(Photo by Juliana Reyes)
Melissa Murray Bailey wants to bring her business chops to City Hall.
Bailey, 36, of Society Hill, has spent her career in the corporate world, advising businesses on where to open satellite offices and how to get buy in for new technologies. Those are the skills the Republican mayoral candidate says she’d use in the mayor’s office when it came to attracting corporations to Philly and to getting departments on board with open data.
We met with Bailey at Talula’s Garden, not far from where she lives. She was joined by her husband, Sean Bailey, who works at Accenture’s governmental tech department.
Bailey definitely has business cred. She knows how to speak the language of the business and tech world: during our conversation, she spoke about wanting to measure ROI (return on investment) at the city and improving the UI (user interface) of the city’s open data efforts. She also focused heavily on the importance of public-private partnerships, saying that she’d like to look beyond Comcast and try to attract other large tech companies to Philadelphia who would invest in the city.
Below, find a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.
Tell us about your work background.
I started out working at Accenture. I have a degree in [biological] engineering. I started out working at Accenture doing coding, building websites, doing databases and building them up.
One of the first things I did at Accenture was to build a workflow system on all technologies that don’t even exist anymore like WebLogic and building that into the workflow system. But we didn’t have the capital to have a server, so I built it all on a desktop and every morning when all the people using it would start working on it, it would crash. So every morning at 6 a.m., I’d have to go into the office to reboot the server until we figured out how to index the database correctly so it wasn’t using so much RAM.
Then I got more into management. Right now I run the Americas for a Swedish-based market research firm. We survey about 1.5 million millenials across the world and we leverage that data to draw conclusions on what drives them. We also do factor analysis to figure out what trends we can find and use that to help companies make better decisions.
"The approach that I have in turning things around and managing could really benefit the city."
Where’d you learn to code?
At Accenture. They used to put all the new hires into a four-week training program, where across that four weeks, they had to learn Java, HTML, SQL and in order to move on there, you had to master all of those things.
What position did they hire you for? Website design?
So they hired you based on your potential to learn how to code?
Exactly. That’s how they hire. They look for people who have potential. You have to remember that was back in 2000 and so there weren’t many degree programs for computer science or for coding. It was still really emerging. There were a few people who knew how to do it but they needed thousands of people to do it, so they figured out how to identify people that they could train up in four weeks that could build websites for some of the world’s largest companies.
Then I went to a company called the Corporate Executive Board that is a shared cost model consulting firm. Through there, I advised CIOs. Everything from ERP implementation to how to get people to accept it. That’s when I moved to Australia to launch the Australia business and then I moved to Singapore to launch and head up the Asia business.
Why’d you decide to make the jump into the public sector?
It wasn’t really a conscious decision from private sector to public sector. It was more, living in a city that has — you know, it’s like a tale of two cities in Philadelphia and having the experiences that I was having when so many people were having different experiences. We just have so many people in poverty and our education system is terrible. I thought that some of the skills that I learned and the approach that I have in turning things around and managing could really benefit the city.
How would you tackle closing the digital divide?
I heard a really cool idea from City Council candidate Allan Domb that I thought was brilliant. I’ve been talking a lot about economic growth and how we attract companies from the West Coast to put their East Coast headquarters in Philadelphia, and he took that a step more specific where he was saying, he would go out and attract Apple to come here and part of Apple coming here would be that they would have to give every student a Macbook so that they could have the access to technology. And I thought that that was a really interesting idea and the reason he thought that would work is because not many companies have the ability to change the course of history, and Apple has the resources to do that, and they’re very purpose driven.
I think we need to have big, bold, creative ideas like that if we’re ever going to make real progress. We tend to focus on incrementalism and that’s clearly not working so we need to think what’s the big, bold, hairy idea that’s going to allow access quickly for people.
Philadelphia is in the process of renegotiating Comcast’s 15-year contract in the city. If you were at the table, how would you run those negotiations?
I would want to talk with them about what their purpose is because we are seeing that more companies are driven by purpose over product. That’s what’s really driving employees. So I would first ask them, what are some of the things that your employees want to do as far as engaging with the city? Because some of those ideas might be even better than the ideas that we have.
I think there’s a lot we can do in schools that they can help us with, as far as access to WiFi, computer hardware — we’d have to look to them to see who their partners are there.
I think it’s more collaboration than demands. Because what we’re demanding might not be actually be what’s needed or what they’re in the best position to deliver.
"We need to look at companies that can hire and train a workforce that's mostly people who just have high school degrees."
We could also look to them to see what kind of training programs they might be interested in partnering with the schools. There are skills that they are in desperate need of and if they could work with the high schools to put in some programs that perhaps their people put together and run, then they are actually creating a pipeline. It would allow more people within the city to be prepared for jobs that they would have easy access to.
You talked about attracting a business like Apple to Philadelphia. How would you go about attracting those kinds of companies?
That’s what I’ve been advising companies on. When I was in Asia, we talked to a lot of companies that were looking to move a branch of their company into Asia. We would talk with them about the things that they evaluate these decisions on. So I have firsthand knowledge of the decisions that people make when they’re deciding where to come.
The first thing is, I think we need to be very deliberate about the type of companies that we’re bringing into the city and what our workforce can sustain. We have college graduates from some of the top universities right here or as close as Penn State, so looking at companies that have a lot of entry-level hiring from the college graduate area, but also looking at companies that have more opportunities for low-skilled workers.
