Wilton man to steer Connecticut’s business climate
They say if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. That could be why Peter Denious of Wilton was recently tapped to become the new CEO of the Connecticut Economic Resource Center (CERC).
A successful private equity and venture capital professional, Denious was previously a senior leader with Aberdeen Standard Investments, one of the largest investment companies in the world, before taking on his new role at CERC in July.
CERC is a nonprofit corporation charged with driving economic development in Connecticut by providing research-based data, planning and implementation strategies to foster business formation, recruitment and growth.
And out of the gate, Denious has his hands full.
Connecticut has never fully recovered from the 2007-08 global financial crisis and economic recession. Once home to more than 30 Fortune 500 companies, the state is now down to 14 as of July.
The Nutmeg state has suffered a number of economic blows in the past few years, with a number of big companies saying goodbye.
In 2016, Fairfield-based General Electric announced it was relocating to Boston.
The following year, insurance giant Aetna announced it was leaving Hartford for New York City. The only thing stopping Aetna’s departure was its subsequent merger with CVS Health, which announced Aetna would remain in Hartford for the next 10 years.
And this past June, United Technologies of Farmington announced it planned to merge with defense contractor Raytheon, and would be moving its headquarters to Waltham, Mass.
So why is Denious leaving a solid financial career to take on the daunting task of driving economic development in the state?
“I love a good challenge,” he said in an interview with The Bulletin. “I got tired of complaining about Connecticut and saw an opportunity to provide my business development skills and have a chance to make a difference,” he said.
He said the time was right for him to make the leap. “I was looking for a change. I spent 23-plus years in the investment industry … but was ready for something new and different. I’m not sure I would have picked this per se, but it hit a lot of the elements I was looking for,” he said.
Among those elements, he said, is the ability to give something back to the state. “I’ll be able to apply my skills in business building and business development, and apply my passion for Connecticut with those elements,” he said.
Gov. Ned Lamont has vowed to get the state back on the economic track, addressing the issue in his inaugural address in January. “For generations, Connecticut was the most entrepreneurial, inventive, and fastest-growing state loaded with amazing opportunities. And we still can be. I will not allow the next four years to be defined by a fiscal crisis,” he said.
Furthering that goal, Lamont heralded Denious’ election to CERC. “Peter’s background is well suited to help CERC redirect and expand its resources to better engage with the business community as well as leverage private-sector relationships,” Lamont said in a news release in July. “I look forward to him hitting the ground running to help market our state overall and implement a new aggressive approach to attracting and retaining businesses in Connecticut.”
Sense of urgency
Denious knows he needs to be proactive in order to drive the state’s economic recovery. “The sense of urgency is real and palpable. Everything needed to be done yesterday. We are really putting ourselves on a schedule to deliver some value relatively quickly,” he said.
To that end, Denious said one of his priorities for CERC is “to get its house in order” by creating an economic plan with the state to reflect current situations, and engaging with stakeholders to help with that plan.
Denious said he is working with an “incredible” board of directors on that plan. CERC is overseen by co-chairs Indra Nooyi and Jim Smith, the former CEOs of PepsiCo and Webster Financial. The board was revitalized in April with the addition of Jim Loree, CEO of Stanley Black and Decker, and Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, Sr., associate dean at Yale School of Management.
In May, Donald Kendall, Jr., co-founder and chair of Social Venture Partners Connecticut, and R. Adam Norwitt, president and CEO of Amphenol Corporation, hopped on board.
“There is tremendous energy around this. Many have answered the call to action,” Denious said. “These people could be doing a lot of other things with their time, but they care.”
As part of his strategy, Denious plans to clear up what he views as misconceptions about Connecticut, particularly misconceptions in the business community. “We need to get out and talk about positive attributes about our state,” he said.
Those misconceptions will be addressed with better communication. “Connecticut has never gone out and told its story. We are not reaching out to companies, to ones that could be in our state. We have a compelling value proposition to offer them,” he said.
To get his message out, Denious sees value in the private sector working together more closely with the public sector. “Can we, as the private sector, join in the fight and drive more aggressively for business development in the state? I think yes,” he said.