Here comes Kerry O’Connor: Meet Austin’s chief innovation officer

Welcome at Capital Factory invites ‘uncertain outcomes.’


What the heck is a chief innovation officer anyway?

I’m still not sure after meeting’s Austin’s newly appointed chief. Perhaps that’s part of the point, since Kerry O’Connor says that uncertain outcomes are a key to innovation. When she studied foreign policy, for instance, her teachers were baffled by the collapse of the Soviet Union, and when she joined the foreign service, its leaders were undone by 9/11.

So O’Connor knows the value of good and bad disruptions.

A pack of techies, designers and entrepreneurs liked what she said last week at the Capital Factory about working inside and outside government. She also advocates radical openness, bound to please any journalist. O’Connor professes to be allergic to buzz words, but, perhaps because of her designated audience, she couldn’t avoid them.

It sounds like her main job will be to bring bright people together to identify the city’s big problems and solutions.

Austin Under 40

Each year, the Austin Under 40 Awards grow in size and stature. Produced by the Young Women’s Alliance and the Young Men’s Business League, the boisterous party brings together already accomplished frontrunners in disparate fields. Many of the nominees would be familiar to readers of this column.

The winners were announced last week at Austin Music Hall: Austin Business Journal’s Colin Pope (Media, Austinite of the Year), Sikara Jewelry’s Mousumi Shaw (Business), PWC’s David Neff (Nonprofit), Olivia’s Maximillian Petty (Culinary), Austin Energy’s Andrew Johnson (Clean Energy), Big Red Dog’s Bill Schnier (Engineering) and Build a Sign’s Kit Mellem (Financial Services).

Also winning: American Heart Association’s Terri Brousard Williams (Public Affairs), Judson Sutherland (Legal), Hahn Texas’ Brian Dolezal (PR), Michael & Susan Dell Foundation’s Aliya Hussani (Healthcare), Hay Darby’s John Hay (Real Estate), Toopher’s Joshua Alexander (Tech), Cunningham Elementary’s Emily Smith (Education).

Note: Some of the award categories have been shortened for this space.

American Red Cross

The Central Texas chapter of the American Red Cross has had a busy time of it, what with flash floods coming not that long after forest fires. To cope, the chapter has doubled its staff and the number of its benefit events.

While the Red Cross (and Crescent) are among the most recognized and respected brands in the world, their local reach is often underestimated. The chapter held its first big, dressy benefit at the Four Seasons Hotel last week, not long after a targeted giving affair at Sway restaurant.

Among those honored were late volunteer Tom Davis, public partner Whole Foods Market, young philanthropists Sophie Peloquin, Liva Peloquin, Andrew Saeger and Clara Saeger, as well as retired Admiral Bobby Inman, who won the Lady Bird Johnson Humanitarian of the Year Award.

Inman recently visited the refugee camps outside Syria, he told me, saying that we could not do much inside Syria, but we can in these camps. “The future leaders of Syria are there.”

Five by Seven

There isn’t much for me to add. Five by Seven already ranks among the most frisky and clever Austin parties of the season.

This year, the Contemporary Austin benefit moved to the roomier, more pliant Brazos Hall. (Bonus: They didn’t need to dismantle an exhibit.)

Even with the extra space, it was sometimes hard to get close to the hundreds of miniatures — all 5 by 7 inches — executed in scores of styles. The art, in general, appeared darker this time around, more political, perhaps because of the national mood.

Landed on a swell idea: Why not choose 10 winning images, photograph them, and reproduce them as boxed greeting cards? Small royalties could go to the artists. After all, the images are the right size.

BookSpring

The data is so depressing. Eighty-seven percent of Austin children start their school years not ready to learn. Many of them suffer from a “word gap” numbered in the millions. Not enough parents talk to their kids, read to their kids or turn off their screens.

Well, you gotta let the guests at the BookSpring luncheon know where early literacy stands in our town. Silky emcee Evan Smith and various experts filled us in during the Cat-in-the-Hat-themed meal at St. David’s Episcopal Church. At least the room was filled with people who can help, including leaders from the corporate community and a few lawmakers.

College of Fine Arts

If you are invited to dinner at the Four Seasons Residences unit of Walter and Sandra Wilkie, go. The food, the art, the conversation are matchless. The former New Yorkers threw an affair for Texas Performing Arts, whose director, Kathy Panoff, artfully explained the wildly successful efforts to engage and employ University of Texas students at the center.

She also introduced the night’s entertainers: Katia and Marielle Labeque, who played Ravel on a distinguished former rehearsal piano. I sat between English teacher Terri LeClercq, who has written a comic book about adjusting to prison life, and Cynthia Patterson, who shared with me the performing arts center’s ups and downs over the decades.

The next day, the University of Texas Fine Arts Library dedicated the Oscar Brockett Archives with a display of the late theater historian’s papers and ephemera, accompanied by speeches from Dean Doug Dempster, theater and dance department Chairman Brant Pope, theater historian Charlotte Canning and others. A moving tribute to my much-missed mentor.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Austin360

Lindsey Vonn opens up about backlash after Trump-Olympics comments
Lindsey Vonn opens up about backlash after Trump-Olympics comments

After pledging to represent the United States but not President Trump at the 2018 Winter Olympics, skier Lindsey Vonn is opening up about some of the backlash she’s been receiving since. “I’ve received a tremendous amount of feedback, both positive and negative, about my recent CNN interview,” she explained in a long...
Happy 94th birthday, Bob Barker. Here’s why you rock!
Happy 94th birthday, Bob Barker. Here’s why you rock!

Come on down, Bob Barker, and accept a hearty Happy Birthday wish on behalf of a grateful nation! You turn 94 years young on December 12 and if all you ever accomplished in that time was to beat up Adam Sandler, that would be more than enough (sadly, it was a fictitious fight, in a movie). But no, you hosted “The Price Is Right” right into...
Austin is one of the best college towns in the country, according to this study
Austin is one of the best college towns in the country, according to this study

Longhorns, Hilltoppers, Riverbats, Rams and Tornadoes, you’re in luck: You’re living in one of the best college cities in the country. According to a WalletHub report, Austin is the fifth most student-friendly city in the United States. The city didn’t fare so well on the lowest cost of living for young people (unsurprisingly) but...
5 epic New Year's Eve destinations that aren't New York 
5 epic New Year's Eve destinations that aren't New York 

The thought has probably crossed your mind: someday I'll spend New Year's Eve at Times Square in New York City. You'll be part of that massive crowd as the whole country watches and counts down to the moment the crystal ball drops. With your friends or significant other, you'll toast the New Year with champagne and, just maybe, one of those TV...
Furious Rose McGowan blasts old friend Alyssa Milano on Twitter over Weinstein’s wife
Furious Rose McGowan blasts old friend Alyssa Milano on Twitter over Weinstein’s wife

Rose McGowan took to Twitter to attack her former “Charmed” co-star Alyssa Milano, after the latter appeared on television and voiced her supporter of Georgina Chapman, Harvey Weinstein’s now estranged wife. Milano appeared on “Megyn Kelly Today” last week and chatted with the host about her friend Chapman — with...
More Stories