So we were talking about Comcast, Comcast announced recently that they’re onshoring a couple thousand call center jobs but they decided to put those jobs out West. You know, I want to be all over those types of jobs. They’re exactly what we need in the city when were only have 25 percent of our kids in the public school system going to to college. We need to look at companies that can hire and train a workforce that’s mostly people who just have high school degrees.
How would you go about attracting those businesses?
I would call them [laughs]. I would call them and have one-on-one conversations with them. You know, throughout my career, I’ve had lots of conversations with CFOs, CEOs, CIOs of Fortune 500 companies, so these are conversations that I’m very comfortable in. I would identify those companies, call them myself, understand what they’re looking for in their business and share with them how Philadelphia would support these needs.
It’s not a “One Size Fits All” pitch. It’s not “Build it and they will come.” Philadelphia has so many things to offer but those same elements aren’t attractive to every single company. So it’s about understanding that company and understanding what their needs are and highlighting what’s attractive to them.
What do you think about Philly’s tech scene right now? Is it a sector you’d prioritize if you became mayor?
I think the tech scene is off to a really great start. I think there’s a lot of cool tech companies that are starting here and we have several opportunities for infrastructure for them, whether that’s from the Science Center or some of the other startup hubs that we have where people are getting likeminded small companies together and giving them resources.
"I am a completely data-driven person."
I read something that when you focus on specific startup areas, they’re likely to create 30 percent more jobs than when you just have any startups in your city. So I think we need to figure out what are the concentrated areas that we would support and tech is clearly one of them since it’s off to such a running start. Then we have a lot of things happening in the science area that I think we could focus on.
Where do you stand on open data?
I think there’s two things about the way I would govern that are very dependent on data. The first is access to data for decision making within City Hall. I am a completely data-driven person. I make all of my decisions on how I operate the business I operate based on data. I don’t make any decisions without pulling information and I would expect that would only be magnified in the Mayor’s Office.
We’re also talking a lot about spending. I want to leverage data to understand the ROI of programs. I need every department to be completely using data, and so I have a platform that’s about digitizing all of City Hall so that everything is reported so that we can use it to make decisions. So when a department is asking for an increase in their budget, we know, what’s the ROI on that for the taxpayers and for the citizen so Philadelphia?
I want us to have even more data and to make it open. Transparency is important to me. I want the data to be available through APIs and such, so different groups can use that data and help us understand how we can do things better. But also I want to have a better UI, so regular people can go in and see what’s going on. Right now, our open data is more for people who know how to use data. I want to continue that and bolster that by making it a more “regular person”-friendly UI.
Data can also build trust between community and government because people always wonder what are we actually doing and by having new ways that people can see the data and feel like they’re actually part of it, I think it’ll make things a lot better.
One of the parts of my platform too is having an open checkbook, even releasing that level of data, where is the city spending its money? Just like you go on your online banking site and you can see where your money is going, the people should be able to see where the city’s money is going. It’s not as easy as just turning that on. We were talking to the Montgomery County Controller, who’s working on that right now, and he was saying one of the challenges is getting the data into the format that you can actually share it takes a little more effort than originally anticipated.
How would you get buy-in from departments for more sensitive datasets like that?
Well, I mean, it’s not their data. That’s probably not the right way to say it, but it’s not their data.
They need to get on board that we have to share it. Now, if we actually share with them the benefits to their department and to them — you know, a lot of people aren’t familiar with the power of having access to this data. If they can see how it can change their day-to-day, make them more efficient, allow them to make decisions better.
Everyone wants to know, whats in it for me? People are scared by things that are different but if we do it together and we see the benefits, then I think they’ll come on board. If they don’t have that understanding, it’s understandable that they get defensive about it.
"We need to restructure our tax code."
What do you think about the Nutter administration’s StartUp PHL program? Is that something you’d continue?
I think it’s done some great things for the city and for the startup scene. What I’d want to do as well is look at the structural issues with the tax code that prevent venture capitalists from coming here. The city can put money into it but that’s going to be very limited. There are venture capitalists that can put 10x, 100x that [money] into it. I would want to look at how we can make the city more attractive to venture capitalists so we can open up the access to capital to so many more people. Right now, unfortunately, it’s limited because of what the city can do. I would want to look at how can we create other opportunities for access to capital.
We have Comcast and we want them to solve all of our challenges because we feel like we have the negotiating table with them, but I think we have to open up our mind to the other companies that we can attract here and partner with that they could do some additional things that we’re looking for.
Like what Google’s been doing in New York with LinkNYC and what IBM has been doing in NYC. IBM has recognized that they have a huge deficiency of people coming out with skills that they need, so they have created programs in high schools to start training kids on those skills from 9th grade and they are guaranteed a job if they finish the program. These are the types of innovative things that we might need to look outside of the city for companies that can help us with that, because Comcast can only do so much. If we just continue to look within our four walls, we’re going to be limited in what we can do to push the city forward, both technically and as we look at ending the cycle of poverty.
What are some specific ways you would attract the likes of Google and IBM?
We need to restructure our tax code. Right now, our tax code is very complicated and convoluted. It’s very hard to compare doing business in Philadelphia versus somewhere else. We need to streamline that. That’s part of it that we have to really get right in order for people to want to come here.
The second thing is, we need to move back to five-year budgeting so when a company is evaluating whether to come in, they don’t know what their five-year liability is going to be because we do year-to-year budgeting, which is very different form other cities. A company’s going to say, OK, it’s going cost me this much to be in the city this year but what’s that going to look at in year two, year three, year four? The predicability of that is something we need to instill to make them feel comfortable that they should come.-30-
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