Many in Baltimore know Catherine Pugh almost exclusively as a public servant.
After all, before she was elected as the city’s 50th mayor in December 2016, she was a state senator, a member of the House of Delegates and a Baltimore City Council member.
But Pugh had an extensive and far-reaching career in the private sector before she entered politics, and she says that it was that background that gave her many of the leadership skills and tools she needs in her job overseeing the city.
In a recent interview, Pugh ticked them off:
Balancing competing interests. Measuring performance. Instilling accountability. Communicating effectively. Understanding finance. Planning ahead.
“Everything I’ve done (in the private sector), besides my public service work, has prepared me to do this particular job,” she said.
Pugh worked as a banker and business developer, as the dean and director of Strayer Business College and as a TV and radio reporter. She owned her own public relations company and founded the Baltimore Design School. She has an MBA from Morgan State University and has been certified as an economic development specialist.
“I see things from the perspective of a business person, but at the same time I bring a human touch to that,” Pugh says. “How do you balance the need for social services, economic development, equality and equity with making sure that you’re doing the very best for your city in terms of moving it forward and making sure that everyone is accommodated? Not just the people who live in the city — they’re re the most important — but the people who work here, the business owners and the people who visit our city.”
The mayor said she has a longer-term view of where the city needs to go because of her business training.
“As a business person, you always plan 3, 5 years ahead in terms of what you want your vision to be about, and more importantly what you want your outcomes to be,” she said.
Being able to define those outcomes and how they should be best measured is critical, she said. “It’s important to have accountability.”
None of which leads to success, she says, unless there’s consistent and clear communication to all constituencies.
“As one who ran a public relations company and has also been in television and radio … I know how important it is to communicate and what messaging should be,” she said. “In order to gain the confidence of a community you have to be willing to communicate.
Running a city with some of the issues that bedevil Baltimore means that successes can be elusive – or at least hard-earned.
For Pugh, the leadership traits and background she got in the private sector also prepared her in another way, she said.
“I’m not very surprised often.”