AP NEWS

hartford Greenwich has its economic coming-out party

February 2, 2019

Indra Nooyi, the recently retired chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, retold the story of her arrival in Connecticut on Friday, a parable of economic fortune and foible with Greenwich at its center.

Nooyi, 63, was part of the all-star triumvirate introduced by Gov. Ned Lamont as the personalities who will lead the state’s economic development in a new and different way. She’s told the story a few times publicly over the last year as part of her transition from one of the most powerful corporate chiefs in the world to a force in Connecticut policy.

She arrived from India to JFK airport 40 years ago and took a car up to Yale University, where she would enroll in the school of management.

Crossing into Greenwich, she recounted Friday, “The driver said to me, you are now entering the greatest state in the nation ... and if you do really, really well, you can live in this town.”

She did, and she does. And she’s not leaving, she said Friday at the announcement of the economic development team in Hartford.

Now she wants to help make Connecticut “once again the greatest state in the nation.”

I love this state, where I’ve been for these same 40 years — and for now, I’d settle for a path to solvency. But on Friday, we saw just how important Greenwich has become in this drama.

Gov. Ned Lamont, of Greenwich, introduced Nooyi, of Greenwich, whom he’s known for decades. Then he introduced David Lehman, of Greenwich, a 41-year-old Wall Street wunderkind that he just met a couple of weeks ago.

Lehman is the new commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development, subject to widely expected Senate approval. He came into the picture through his friend, Garrett Moran, an old Lamont friend, one of the co-chairs of the governor’s transition — who lives in Greenwich.

There, at the announcement, was Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin — whose family moved to Greenwich when he was 10 — talking with Nooyi, Lehman and others.

You get the picture. We can’t call it the Greenwich Mafia because some of these people, like Lehman and Lamont, didn’t know each other until 2019. Or can we?

It makes sense in a time when Connecticut needs to slog its way out of perhaps $100 billion in unfunded health and pension liabilities. Wall Street acumen can come in handy about now.

Lehman called Moran in the second week of January, long after Lamont and the transition team had a list of candidates for the economic development job. He was inspired, he said Friday, by Lamont’s speeches on Inauguration Day — and volunteered his services, free of charge.

It’s not a coincidence that no fewer than six candidates for governor or state treasurer in 2018 hailed from Greenwich, by far the largest contributor to the state’s $10 billion state income tax.

Lehman, who was a Goldman Sachs managing director co-heading structured finance by age 29, will work without a paycheck. Nooyi will be co-chair of the Connecticut Economic Resource Center, a non-executive, volunteer position for the nonprofit group that works with the state — and will be reconstituted in ways we don’t yet fully know.

The other co-chairman is Jim Smith, the retired CEO of the parent of Webster Bank, which his father, Harold, founded in 1935. He grew up in — drumroll please — Waterbury, not Greenwich, and he lives in Middlebury.

I asked Smith whether he feels left out, or whether he now needs to buy a house in Greenwich.

“I feel included,” he said, laughing. As for living there, “I feel like they need me for balance.”

On a serious note, he believes it’s just a coincidence.

“But it is remarkable how many people think about how they can contribute to the betterment of their state, how passionate they are about Connecticut. I mean, that’s extraordinary.”

AP RADIO
Update hourly