As regular readers of this column know, one of the things I like to do is spotlight up and coming leaders from around the state. These are the men and women who are on the fast track to success and are actively building Mississippi’s future. This week I had the opportunity to interview one of those leaders, Garrick Combs, who serves as Executive Director of the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce and Industrial Development Foundation. The foundation serves over 300 members and includes six distinct organizations including the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Economic Development Alliance and the Brookhaven Tourism Council.
Combs, a Roxie native, received his undergraduate degree in history from USM as well as a Master’s in Economic Development. He began his career by serving as Director of the Economic Development Department and Chamber of Commerce in Franklin County from 2002 to 2006. He then moved on to hold several positions at the Mississippi Development Authority including Manger of the Southwest Regional Office and Project Manager in both the Global Business and Existing Industry Divisions. Combs has served as the local developer or lead project manager of new locations and expansions that have announced over $500 million in new capital and 2500 new jobs. Among the Lincoln County companies Garrick has worked with includes Rex Lumber, Delphi and American Railcar.
Combs shared that his father was a big influence on his leadership style. He explained, “My father never felt the need to overpower a room or demand attention. He tended to facilitate and make sure that each person had the opportunity to voice opinions if they chose to do so. But, he had the ability to distill the discussion into key items at the appropriate time and make sure the group came away with specific tasks that they could work together on to accomplish a common goal.” Combs later noted these same traits in Jimmy Jones, the former Chancery Clerk of Franklin County. Combs shared, “Jimmy had numerous employees but when key issues needed to be addressed, instead of dictating a solution he was able to seek input and allow his employees to learn from the discussion and decision making process. Instead of having an employee blindly follow direction, he made his employees better—and thus a better local government—by allowing them input into the process.”
One of the key traits of leaders that Combs has incorporated into his leadership style is adaptability. He said, “No matter what the task, leaders should be prepared to accomplish the task at hand, changing course if needed, and be able to do what is required that day in order to ensure that the long term goals are met. I’ve learned that the ability to adapt and respond to the unexpected in the short term allows a leader to achieve long term goals.” Combs also strives to elevate those around him to reach their full potential. He noted, “I believe that leadership is defined by the ability to create an upward pull. Being a leader isn’t the same as being a boss or commanding a room. It’s about the ability to create a shared sense of what needs to be accomplished and creating a shared sense of accomplishment when goals are achieved.”
Combs’ early influences have helped him develop into a strong leader who is actively partnering with local and state leaders to drive economic development in his area of the state. I was inspired by his passion for elevating others and making a difference. He understands that great leaders aren’t tyrants barking orders, but people who inspire others to be their best and align to accomplish great things. I believe leaders like Combs will be key to Mississippi’s future.[Originally published in the Mississippi Business Journal, November 13, 2014.]