Former Dell CFO says innovation and a subway are in Austin's future

Austin's skyline has changed quite a bit in the 23 years Tom Meredith has been calling Austin home.

He loves this city.

"It's one of the few cities that I've ever been to where everybody's just good enough. Nobody's too good...it's forever young and it's forever changing," he said.

When local economist, Angelos Angelou, asked him to deliver the keynote at his 30th annual economic forecast breakfast last week, he said yes...as long as his advice could be a little provocative.

Among his talking points: diversity. He says the business world is ignoring half of the working population: women.

He says if there was more gender diversity on company boards, that culture would trickle down to the employees, improving return on sales, return on equity etc.

"The data is pretty irrefutable. Women are actually going to perform better than men as day traders or long term investors. Here's why: Men physiologically react to winning in terms of their trades. Their testosterone levels go up so they take bigger bets until they lose everything," Meredith said.

Also...innovation. He's excited Austin's new medical school will be a part of UT's existing research institution so hopefully they'll be able to create a drug that hits the market, goes through trials and earns billions in revenue.

"I actually think we're going to break the record of having no drugs to having a pharm industry and a bio-medical industry mushroom in a way that Dallas and Houston have somehow escaped," he said.

Meredith says the state has been in a drought for much of his time here. He says we need to get the water situation figured out -- something he feels UT students can help work on.

"What most people don't know about water is that the water that we drink is actually -- it runs on surfaces or through aquifers and that represents about 3 percent of the global supply of water...which means 97% of the supply of global water is brackish or salt. So if what starts here changes the world, why aren't we really innovating around desalinization?" Meredith said.

As the co-founder and director of the Waller Creek Conservancy, Meredith believes green space is important to Austin.

"If you're in a room and you happen to have a friend and he and you have the same diagnosis, you have the same operation, you have the same prognosis, you have the same doctor, the same hospital, except you're in a hospital with 4 walls and he's in a hospital overlooking a park...a park or green or even looking at art...different kinds of art...his recovery will be faster," he said.

And finally: the subway.

"What do most major popular cities that continue to grow and be vibrant have in common? Subways," Meredith said.

Austin is expected to be 4-million people strong in 20 years. Meredith says we have to find out how to make a subway cost-effective.

"Austin has clay and limestone... It's the best soil or some of the best soil in which to be doing straight line massive tunnel burrowing. Why aren't we doing that? Why don't we lay out a plan that we know is going to take 2 or 3 decades and say we're going to start somewhere but here's the plan, we're going to connect! And we're going to connect people and communities. Well some people say 'well we don't want it.' Well okay then you're going to choke on your traffic," Meredith said.


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