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.


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.

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