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Maverick, Trailblazer, Leader: Joseph Wood Never Took the Easy Path

by Dwain Hebda, Arkansas Money & Politics

For as long as he can remember, Joseph Wood has felt just a little bit different from the people around him. Adopted into a large family, he felt at times growing up a stranger among siblings, and attending college in diversity-starved Iowa only reinforced how few Black and brown faces there were to mirror his.

Even his political philosophy — a conservative of color — earned him a place in an exclusive club that began in his 20s. And today, in his role as Arkansas Secretary of Transformation and Shared Services, he shepherds a department few people have ever heard of, let alone know what it does.

Yet, after all of this time, being different is precisely the credential that he points to as most essential in his successful career in the corporate world and in public service. Even if it took Wood a little time to realize it himself.

“It was not on my radar — transformation and shared services,” he said. “In fact, I will say even though the governor did her research and said, ‘This is what you’ve done, and that’s what we need,’ I couldn’t initially put two and two together. She said, and I believe it, and she can hire folks with particular skill sets and qualifications, but do they really understand and can they buy into a vision?

“I starting looking back on what I did as deputy secretary of state and as county judge, where I was that change agent, a disruptor asking the question, ‘Why?’ You’re not supposed to ask why in government; this is just how we’ve always done it. Well, that’s not acceptable to the governor. She wanted someone who can come in and help continue the work of transforming government, looking for effective ways to do our business in the state and how to be more efficient.”

Wood’s department grew out of Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s initiative to reorganize state government departments, a process that stalled during the COVID pandemic and subsequent change of administrations following last fall’s gubernatorial elections. Its purview is broad but goes unnoticed by many rank-and-file citizens, focused as it is on back-office elements such as HR and benefits functions, new employee onboarding and maintaining information systems to support the work of all other state offices.

Dry though that may seem at times compared to overhauling Arkansas’s education system or luring a major new manufacturer here, it’s nonetheless a critical part of how government operates and functions in service to its constituents. Even if, as is often the case, the public isn’t aware of it.

“Transformation and shared services has the responsibility of helping to reshape and reform state government by looking at sharing services,” he said. “We look at redundancies, duplication and trying to narrow and cut that out for cost savings to the citizens of the state. It also brings nimbleness in how we do state government.

Read the full article HERE.

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