Dennis Lower Honored with 2018 FOCUS Leadership Award

Becky RasmussenNews

Dennis Lower, 2018 FOCUS Leadership Award Recipient

For 21 years, the FOCUS Board of Directors has presented the prestigious Leadership Award annually to an individual who demonstrates outstanding leadership in order to create lasting change in the St. Louis region.

On May 10, 2018, FOCUS Board Chair Mark Grieman presented the 2018 Leadership Award to Dennis Lower, President & CEO of Cortex Innovation Community, during the What’s Right with the Region Awards. Under Lower’s leadership, Cortex has expanded from its original vision as a bioscience only district to embracing all technologies with a focus on creating a mixed-use innovation community. Today, Cortex is the largest innovation campus in the St. Louis region, with nearly $650 million invested in 1.9 million square feet and over 4,300 jobs to date. At full buildout, Cortex anticipates an investment of $2.3 billion in 4 million square feet of mixed-use development.

On accepting his award, Lower shared the following remarks with more than 500 attendees. (Our thanks to him for allowing us to reprint them here.)

“Has this not been an incredible evening? Such amazing work by people and organizations who care.

I want to begin by thanking FOCUS St. Louis for appealing to and challenging the good in each of us, and for lifting up organizations and individuals who by their leadership demonstrate their personal commitment to compassion, opportunity, justice and equity.

I think that FOCUS St. Louis deserves a What’s Right with St. Louis award for the work it does to shine a light on and celebrate the better side of the St. Louis region. Don’t you agree?

To say that I am humbled to receive this award is a significant understatement. To be named among those who have received this recognition before me is a singular, personal honor.

Standing here tonight is the direct result of many, many people and life experiences that have shaped me and provided me with opportunities to make a difference.

  • I am here today because my mother and father showed me what hard work, sacrifice and compassion is.
  • Because of the love and encouragement provided to me by my own family and friends of choice.
  • Because three college professors taught me the importance of (1) critical, philosophical thinking, (2) the passion for life revealed in great Russian literature, and (3) the importance of following and trusting my own journey and story as it unfolds during my lifetime.
  • I am here today because of college days spent in Old Town Chicago, Madiun, Indonesia, and Bangkok, Thailand, where I was exposed to different ideas, religions, politics and cultures that I have spent my post-college days unpacking and seeking to understand.
  • I am here today because that gumbo of family, friends and travel led me to a decision when I was 30 that community engagement was my calling and my parish, the place where I could make a difference. Since that time I have been blessed by doors that have opened and doors that have closed; each one being both scary and exciting.
  • And finally, I am here today specifically because one of those open doors was an invitation to join with the leadership of Washington University, St. Louis University, the University of Missouri St. Louis, BJC Healthcare and the Missouri Botanical Garden to help build a technology-based innovation community that will become the economic future of the St. Louis region. Cortex has been a 15-year collaborative effort whose success has many mothers and fathers, and I’m the lucky one who at this time is able to share in its day-to-day leadership.

We live in a time that beckons each of us to step up, lead, and make whatever contribution we can to restore balance in our community and our world, and it is essential that we answer the call in whatever ways that are uniquely suited for each of us.

  • In a time where truth is under assault…clear-minded discernment is essential.
  • In a time of hide-the-ball politics…transparency is essential.
  • In a time of “implausible deniability” and “no admission of guilt”…personal, business and civic responsibility are essential.
  • In a time of “I win and you lose”…seeking solutions that work for all is essential.
  • In a time where individual rights and personal freedoms are wielded like weapons… unselfishness and deference for the good of others is essential; just because I have the right to something, doesn’t mean that I should exercise the freedom to do it.
  • In a time where harsh public discourse is the norm…temperance, humility and respectful responses are essential.
  • In a time of increasing social disparity…the pursuit of equity and justice for all is essential.
  • And in a time where society is increasingly judgmental…charity and kindness are essential; or as the Dalai Lama says, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

The imbalance and polarity of our times beckons to each of us to make whatever essential contributions we can that can help rebalance and restore harmony in our community and our world.

I want to end my remarks with a story about character.

Before coming to St. Louis in 2010, our family lived in Louisiana where we were friends with David Toms and his family. David’s son and my son played sports together. David is a professional golfer who has won 13 PGA tournaments, including the PGA Championship in 2001. At one point in his career, David was in the top 10 of the World Golf Rankings for 175 straight weeks.

In the summer of 2005, David was among the elite who qualified to play the British Open Championship at St. Andrews in Scotland. The Open is the oldest and most prestigious championship in golf.

The morning of the second round, Toms walked into the official’s tent and explained that in the first round he might or might not have done something for which he should have taken a penalty stroke, which he had not done. He indicated that on the 17th hole he missed his putt, walked to the cup and with a hurried stroke tapped it in without going through his normal, measured address of the ball.

That night in his hotel room, he was replaying the first round in his head…hole-by-hole. When he got to the 17th hole, he thought about his hurried tap-in putt. Upon reflection, he was unsure whether the ball was wobbling in the wind when he tapped it in. In golf, it is against the rules to hit a ball that is in motion; doing so results in a penalty, and failure to take a penalty stroke results in a disqualification.  At the end of each tournament round, the player and his partner sign each other’s scorecard, verifying the score is correct, which had been done.

All night he wrestled with his uncertainty, and because he was unsure of whether the ball was in motion, the next morning he disqualified himself from the Open. Now to say that this was an extraordinary action, is an understatement.  When asked by the commentators about his decision he said, ‘I asked the rules official to review the tape, and he said he really couldn’t see anything, and said it was up to me; I could call it a foul, or just move on to the second round. But then he unofficially asked me if you I finished first, how would I feel? I said I would feel as though I was getting away with something. It wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the field. And it wouldn’t be fair to me, because I would have to live with it forever.’

Later back in Louisiana, David expounded further, ‘You know, there are things that only the golfer sees. In golf, we just call infractions on ourselves; we don’t try to disguise a foul until the ref sees it and calls it, like in basketball and football.  It comes down to knowing that you are doing the right thing, whether anyone sees it, and feeling good inside about your work.’

Thank you, FOCUS St. Louis for challenging each of us to do the right thing; challenging each of us to elevate our game; and challenging each of us to be more truthful, transparent, authentic, respectful, inclusive, and charitable…because it is essential and it is “what is right for the region.”


– Dennis Lower, May 10, 2018