From a small school in New Hampshire to one of the most influential companies in the world, the former ULI Young Leader spoke about building strong relationships and leaving a lasting positive impact.
Jonathan Greeley, New England economic development manager for Amazon, admits he didn’t have it all figured out when he graduated from St. Anselm College. Even though he didn’t know where his journey would take him, he knew he would be ready for whatever happened, no matter where it came from.
Greeley first worked with the Boston Private Industry Council, an organization that connects Boston Public School students and teachers to the local business community, where his goal was to “bridge the gap between school education and real-world skills. This position gave her the opportunity to become intimately involved in a historically neglected neighborhood of Boston, working closely with people “who weren’t like her” or who shared her past. This formative experience gave Greeley a new perspective on education he hadn’t considered before, thinking about correlated factors like the number of buses some students had to take to school each day and the impact it could have on their performance in the classroom.
Such dynamics led him to think at the macro scale of cities and led Greeley to pursue a master’s degree in urban and environmental policy and planning at Tufts University. Ultimately, he landed at the epicenter of development in Boston; the Boston Redevelopment Authority (“BRA”), now known as the Boston Planning and Development Agency (“BPDA”).
The subject of Greeley’s discussion with ULI Boston/New England’s Young Leaders Group (“YLG”) was the invaluable wisdom that helped him get to where he is today. Here are the top 6 career tips from our discussion:
1 – Create links
- The theme that Greeley emphasized the most was to continually build connections and never stop building your network. “Use organizations where you have met people, including ULI and other professional organizations. Use LinkedIn and don’t be afraid to cold call people if that’s what it takes.“He added that being authentic in your approach and motivation to connect with someone is a must.”Seek to learn from the other person, it is not a question of asking for something in particular… Be intellectually coherent but tailor-made [your approach] to every situation.“The knowledge gained during a given interaction can sometimes be even more valuable than the potential prospect of doing future business together.
- Jon pointed out that these relationships develop over time, even through career changes. For example, Greeley recently led Amazon’s effort to bring a distribution warehouse to Dedham, Massachusetts, and while discussing the opportunity with an official, the official recalled working with Jon during his time with the BRA and said: “because you’re the one working on it, the door is always open.”
2 – Relentlessly invest in yourself
- When building a career, the best way to set yourself up for success is to continually hone the skills you’ll need to be successful now and at the next level. “Concentrate relentlessly on improving yourself and read everything you can.” After finishing his undergraduate courses, Jon was far from done. His long list of professional development work includes earning his master’s degree, participating in numerous ULI technical assistance panels, attending various courses through organizations such as ULI, and participating in the mediation program of Harvard (which requires 30 hours of focused classroom training and a year to hone its mediation skills in a local small claims court). “Check out opportunities not just for what they’re offering you now, but how they can prepare you for the next move.”
- Tip: Take advantage of tuition reimbursement offers from employers to resume your studies, attend speaking engagements and/or take courses offered by professional organizations including ULI.
3 – Always raise your hand and say yes
- Whenever Greeley was offered an opportunity, he always tried to say yes, regardless of the forum. His justification was twofold; greater exposure to different groups and organizations, while preparing you for additional opportunities in the future. In fact, saying “yes” to a last-minute invitation to speak at a panel at Boston University led Greeley directly to moonlighting as a BU lecturer, teaching graduate-level courses in urban planning. and public policy. “Help, conference, speaking [engagements]always saying yes” will open doors for young leaders and experienced professionals alike.
4 – Don’t be afraid of fire
- When Greeley joined the BRA as a trainee, the acclimatization period was virtually non-existent and he accepted the challenge with open arms. “From day one, I was thrown directly into the fire. I was actually asked to testify on behalf of the BRA before the zoning commission [as an intern].“Greeley strongly believes that experiences like these have allowed him to learn so much more than he otherwise would have and it’s a big reason why he was able to accomplish so much during his time with the BPDA.
- For more than 14 years while holding a wide range of positions, including Director of Development Review, Greeley was proud of what he and his teams were able to accomplish. A highlight between 2016 and 2021 was the entitlement to over 70 million square feet of new development and the 20% overrun of new units approved during this period with restricted affordability.
5 – Know when to dive deep and when to be brief
- Throughout his career and particularly during his time at Amazon, Greeley has found that his most successful projects result from a balance between delving deeply into the finer details of the project and keeping the bigger picture of the project front and center. : “The ability to be brief when needed, but also to dive deep has helped my career tremendously.“As young leaders’ careers progress, developing the ability to share a clear and concise big picture of a complex situation while having the ability to support that big picture with reasoning and information detailing is an essential and valued skill in any profession.
6 – “Focus on both the top and the bottom”
- Similar to the famous quote “Treat the janitor like you would treat the CEO,” Greeley has found that those you work with are just as, and sometimes even more, important to your career than a company’s senior management. “Success is not linear. You never know who is going to be where and who will be with you down the line.“While it’s important to understand the direction of a company’s current senior management, the focus should also be on those around you, including the intern down the hall. This approach has allowed Greeley to build lasting relationships with his colleagues and peers, who are now the key leaders and decision makers he works with on a daily basis.
- During his time with YLG Boston/New England, Greeley went to meetings and events with the intention of meeting as many colleagues as possible to learn as much as possible from their experiences of their respective roles in the industry. : “ULI is easily the best place for young leaders to cultivate relationships.”