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Weld-era cautionary tale should guide Healey’s state economic chief

Governor Maura Healey has named Yvonne Hao to be the state's secretary of economic development.Marek Dziekonski | Dziekonski Photography

When I read Shirley Leung’s column extolling the virtues of Yvonne Hao, Massachusetts’ new economic development secretary, and referring to Hao as possibly the “most qualified economic secretary we’ve had,” I was reminded of former Boston Globe columnist David Warsh and a previous gubernatorial administration (“Meet Yvonne Hao, the state’s new economic secretary who just ‘gets stuff done,’ ” Business, Jan. 17).

More than 30 years ago, Warsh had the same opinion about one of Hao’s predecessors, Dan Gregory. Gregory, appointed by the newly elected governor, William Weld, was first and foremost a terrific person — caring, gracious, and empathetic. The kind of attributes Leung identifies in Hao. Also like Hao, Gregory had a dazzlingly successful career in venture capital and brought with him to government a sterling reputation as a business visionary. What he did not bring was any prior government experience — Leung notes the same “hole in Hao’s resume.”


That “hole” gobbled up Gregory. He was used to dealing with CEOs, who pitched him for investment and lined up to absorb his business know-how. But as secretary, Gregory was the one who had to do the convincing — convince legislative leaders that his ideas were worth funding; convince the governor’s staff that his priorities were more important than, say, another secretary’s priorities. The people Gregory had to deal with as secretary were ambitious, and they often had their own agendas. His tenure as secretary lasted a little more than a year.

Leung suggests that all Hao needs to do to be a great secretary is staff up her office to compensate for her lack of government experience. But to be not just the “most qualified” person to hold the job but also the most successful, Hao must see the world through the eyes of the Massachusetts House speaker and Senate president; to advance her priorities in Maura Healey’s administration, she must recognize that the governor’s staff will encounter a wholly different set of pressures than she might expect, and Hao will have to accommodate those pressures. To achieve results, she must adjust her personal lens in view of a very different job.


Charles Yelen


The writer was chief counsel and then chief of staff to the secretary of economic affairs in the Weld administration from 1991 to 1993.