Profiles in Power highlights public officials nationwide who are improving their communities through their dedication, enthusiasm, creativity and experience.
This week’s profile is Harry Lightsey, Secretary of Commerce of South Carolina.
Public career highlights and education: In terms of education, I grew up in South Carolina, a product of the city of Columbia’s public schools. After high school I went to Princeton University, where I obtained my undergraduate degree. Then I came back to South Carolina and got a law degree from the University of South Carolina School of Law. And then I had a legal career that was mostly in the telecommunications world working for several Bell companies such as SBC and Bellsouth. I retired when Bellsouth merged with AT&T, from which again I retired back in 2009. In 2012, I went to work for General Motors in their policy division at their office in Washington, D.C., until 2019 when I retired from private industry. After that, I started this job as Secretary of Commerce in June of 2021.
What I like best about public service: In particular, the agency that I’m in charge of the South Carolina Department of Commerce. What’s really fantastic about this is the opportunity to have a direct impact on people’s lives. My predecessor told me when I got this job that it is incredibly rewarding when you drive by an industry location that you had a hand in helping the company to locate in South Carolina and you look and see the building and you see all the cars in the parking lot and you realize that all those cars represent people who have jobs at that facility who can provide for their families and improve their quality of life for themselves and for their families. And you know, that is tremendously rewarding. I will say that has been probably the best part of this job.
The best advice I’ve received: As you can tell, I received a lot of good advice over the years. One of the things I have really taken to heart is that a great leader is very humble and is service-oriented to his organization, and that’s how I have tried to lead the Department of Commerce. The people that work here are incredible public servants. And I totally respect what they do and their dedication. I try to be a servant leader to support the department, to help the folks here advance their careers and have interesting work and interesting things to do. And that’s my philosophy: I try to think of things in a team environment and to build a really great team of folks, and I’m excited to be to be part of that.
People might be interested to know that: The thing I get asked the most and I think surprises people a little bit because they just don’t know that South Carolina is my home state, my native state. Over the course of my corporate career I moved around a lot, and before I came back for this job and I was in Washington, D.C. So I think the fact that I’m from South Carolina, that I grew up in South Carolina is something that people may not know about me that might surprise them a little.
One thing I wish more people knew about the Department of Commerce: We get a lot of publicity when we announce a new company. For example, last year we announced that Scout Motors was going to invest $2 billion to build a facility here in Columbia, S.C., to manufacture EV cars. Those announcements get a lot of publicity and people read about them, but actually the largest part of the agency is here to serve the businesses that are already here in South Carolina.
And we provide a large number of services to the businesses that are that are here in South Carolina. We view the relationship between our department and the business community as a true partnership, and we’re here to help businesses. Not just to locate here in South Carolina, but to succeed and grow here. Here in the department, we have more people working to support businesses, both small and large, that are already here in South Carolina. We are trying to figure out how to better tell the story of what we do to support the businesses that we’re all here.