Former Oklahoma City Community Foundation executive director
Nancy Anthony describes her life as a “perfect storm of good luck,” which is a pretty humble way to describe 38 years spent developing the Oklahoma City Community Foundation.
When Anthony became executive director of the Oklahoma City Community Foundation in 1985, it had assets of $20 million and one other full-time employee. As of 2021, the foundation now has assets of more than $1.6 billion, 47 full-time employees, and makes average annual distributions to the Oklahoma City community of $46 million. That’s more than twice the amount of annual distributions now than the foundation had in total assets when she started.
“I don’t want to take credit for all this,” she said. “What I am proud of is we really do have an institution in Oklahoma City that is community based, and it is very geared towards local philanthropy. And that didn’t exist before. It’s not just my thing or John Kilpatrick’s thing. It’s the community’s thing.”
She’s quick to deflect attention from herself and back to the staff she helped create and then cultivate during her tenure.
“I was just the cherry on the top of the ice cream,” she said. “It does take a whole staff when an organization is as big as we became.”
Anthony is from Kentucky, and she has two master’s degrees from Yale. She finished her doctorate in epidemiology at the University of Oklahoma after following her husband here. Her educational path didn’t lead her to her work at the foundation, but that didn’t dissuade her at all.
“It was fortunate to have fallen into something that worked well and I was interested to do,” she said. “What did I think I was going to do? This was clearly not part of the deal. Bloom where you are planted. This is where I am, and this is the skill set I have.
“Serve people well. Whatever you do, try and do it well.”
The Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City former president and CEO
Cathy O’Connor has had her hand on just about every major development in Oklahoma City’s renaissance.
She left an almost-three-decade long tenure working for the City of Oklahoma City to start The Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City in 2011. The separate nonprofit contracted with the city and public agencies to work on economic development and redevelopment work around the city.
“It’s always great to have an organization or entity that has a focus on trying to create jobs, create a better quality of life and work to redevelop distressed areas,” she said. “And that’s what I really think is a gift that The Alliance gives to the city: It’s the group that wakes up and goes to work and that’s what they want to do. They can focus and work very hard to make Oklahoma City a better place.”
And focus she has. She’s worked on revitalizing downtown OKC, helping bring the Omni hotel to the area and redevelop areas of town otherwise blighted.
“I really think a lot about the transformation in downtown Oklahoma City,” she said. “It was a place no one really wanted to go in the late 90s, and so much of what has been built was built in the last 15 years. And The Alliance was very much a part of that. We’ve been involved in the land for Scissortail Park, and land for the convention center. And all of that development came together. It’s been good urban-planning-type principles pushed forward through tax incentives.”
After leading The Alliance since its inception 11 years ago, she’s now opened her own consulting firm working with cities and developers across the nation. She said The Alliance can serve as a model for what can be done when city government, public agencies and nonprofits work together for public good.
“Pulling the rope in the same direction, we can get the impossible done,” she said.
Greater Oklahoma City Chamber president and CEO
Roy Williams became president and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber 18 years ago, working in a much different city than the one he is now set to spend his retirement years enjoying.
“We worked to make this a better place,” he said. “Once you make this a better place, suddenly businesses are attracted to it. It breeds more and more opportunity for you to be successful as a community. We’re working to build a better community. And when you build a better community, now you have something to sell.”
In Williams’ tenure, he worked closely on almost all of the major projects that helped transform the city. Projects like the new convention center, the Omni Hotel development, growth at Tinker Air Force Base and the formation of the Innovation District are just a few of the big-name projects completed in recent years. And during his tenure, he’s credited with bringing more than 88,000 new jobs to the metro area and an additional $7 billion in capital investment.
“I was a collaborator, and I was able to help identify people that I could bring to the table that could help solve problems and build a bigger, better city,” he said. “You have to be able to convince city leaders that these problems are important, and they can help solve them.”
Williams spent a long time working to fix what was broken in Oklahoma City, and he said the next generation of Oklahoma City economic development leadership needs to stay the course.
“It’s not broken,” he said. “I don’t know that anyone needs to come in here and say, ‘I need to take this in a new direction.’ You need to work hard on the collaboration and relationships civic leaders and corporate leaders and elected leaders have made and get their commitment to keep this momentum going.
“When can we rest? When can we stop doing what we’re doing? The moment you slow down or stop, your competition blows past you. This is a marathon. You can’t stop. You can’t stop and say we need to enjoy where we are. Your competition would eat you alive. You have to wake up and run faster than your competition. Never slow down. Feel like tomorrow you have to do 100 percent more than you did yesterday.”