Meet a Member: Applying the Leadership Lessons
of Government in other Arenas
By Mary Branham, CSG Managing Editor
When Andy Gerlach earned his Master of Business Administration degree from the University of South Dakota in 1993, he had one just job interview—with the state budget office.
“Quite frankly, that was the only one I was really interested in,” said Gerlach, a 2013 CSG Henry Toll Fellow.
While most MBAs enter the business world, Charles Kaufman, Gerlach’s graduate school adviser and a mentor, believed talented people should go into government.
Gerlach, now secretary of South Dakota’s Revenue Cabinet, has long been involved in public service. He’s a 26-year member of the National Guard, where he has attained the rank of colonel, and actually took his new post after a deployment to Afghanistan.
His work in state government helped him working with the coalition forces overseas, and that National Guard experience helps him in his current role as well.
“You can take a lot of lessons in government—working with different agencies, different areas of government, state, local and federal, and the different branches, and try to come together with a common approach,” he said. “I was able to transfer that very similarly to the experience in Afghanistan.
While he was there, Gov. Dennis Daugaard interviewed him for the Revenue Cabinet post. Gerlach was using a cell phone.
“I was hoping I wouldn’t lose the connection,” he said.
Daugaard, a former state representative and lieutenant governor, had seen Gerlach in action in the positions he previously held with state government. He spent a lot of time working with the legislature.
Gerlach takes pride in his ability to deal with people. “Good communication skills and understanding your customers is a key point,” he said.
But he went into the role facing obvious challenges. It was 2011, a year after states began emerging from the Great Recession. State revenues were down and the governor had to cut the budget drastically.
“I had to realign my priorities in terms of what we had,” he said. South Dakota, he said, tries to have a good tax policy, but also tries to be fair in its tax policy.
“The key thing to generating revenues is to have a good economy, and in South Dakota our business climate has been very good.”
Gerlach sees his role as a leader as a team builder.
“When you take a department in state government and impart some vision and values into how you think strategically as a department, and then see people latch on to those and understand and incorporate it into work, to me that’s very satisfying,” he said.
Communication is key to being a good leader. He can point to a couple of people that have inspired his leadership style—his high school basketball coach Burnell Glanzer and Gen. George C. Marshall, a nod to his military background.
Gerlach strives to have the same integrity and ability to inspire of both. He also likes to bring talented people into state government and push them to succeed.
“I really push our employees and young people to think critically,” he said. “You give them the latitude to take an issue and run with it.”
In fact, he likes to give younger employees and rising stars challenging projects.
“It gets them engaged and gets them to feel like they have an influence on public policy and public service,” he said.
While he enjoys those aspects of the job, Gerlach acknowledges he faces some challenges, noting especially the litigious nature of our society.
But Gerlach has an outlet for that. He’s a longtime runner. “I solve some of my most complex problems then,” he said.
When he was in Afghanistan, he “participated” in some of the major road races in the U.S., such as the Peachtree Marathon in Atlanta. Race organizers sent a bunch of T-shirts to the base and troops had a four- or five-mile race to coincide with it.
The military remains an important part of his life and public service.
“You have a sense of service to your state,” Gerlach said.