Creating a Leading Region: 2016 Upstate Summit

On Tuesday, September 13, nearly 900 Upstate business leaders, professionals, and local officials convened at the TD Convention Center for Ten at the Top’s 2016 Upstate Summit: Creating a Leading Region.

In his opening remarks, Ten at the Top executive director Dean Hybl emphasized the collaborative nature of the organization and noted that there has been a 40% increase in task force participation since the last summit. There are five task forces, each focusing on one of Ten at the Top’s driver areas: community vibrancy, natural beauty and resources, economic and entrepreneurial vitality, sustainable growth, and human potential.

 “As a regional connecting organization, Ten at the Top is always working to bring together those who are working on the key issues facing our region to share ideas, learn from each other, and discuss opportunities to build our collective capacity,” Hybl says. “In 2015 there were 372 unique organizations and businesses with representatives on TATT task forces or committees. These groups are integral to building collaborative partnerships and ensuring that the Upstate is effectively utilizing and leveraging our resources.”

The opening session, sponsored by Converse College, featured a leadership panel made up of Mike Baur, CEO of ScanSource; James Clements, president of Clemson University; Pamela Lackey, South Carolina President of AT&T; and Michael Riordan, President and CEO of Greenville Health System. WSPA anchor Amy Wood and Converse College president Krista Newkirk moderated the panel, asking questions about attracting talent, increasing college graduation rates, healthcare needs of an aging population, and more.

There were six breakout sessions following the morning session: Five focused on the previously mentioned driver areas, and a sixth, moderated by John Lummus, president and CEO of Upstate SC Alliance, was titled, “Collaboration Is the New Competition.”

Keynote Speaker

The lunchtime keynote speaker was author and Fortune magazine’s senior editor at large Geoff Colvin, who launched his speech with the question: “What do you want most?” In a business context, he said, the answer is almost always “a sustainable competitive advantage”—and giving the examples of erstwhile cell phone giant Motorola and Sony, who should have invented the iPod but didn’t, he demonstrated how challenging that is.

The keys, he says, to being able to gain that elusive edge are:

1.      Continually innovate your business model

2.      Integrate all aspects of the enterprise

3.      Build new high-value skills: STEM knowledge, collaboration, empathy, creative problem solving together, and storytelling

Those keys apply in individual businesses but also at a regional level, and Colvin gave Pittsburgh as an example, citing a recent news story in which Uber tested a pilot program of self-driving cars in Pittsburgh. There are a lot of interesting elements to that story, he said, but the most interesting was: Why Pittsburgh? And the answer was regional collaboration and leaders who fostered an environment in which those opportunities could be seized.

In a question and answer session with Amy Wood after his prepared remarks, he was asked: How does a region innovate? “It shouldn’t happen through government leaders,” he answered. “They should build the infrastructure for innovation rather than doing the innovating.” And, he noted, the Upstate is doing that, with business incubators, collaborative workspaces, and a good number of new businesses coming into the area.

Following the lunch, Colvin signed copies of his books for attendees.

Of the summit’s goals and outcomes, Hybl says, “One key goal of the Summit is to reinforce that working across city, county, and stakeholder boundaries is critical to the collective success of the Upstate region. Having more than 800 Upstate leaders in the room recognizing that working together is important is extremely powerful.”

Click here for more information about getting involved with Ten at the Top as a task force member, funding partner, or event sponsor.

Sharon Purvis is a freelance writer and editor who makes her home with her husband in Duncan, South Carolina. You can find more of her work at