The IEI Ten: Director Leslie Boney

leslie-boney-headshotKicking off the new year, IEI is excited to be welcoming our new director, Leslie Boney! While many of you know Leslie from his economic development work through the UNC system office and the state of North Carolina, we thought it would be fun to dig a little deeper into who Leslie is by asking him the “IEI Ten” – our ten essential questions. Read his answers below the fold:

What is your connection to North Carolina?

My family has ridiculously deep connections to North Carolina – my mother’s family came here in 1678 and my father’s family in 1728. I was born here. But I think I became a North Carolinian forever when I chose to move back here after about ten years away for school and work.

What brings you the greatest satisfaction in your work?

Finding connections between people and ideas and things across disciplines, geographies, sectors, ideologies.

What are you currently reading?

Eat, Move, Sleep by Tom Rath; Thank You for Being Late by Tom Friedman

What’s North Carolina’s best “hidden gem”?

As a former “Tar Heel Traveler” for WRAL-TV, I used to make a living finding “hidden gems.” Some of them are still not widely known – sights like the annual bird migration at Lake Mattamuskeet, sunrise over Wrightsville Beach, sunset at the mountain cabin of the River House in Ashe County; more artists than I can count; amazing restaurants. But I’m going to go with the mac and cheese at Poole’s Diner in Raleigh. (Pay no attention to the recipe just published!)

Who from NC is on your guest list for your ideal dinner party?

Something future-focused. We’d need a demographer: Jim Johnson at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School; a futurist: Marshall Brain from NC State; a business leader or two: Venessa Harrison from AT&T or serial entrepreneur Judd Bowman or tech visionary Jim Whitehurst; someone on the spiritual side: maybe Methodist Bishop Hope Morgan Ward; a librarian, like Susan Nutter from NC State; and a writer/synthesizer: maybe Eric Johnson from UNC-Chapel Hill. Throw in a couple of political thinkers, like John Hood and Chris Fitzsimon. Of course, my wife Ret Boney would have to be there so we could sort through everything we had just heard afterward. And since it is a dinner party, we’d ask chef Ashley Christensen to make the meal!

What do you think is the most important innovation of your lifetime thus far?

Depends on how selfish I want to be. There was a time (16 years ago!) when it was hands-down the double stroller for my twins. Taking a broader view, it would have to be a time between the Internet and artificial intelligence. In the future, everybody inventing breakthroughs in processing data will be my innovation hero.

What was the best piece of advice you ever got? The worst?

Best: “Write the memo” – Be the person at the end of the meeting who tries to summarize what you decided to do and figures out how to do it; Worst: “2000 is the perfect time to buy tech stocks!”

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A professional tennis player (still available for motivated investors).

What from your childhood most influences who you are today?

My father taught me at least five incredibly important things: 1) You can learn something from everyone; 2) Give thanks; 3) Give back; 4) Never stop learning; and 5) Ask for extra icing on the cinnamon roll – it’s worth it. (This final one is in conflict with Eat Move, Sleep – see above – so let’s assume it is a metaphor.)

Who in North Carolina gives you the most hope for the future?

There is a bucketload. Here are four: Vivian Howard, founder of the Chef and the Farmer in Kinston, who shows how and why rural North Carolina can still work, if we commit to building off of assets and reversing the brain drain; Mona Amin, co-founder of FreshSpire, a winner of the UNC Social Entrepreneurship Conference prize and IEI’s BB&T Leadership Symposium grand prize, an example of the next generation committed to doing good and doing well; Frank Gilliam, the energetic insightful new chancellor at UNC Greensboro; and David Christian, my twins’ history teacher and coach – hard working, inspiring, successful, and committed to a career of public school teaching.

Please join us in welcoming Leslie to IEI!