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Corporate responsibility and inclusion

Three leadership lessons from St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter

In a visit to Thomson Reuters Eagan campus, the first black mayor of Minnesota's capital shared attitudes and outlooks that have helped him find success.

Melvin Carter didn’t get where he is by thinking along the same lines as everyone else.

Carter, 38, became the first black mayor of St. Paul, the capital of the United States city of Minnesota, with his historic election in November 2017.

In a February 20 presentation sponsored by the Black Employee Network, Carter outlined his political awakening, career progress and approach to governing. As he detailed his professional growth, several attitudes that have served him well became evident:

With his November 2017 election, Melvin Carter became the first black mayor of St. Paul, Minnesota, United States. He stopped by Thomson Reuters Eagan campus February 20 for a presentation organized by the Black Employees Network. THOMSON REUTERS/Will Ashenmacher
With his November 2017 election, Melvin Carter became the first black mayor of St. Paul, Minnesota, United States. He stopped by Thomson Reuters Eagan campus February 20 for a presentation organized by the Black Employees Network. THOMSON REUTERS/Will Ashenmacher

Grit over glamour gets the job done

Carter joked that when he began working for former St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman, he was interested in global topics like the depletion of the ozone layer, not issues like citywide recycling. Carter said his time with Coleman’s administration changed that and he now “loves” municipal government.

“What I learned is that while Congress manages a bunch of issues that are really interesting, the elements of day-to-day life are really handled by municipalities,” he said.

Carter went on to say working on city-level issues gave him a new appreciation for what it takes to keep the city moving, so to speak. While higher-profile projects attract media attention and citizen interest, the gritty or unglamorous work is what keeps a community, organization or team progressing forward.

Remember the ultimate goal

In Minnesota, voters are often politically active and very participatory. That means citywide issues can become polarized or even contentious.

Carter said he tries not to let distractions faze him.

“At city hall, if it snows, we have to move the snow,” he said. “God forbid, but if one of you gets hurt, we have to send an ambulance. It doesn’t matter how many Republicans and how many democrats there are on city council.”

Think broadly

Carter’s college savings plan, which would provide for US$50 for every kindergarten-age child in St. Paul, has generated a lot of discussion and, in some quarters, some degree of surprise. Carter quipped that on social media, people have been “very generous” in sharing their opinion on it with him.

“People would say, ‘Education isn’t your job,’” he said. “If preparing our children for the future isn’t our job, then please, tell me what is.”

Carter said he hasn’t let the discouragement prevent him from thinking big.

“I think we tend to think too much about stuff and processes,” he said. “We’re not focused on what could be enough.”


Learn more

Read more about the Black Employee Network.

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