expand their businesses into the B2B space.”
Consider how tech can accelerate Houston’s major sectors, such as business and professional services; construction; manufacturing; trade, transportation and utilities; leisure and hospitality; and education and health services. As more Houston businesses and industries invest in technology and explore innovation, they seize opportunities to move them forward.
“Simply put, Houston is a great global city,” says Chronis. “We have both the global commerce and cultural amenities – unlike most other cities in the U.S. that we compete against – but the opportunities are fueled by the global diversity of our people.”
Houston’s draw is undeniable
“Our homegrown young talent who leave Houston for their higher education still return to Houston,” says Molavi. “And candidates with roots in other states or countries want to be in Houston. They come here not just for one job offer, but the opportunities they have in the future.”
Downtown Houston specifically offers a world-class business environment. “Houston and Texas are known to be among the most business friendly in the country,” says Chronis. “We are known for low taxes and smart regulations, or simply put, an environment where businesses are supported.”
“Houston is a global city because of the types of global business here and the talent that those companies have drawn over the decades,” says Molavi. “This not only keeps business here, but attracts new ones.”
According to Site Selection Magazine, Houston gained 276 corporate facility deals during 2019. In December 2020, Hewlett Packard Enterprise announced its plan to move its global headquarters back to its Houston roots. Other recent corporate relocations to Houston include Amazon Web Services and Bill.com.
“I believe companies around the country and the globe see Houston as a destination to grow their businesses,” says Chronis.
Leadership for the road ahead
“Over the past year we’ve all seen how important it is to be nimble, and to stay nimble,” says Molavi. “But no one anticipated we’d have to pivot and change almost everything over one weekend and then go through a period of uncertainty for as long as we have.”
Molavi’s lesson learned: take that nimbleness to heart. “You may not be able wait, you have to make decisions fast,” she says. “Some of those might not be the best or the most informed decisions, but you have to act quickly, and if necessary, correct yourself quickly.”
Chronis agrees. “With the speed at which events unfolded last year and continue to unfold now, I’ve found that it’s been better to aim for speed over elegance,” she says. “It’s important to act decisively with imperfect information, knowing that now – more than ever – expediency is key.”
That doesn’t mean ignoring input from the team or forgoing discussion.
“It’s important to take time to connect with my team to make sure they have the tools they need,” says Chronis. “I believe that finding an appropriate balance between tough decisions and empathetic communication is crucial. The key is to find the right communication strategy for every situation and to bring compassion and empathy into tough conversations.”
Excited about the future
Houston’s population and its industries have diversified over the past 30 years, and Molavi points to the various industries in Houston as examples – from scientific advancements in the Texas Medical Center to the recent cultivation of a robust startup and innovation community. “When you put all of that together I feel very good about our future,” says Molavi. “We don’t know exactly what that’s going to look like, but it’s clear we have the ingredients to move forward as a great global city. We have compassionate leaders at the helm of these organizations with proven records, so I’m pretty bullish. I’m excited about our future.”
Niloufar Molavi, Global Leader, Oil & Gas, Partner at PwC US
2021 Board Chair, Central Houston Inc.
With nearly 30 years at PwC, Niloufar Molavi says she’s excited and a bit nervous as she steps into the board chair position for Central Houston Inc., an organization she’s been a member of since 2011. “We have some big ticket items on our list, but I’m excited,” she says. “I know we’ll be busy, but I have a great team and a great board.”
Molavi explains that Central Houston’s strategies for 2021 are similar to last year’s, but the impact of COVID-19 means an additional focus on Downtown’s economic health while balancing the need for public safety as it relates to the pandemic. “We’ll keep pursuing the North Houston Highway Improvement Project,” she says. “It’s a huge project, which will be very long term. So while it won’t be completed during my term, a lot of the important decisions and engagement has already happened. We’ll continue that engagement with stakeholders in the immediate area. I’m excited about big opportunities for improvements in aesthetics and landscape design.”
Molavi says Central Houston will continue to work with the City of Houston and other public and nonprofit partners to coordinate leadership strategy and policy changes to address homelessness Downtown. “Our goal is to help find more permanent solutions for individuals dealing with mental illness, addiction and housing challenges,” she says.
Another focus is finding cures for the commute, especially as more people return to the office. Central Houston seeks multi-modal transportation improvements to benefit circulation Downtown.
As former chair of Central Houston’s Innovation Committee, Molavi is also excited to see the Innovation Corridor in action.
“I’m looking forward to getting the Downtown Launchpad to full operation as soon as it’s safe,” she says. “We hope to keep aligning support from Downtown businesses, getting them to engage with the accelerator groups, and facilitate broader collaboration with innovation hubs across the city.”
Amy Chronis, Managing Partner, Deloitte
2021 Board Chair, Greater Houston Partnership
With more than three decades in her field, Amy Chronis says she’s honored and excited to connect with the stakeholders of the Greater Houston Partnership. “This position offers a broad overarching view of all of the incredible work business leaders are doing through the organization to make Houston better,” says Chronis. “It’s inspiring.”
The Partnership’s primary goals for 2021 are focused on the local economy. “Coming out of the pandemic it is essential that we grow Houston’s economy,” says Chronis. “That includes bringing new companies to Houston and increasing new job opportunities.”
She also understands the need to incorporate diversity, equity and inclusion across all aspects of business. “Houston is America’s most diverse city, and we need to aspire to be viewed as America’s most inclusive city,” says Chronis. “And that relates to how we think about economic development and create opportunities for all Houstonians.”
Another focus for GHP is talent and workforce development. “That means ensuring our training and higher education institutions are working to give Houstonians access to acquiring the skills they need to succeed in tomorrow’s careers.”