Book Review: "The Mayor" by Richard J. Riordan, with Patrick Range McDonald,
Franklin, TN: Post Hill Press, 2014
By C. MacDonald
Richard J. Riordan loves to read but he doesn't like to be told where to read. In 1980, he walked into The Original Pantry at 9th and Figueroa in Los Angeles, took a seat and started reading a newspaper. "Hey buddy," said a waiter. "If you want to read, the library is up on Fifth and Hope!" Riordan, with shades of Howard Hughes, bought the restaurant instead.
"This was my proudest investment that's given me the most pleasure," said the popular entrepreneur in an interview. "We never close and we're never without a customer." Some days, more than 3,000 meals are served in the quaint, usually packed, legendary eatery at 877 So. Figueroa, where there's often a line of patient, customers-to-be waiting outside for their chance to engulf the famous breakfasts and other meals.
It seems Riordan's calling in life has always been to serve, whether it's customers in The Pantry (or several other establishments he owns), poor children needing to learn how to read and write (The Riordan Foundation is one of the first charitable organizations to bring computers into schools and his "Writing to Read" is one of the best computer programs for teaching young students to do both) or helping change Los Angeles for the better (which he did as mayor from 1993-2001).
The Republican has been called "a maverick multi-millionaire" who's against divisive politics. He favors empowering people, getting diverse groups to work together and produce positive change. Riordan's friend, President Bill Clinton, wrote in the foreword of his exciting new book, "The Mayor," "I admire Dick's leadership and tremendous contributions he made in his community….We need more people like him, who are willing to share their skills, ideas and energy….to bring out the best in our communities."
Reading his book will make you laugh and cry; you'll learn about his professional and private struggles (i.e., his twin sibling didn't survive birth, a brother and sister died, he battled prostate cancer…) helped lead him to be the compassionate, caring character he is today. Though extremely successful as a lawyer, venture capitalist and owner of businesses and properties, Riordan believes that everyone should be treated equally and deserves the opportunity to succeed. His success has come because of his philosophy.
"I try to stay clear of partisan politics," said the avid cycler, who visits diverse neighborhoods on his bike. "These days… political leaders are often mired in partisan politics and little gets accomplished." Ironically, it was a Democratic friend of his, who talked him into running, then helped lead the effort to get this largely unknown LA man to become the city's 39th Mayor.
It's an amazing story, how he empowered others and used his philosophy to "turn around" LA after riots, a major quake and educational challenges of immense magnitudes. He was known for hiring staffers based on their abilities, not political affiliations. Some of the results include helping reform the nation's second largest public school system, the modernization of the LA Police Department, and helping get the Democratic National Convention to come to Los Angeles.
"The Mayor in Sneakers'" (a nickname he got for sprinting from crisis to crisis and talking with people one-on-one) best wisdom, includes, "Always have a sense of humor;" "Let other people speak first. Listen. Show them respect;" "Residents need to be personally involved in their communities;" "Share your wealth rather than hoard it" (for years he donated half his income to charities); "Be decisive, take risks, admit mistakes and trust others;" "Create a culture in which everyone is empowered to make decisions and take actions. Encourage others to be innovative and share credit;" "It's much easier to get forgiveness than permission. Forget the bureaucrats and rules—just do it if it's practical and ethical."
Riordan, who teaches leadership to graduate students at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, still eats at least a couple times a week at The Pantry. "The diners love me and I love them even more," said the very approachable but shrewd businessman. He not only bought The Pantry but the block with it!
When he put the block up for sale, two major companies were interested but one had done their homework and learned how much he loved The Pantry. They said he could continue owning The Pantry and it would not be torn down. "Guess who got the property?" he wrote. "I will never sell The Pantry as long as I live."