Oz Griebel, the morning keynote speaker of this year’s Rule of Law Conference, has an extensive record of service in Connecticut.
Since 2001, he has served as President and Chief Executive Officer of the MetroHartford Alliance, and from 1993 to 1999, he served as the CEO of BankBoston Connecticut. Mr. Griebel, who earned a law degree from Suffolk University in 1977, was also a candidate for the Republican nomination for Governor of Connecticut in 2010.
He graciously agreed to an interview with the Rule of Law Blog, to discuss some of the major themes that will be featured at this year’s Rule of Law Conference. Please enjoy the Rule of Law Blog’s interview with Oz Griebel.
Q: What is the Rule of Law?
A: From a business perspective, I would say that the Rule of Law is the structure in which one can conduct business with a high degree of confidence that the transaction or other actions taken will be supported and enforced so that the businesses involved can not only rely on their own interactions, but also be assured that if people or minds change, a contract or some other comparable agreement is going to stay the course of time.
Q: What steps can the government and legal community take to help strengthen the Rule of Law as it relates to business?
A: The lawyers and judges responsible for handling the cases should understand the needs of business, as well as the intent of a particular transaction, business, or party, in order to ensure that their intentions are appropriately reflected.
It is as important, or even more important, that there is, much as there has been for hundreds of years, a building upon prior interactions, prior decisions, and prior transactions. Again, to go back to my first point, there is an even higher degree of confidence that the relevant legislation, regulations, and rules of the court are known and understood, and therefore can be relied upon by the business community.
Q: A major theme at the 2010 Rule of Law Conference was the impact that regulations and administrative agencies have on the business community. In your estimation, are the regulators and administrators helping or hurting business in Connecticut?
A: I wouldn’t paint everybody with the same brush. Like many things in life, it depends on who is in charge; it depends on what their background is, and, in the case of the federal government, it depends on the views of the current administration. For instance, we see the ebbing and flowing of antitrust laws under various administrations over the last twenty or thirty years.
So, to some degree, the regulators are following the lead of those who appointed them, and a lot of that depends on the commissioner or secretary of the particular department. I am not an agency expert, but from the outside looking in, much of it has to do with leadership at the top encouraging the civil service people who have been in place for a long period of time to make the effort to understand the views of the “regulatees.”
Certain aspects of business have become more complex, and this is in some cases helped, and in others exacerbated, by technology. There needs to be a real effort by the regulating bodies to understand what the entity, business, or sector is like, what its goals are, and how it makes money; not only where there is the potential for abuses, but where there are positive opportunities.
I think, conversely, that we in the private sector need to understand the role of the regulator, and to respect that whether we like it or not, over a period of time, legislators at both the State and Federal levels have delegated much to agencies.
In most cases, this is with good intention and probably, in most cases, with the right outcome. But this is a dynamic, not static, situation that really does require the legal community to represent its clients, as well as the state agencies, to understand respective goals.
Q: Do you believe that Connecticut is a business friendly state?
A: This is a debated question. If you take data from all perspectives, I don’t think that there is any question that over the last decade up until 2012, that there was not a strong advocate for the private sector in the Governor’s office.
That being said, whether you agree with everything that Governor Malloy and his administration have done, there is no question that the Governor is fully engaged in this discussion with individual businesses and with the sector at large.
We will always debate the wisdom of specific programs and actions, but the fact is that the Governor and Catherine Smith at DECD, as well as Dan Esty at DEEP and Jim Redeker at DOT, look hard at what is needed to keep and grow our private sector employer base. They have also looked hard at what is needed for the entrepreneurial community, and what the State should be appropriately doing in that arena, and that is a significant difference.
There are, however, specific actions that the Legislature has enacted or considered enacting over the past decade that send negative signals. We’re in an age where the Internet allows any company and their lobbyists and advisors, to look at what bills have made it through committees, even if they are ultimately defeated by one or both chambers. The fact that certain things go forward is definitely troubling.
I have said in many forums that we are, to some degree, viewed very differently than the southwest and the southeast where there is, one might say, a better understanding between legislative bodies and the business community about what is needed to retain and grow jobs in the private sector.
This is a little bit of a joke, but we’ve caught this in our counterparts in the State of Texas: we ask them how many lobbyists they have, and they will say, “Why do we need lobbyists?” We say, “You don’t have lobbyists?” and their answer is: “No – when we need something, we tell the legislature what we need and they get it done.” I’m not saying that this is the model, because it has its own downside.
But I do believe that we have been somewhat of a prisoner over the last decade to a legislature that has been, by and large, more focused about how to spend tax dollars than concerned on the environment needed to sustain a dynamic and growing economy to generate those taxes.
It’s an ongoing issue and I’ll just reiterate that we have a Governor and an administration that is fully engaged. This sends generally positive signals to the private sector that state government is focused on employment retention and growth and attracting the capital needed for the same.