Ethical Edge

By Russell Williams

Ethical Edge

The Gift of Trust

The Ethical Edge
The Art of Integrity
The Gift of Trust

Senior Advisor, Office of the Chairman
The Irvine Company

 “Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him,
and to let him know that you trust him.”
Booker T. Washington

It was not early in my professional life when our paths first crossed.  It was the 1990’s and I was in my late forties having enjoyed success as a lawyer and real estate executive while living and working in the Southern California area.  Rob was from the East Coast and President of an international investment banking firm. Rob had just led the acquisition of a major Washington DC based company that owned many significant assets, including a major former rail yard called Potomac Yard.  He asked me to become CEO of the company and relocate my family to the DC area.

Potomac Yard was dubbed “the most valuable under-developed property on the East Coast,” consisting of about 400 acres and ideally located across the Potomac River from our nation’s capitol.  The challenges, however, were many, including major and consistent community opposition to prior development plans for the site over a 20-year period.  There was also a maze of required entitlement approvals, including two municipalities, the Washington airport authority, National Park Service, Environmental Protection Agency, and even the United States Congress.


When I accepted Rob’s offer, I was, of course, accepting the challenges of the new job, with the excitement of living and working in such a vibrant city.  More importantly, I was saying Yes to the relationship he and I would have, namely, Rob, chairman of the company, serving as my boss and partner in a very difficult assignment. He promised…and delivered over the next 5 years…that he would provide me with support, advice, and ideas while challenging me to know it was my job to develop and execute a plan for success. It was my job to figure out how to sink or swim.

Reflecting on why I said Yes to taking the chance to leave my professional and personal comfort zone, the most important answer has become clear to me: it was a relatively late chance to really test myself…to risk professional failure…but to do it based upon my management style, judgments, and instincts. This is the gift Rob gave to me. He gave me his trust.  He empowered me to do the job!  Through disappointments along the way and ultimate success, he never waivered in that trust; he never asked for the gift back.

Since my years in Washington, I have attempted to follow Rob’s great lesson in leadership:  do your best to pick the right people, the right person to do a job, support them with resources and good counsel, and then give them the great gift of trust and confidence that they will succeed.

This week’s article was contributed by Rick Gilchrist

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