On June 29, Press Herald Publisher Lisa DeSisto sat down with Don Perkins, longtime president and CEO of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, to talk about leadership and strategies for overcoming challenges. Here are some takeaways from that conversation:

Take nothing for granted. Perkins’s formal education combined degrees in anthropology and business, giving him the skills to analyze, frame and manage complex issues. His early experiences as an Outward Bound instructor, work in the Golan Heights and with a health care foundation in Brazil honed those skills and taught him to approach problems with an open mind.

Consider ways to benefit from market trends. GMRI is a nonprofit, but launched a for-profit spinoff, Gulf of Maine Ventures, to hook market trends to solve problems. Last year it partnered with Boston-based SeaAhead in an accelerator program to invest in innovative companies operating in ocean-based industries.

Hire, support and recognize top-notch employees. Leaders have the authority and responsibility to do the hard things. Surround yourself with exceptional people and then get out of their way. Perkins describes his style as “hands-on without micro-managing.”

Take a holistic approach to hiring. Perkins said when he interviews people he considers how they will fit with the existing team, how they fit within the organization’s overall strategy and GMRI culture.

Support people to think big. GMRI tackles huge issues like climate change and sustainable fishing. It operates on a five-year planning cycle. Keeping the big picture in mind is essential and from there you can ground down and focus on strategies.

Embrace nuance. When an organization deals with complicated systems and institutions, collaboration is key and understanding the details strengthens your ability to have successful partnerships in market and regulatory systems.

Reflect. GMRI takes time at the end of its fiscal year to assess what worked and what didn’t and then makes adjustments going forward.

Collaboration and trust are key. Perkins cited GMRI’s long-standing relationship with Charlie Poole, who wanted to sell one of Portland’s vital working wharves. GMRI tapped its partnership with donor groups and took out a mortgage to raise the money to buy Union Wharf. Although it wasn’t the top bidder on the property, GMRI’s relationship with the city’s working waterfront and dedication to keeping it so made it the successful bidder.

Carbon taxes are a significant tool to mitigate climate change. Perkins said he expects to see carbon legislation in the next decade in response to demand from 20-to-30-year-olds. A tax on carbon would change the way people behave, which in turn would help address climate change.

A surprised board is an unhappy board. Perkins said he spends about a third of his time on board governance to ensure transparency.

Network extensively. GMRI has increased its staff by 35-40 percent over the past three years. Really good people look for opportunities.

Become involved in climate change on a personal level. Perkins said the first priority is acknowledging and understanding the problem. He recommends reading science fiction to introduce concepts that could become realities in the future (i.e. sulfur reflectors). Then walk the walk. Buy an electric vehicle if you can. If you manage a business, get to zero carbon impact by buying offsets. Communicate with Congress to push responsible carbon policy.

Offshore wind development is complicated but key. GMRI has been involved in this issue from a process and technical point of view. But figuring out how to develop wind energy without adversely affecting fisheries is the crux. There’s more wind in the Gulf of Maine than anywhere else on the Eastern Seaboard.

Geopolitics is impossible to predict. Perkins said today’s carbon output will determine climate change in 2050, and the warning signs aren’t good. GMRI research shows there will be an 18-inch increase in ocean levels in Portland by mid-century, and that doesn’t take into account high tides, storm surges and the like. The species we fish for will change. It’s imperative everyone commit to dealing with climate change.

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