Jeff Blumenthal, Reporter Philadelphia Business Journal
Dec 19, 2016, 3:47pm EST Updated Dec 20, 2016, 9:37am EST
Michael Nutter appears to be enjoying his time outside of elected office. During a lunch meeting last week at an Old City restaurant to discuss the launch of his new consulting business, the former Philadelphia mayor seemed to relish being out of the spotlight. He seemed much more as ease than in the waning days of his mayoral tenure when he sat down for an exit interview.
He dined in relative anonymity save for being approached by a man who wanted to introduce Nutter to his 93-year-old father, a World War II veteran with a firm handshake who claimed to have flown 25 bomber missions over Germany. The man had a simple, solitary question for Nutter in light of Donald Trump’s election as president last month.
“Where are we headed?” he asked.
Nutter shrugged his shoulders and told the senior citizen, “I wish I knew."
While he might not be able to predict where Trump will steer this country, he is certain about his own professional future now that a potential cabinet appointment in a potential Hillary Clinton administration is no longer a possibility. Michael A. Nutter Advisors is a public policy advisory firm, providing a variety of services to public, nonprofit and corporate entities. It essentially folds his numerous paid and unpaid professional activities under the same umbrella.
Here are five things learned during my time with Nutter.
Due to his various positions, Nutter is on the road a good deal of the time. He estimated that in the prior two weeks, he was outside Philadelphia for four out of five work days. His travels regularly take him to New York, Washington, Chicago and San Francisco.
But he does spend a good deal of time in New York where he is a faculty member at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and retains an office. Nutter also serves as a CNN political contributor, largely acting all year as a surrogate for Clinton, with who he has had close relations since supporting her in the 2008 Democratic primary over then Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.
Nutter first jousted with Bernie Sanders surrogates but after Clinton secured the nomination, he primarily squared off against Trump surrogates. With the election in the rearview mirror, he will still act as a talking head for the cable news giant. Many of his appearances coincide with his teaching schedule at Columbia, a short ride from CNN’s Manhattan studios.
Nutter’s other paid gigs include serving as a senior fellow for a campaign called What Works Cities that helps midsize cities better leverage data. He is also chair of Airbnb’s mayoral advisory board and adviser to venture capital firm Ekistic Ventures.
And starting next year, a board member for publicly traded Xerox spinoff Conduent Corp. Connecticut-based Xerox said in June it planned to split into two, separate companies
The first company, which will retain the Xerox name, will focus on helping businesses process vast troves of documents and provide printing services, payment processing and digitizing paper documents. Nutter will serve on the board of the second company, named Conduent Corp., which will help customers outsource key business processes, including HR, customer care and accounting. It will also help customers automate some of their own processes. It currently is working with SEPTA on its new key open payments system.
In April, Nutter joined Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business as executive fellow in leadership. In this capacity, he will work the Leading for Change Fellowship — a grant-funded program he and wife Lisa created that was designed to engage and accelerate Philadelphia senior/executive level talent development in the public and nonprofit sectors. Phillies part-owner John Middleton had provided money to get the program off the ground.
“We have seen corporate America offer this type of training for their employees and we just wanted government and the nonprofit sector to have the same opportunity,” Nutter said.
Next year, Nutter would also like to see his business focus on advising Philadelphia technology companies on business strategy and, possibly, equity participation.
“What we need to do if bring more capital to Philadelphia,” Nutter said. “I travel a lot and I think in Philadelphia, we tend to undervalue what we have here at home. It’s not a negative. I just think we could do more and be more. During my term, we saw growth in the tech and startup community but there’s lots of competition out there and you really have to sell the city and its tech community to the outside world.”
One challenge Nutter said he saw as mayor that continues is that Philadelphia has a “tremendous research capability” but needs to do a better job marketing that. He lauded John Fry at Drexel for the school’s Innovation Neighborhood and Amy Gutmann at University of Pennsylvania for Pennovation.
“It’s going to create jobs, and I think success breeds success,” Nutter said. “We just need to be willing to tell the story and brag about ourselves a little bit. We shouldn’t try to be Boston or San Francisco. We can stand on our own with style. We have 400,000 people being educated at our colleges and universities, we have the fastest growing millennial population in the country, we’ve had positive population growth for the past eight years. I want people talking about us like they talk about other cities.”
Though he does retain offices at Drexel and Columbia, Nutter would like to open a location for his advisory firm in Philadelphia and is looking at the various co-working spaces that he saw evolve as mayor. He said he has spoken with Benjamin's Desk at 1701 Walnut but has not made a decision as of yet. Such a move would afford him the ability to be flexible with real estate commitments as the business grows and he adds more employees.
Because he’s on the road so much, Nutter says he misses certain real estate developments that he would typically see evolve gradually when he was mayor.
“There are times when I am coming back from the airport or train station and I will see a new project and say, where did that come from,” he said. “So it’s good to see that sort of thing.”
But when asked if he was disappointed with anything that successor Jim Kenney has done during his first year as mayor or the agenda pursued by city council, Nutter demurred. He has purposely steered clear of political discourse save for responding when former adversaries such as City Controller Alan Butkovitz and former Mayor John Street attacked him publicly
“A few people have put my name in their mouths and I felt compelled to respond,” Nutter said. “But really, I have moved on. I have observed how presidents deal with this. The first president Bush never said a word about Bill Clinton after leaving office. Clinton didn’t say anything about the second President Bush. And Bush has not said anything about Obama. The only thing you should say is yes to something they ask you to do. I am happy to walk off the stage. I had the best job in elected politics. I got to serve my hometown as mayor.”
Jeff Blumenthal covers banking, insurance and law.