As Wyoming Legislators are settling into the newly renovated halls of the Capitol building for the 2020 Budget Session, Josh Dorrell is settling into his new role as the CEO of the Wyoming Business Council just a few blocks away.
A few family photos already adorn his desk, and he has started unboxing his books and well-read copies of the Harvard Business Review to line the shelves of his office. He has scrawled a few stray thoughts on a whiteboard on the wall.
“A whiteboard tends to be the focus of my office,” he said. “It’s where I can jot down ideas to come back to and a place to collaborate on projects with the team.”
Dorrell brings a wide variety of private-sector knowledge and experience to the state’s economic development agency.
He began his career at a small software company in Laramie called IDES after graduating from the University of Wyoming in 1998 with a degree in mechanical engineering. He started on the technical side, but quickly realized the business side was a better fit.
“The great thing about working in a small company is you get to wear a lot of hats and there is never a dull moment,” he said. “I was lucky to work with very talented people who worked well as a team.”
In 2012, he had the opportunity to see how those small-company skills worked at a large organization when UL purchased IDES. Dorrell was exposed to various business and leadership roles in his three years at UL.
“Working at UL was a great opportunity to see how large companies work and how to thrive in different environments,” he said. “I learned a ton in a short time with UL, but an opportunity with another Wyoming company was too good to pass up.”
In 2015, Dorrell went to work for Trihydro Corporation to lead a startup business unit called Technology Services and Solutions. The role allowed him to introduce a software product business model to Trihydro’s traditional consulting services, and it allowed him to experience the challenges companies face when pivoting and developing new industries and markets, he said.
“This challenge is something the state faces today,” he said “Our traditional businesses got us here, but they’ll need to adapt and pivot to thrive in the long-term. I’m very excited to dig in and get my hands dirty helping Wyoming companies find new ways to succeed.”
In addition to working in the private sector, Dorrell has taught at the UW School of Business for the past 14 years and was named Professor of the Year in 2015 by UW students.
“Working with students is a lot of fun because of their high energy and willingness to learn,” he said. “There is a tremendous amount of talent at UW. I hope I can help create more opportunities for them to stick around after graduation.”
Still, despite all his experience and business chops, Dorrell says it’s what he’s not bringing to the Business Council that may be his best asset.
“I have spent zero time thinking about politics,” he chuckled. “I think the search committee liked that I came to the table with more business and less politics, but I have some catching up to do.”
It’s true the selection committee – made up of representation from the Legislature, Governor’s office, ENDOW and the Business Council Board and staff – sought someone with extensive private sector business experience to run the state’s economic development agency.
“One of the most important tenets of the Business Council is to grow private industry and business for the ultimate success of our state. The person in charge of the Business Council must understand what does and doesn’t work from a private perspective,” said Megan Goetz, Business Council Co-Chair. “The Advisory Search Committee placed considerable focus on private business experience, together with the adaptability of that experience within public sector systems. Josh demonstrates high quality and commitment to these priorities."
For his part, Dorrell said he’s looking forward to learning a new skillset. He believes his fresh perspective on the political arm of his new job means he’ll be asking a lot of questions.
“When you walk into a situation feeling like you know what’s going to happen, you’re maybe not as perceptive to nuance and you don’t ask enough questions,” he said. “Asking good questions helps get to the root of the problem, and that can open up opportunity for further examination and, ultimately, a solution.”
In the interview process for this job, Dorrell said people frequently raised their eyebrows in surprise at him and asked if he was ready for the challenges he would face, political and otherwise.
His response: “I wouldn’t want to do it if it wasn’t hard. For me, I must continue to make an impact and continue to be challenged. When a job becomes robotic or mechanical, that’s where I don’t want to be.”
On the weekends, Dorrell trades in his suit and tie for his kids’ team regalia.
His oldest daughter is in the honors program studying English at UW. His second daughter is a senior and his third daughter is a freshman at Laramie High School. His son, the youngest, is a fourth grader. He and his wife, Amanda, continue to marvel at how much their kids change and grow each year, he said.
“I’ve had the good fortune of getting to coach all four of my kids at some point. I have a really good coach voice,” he said with a laugh.
Dorrell said he struggled at first with not playing when coaching.
“But I realized something after coaching a few winning games,” he said. “When I was out there playing and we won, I felt my own excitement about winning. But when I coach 10 kids and we win, I get to experience the excitement of 10 people winning. That’s when I started to love coaching even more than playing.”
The optimism Dorrell feels for his new job goes well beyond what it means for him. With one child about to graduate college and three others not far behind, it's about the future success of his home state and his family.
“I am excited about this opportunity,” he said. “It’s a role, a responsibility, that I take very seriously, and we’re about to show what great things Wyoming can do.”