Pittsburgher of the Year: Jim Rohr
Walking and talking with Jim Rohr, the business titan who is changing our city yet again.
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It’s mid-afternoon at the Children’s Museum on the North Side. An event launching the Breathe Project, an initiative to make Pittsburgh’s air cleaner, has just ended. PNC is a sponsor and Jim Rohr is there, fresh from speaking. Now he is walking and talking, talking and walking.
As he strides through the lobby, he accumulates people. They start walking behind him, then accelerate as if they’ve just pulled onto a Parkway West on-ramp. Finally they catch up, say hello and have their brief audiences.
As Rohr fields five separate supplicants, no less a personage than Franco Harris—among the most recognizable of our community’s living icons—walks out another door, unaccompanied and unpursued.
Afterward, riding back to One PNC Plaza, Rohr reflects on leadership’s trajectory.
“When you join a company, in the early days you try to differentiate yourself. It’s your thing that you do,” he says. The next job, you’re overseeing four or five people, “but you can still impact things yourself.” The next job is bigger, and “you may or may not be able to move the numbers yourself.” But then comes the step when you cross the river completely.
“There’s a realization that your success is totally dependent on the success of the people you’re responsible for,” he says. “You go from a player to a player-coach to a coach. It’s an evolution. And some people never make it. Some people don’t want to. You can’t keep doing it by yourself. If you think it’s up to one guy, it’s not going to happen.”
Many people—pieces of the puzzle, each adding something. And a leader who harnesses them. Like the community in which he exists, Rohr is a mosaic of different leaders we’ve known. There’s a bit of Carnegie (the philanthropic, driven titan), a dash of Rooney (the ethical winner), a liberal sprinkling of Fred Rogers (commitment to the kids), perhaps even a hint of Caliguiri (perseverance through transitional times). And, of course, all that he has added on his own.
Maybe that’s what any leader does. At first you emulate, then—slowly—you construct your own mosaic, built not just from predecessors but from your experiences, from everything that’s processed through your individual prism. And, to hear Rohr tell it, from values, too—the things that the lucky among us do to help the less lucky get luckier.
By the time you’re Rohr’s age, you come to recognize: No one big cinematic thing is the path to success. Instead, the road is paved with tiny victories. As a leader, you amplify and guide them. Traveling the hills and valleys, you encounter something new each day—something you help shape or something you leave alone, realizing that it’s been there all along and is doing just fine.
Which, come to think of it, sounds a lot like Pittsburgh itself.
Pittsburgh native Ted Anthony, a veteran writer and editor, has reported from more than 20 countries and 47 U.S. states. He lives in Allison Park.