Numbers can lie, but good economists won’t let them

John Restrepo, principal of RCG Economics, is less interested in cheerleading for Southern Nevada and more interested in thoughtful self-reflection and analysis.

As principal of RCG Economics in Las Vegas, John Restrepo directs the firm’s economic and financial consulting activities. With 34 years of experience analyzing regional economic and real estate trends, Restrepo frequently is sought to speak at business gatherings in Southern Nevada and often is a source for media outlets seeking an expert opinion on industry trends.

Any recent news or updates about yourself or your work?

A little more than a year ago, we started expanding into the online economic and business intelligence space and partnered with Mike PeQueen and the other managing partners at HighTower Las Vegas to produce a monthly e-newsletter, “The Stat Pack” (thestatpack.com). We now have about 7,000 subscribers (and growing), and many of our readers are quite proactive and helpful in recommending how to make the newsletter better.

The other thing I am most pleased about is that we revamped our website, including adding a blog, “Nevada by the Numbers,” in which we post our thoughts on economic, business and public policy issues.

What is the best business advice you’ve received, and from whom did it come?

If you’re going to be a practicing researcher and analyst, and in my case an economist, you cannot under any circumstances be an advocate or spin numbers or deal in half-truths. You should also avoid engaging in the salesmanship of ideas that have pros and cons. I learned this right out of grad school from my first boss in the consulting profession. Adhering to strict ethical standards was further emphasized when I was director of the business consulting practice at Coopers & Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers) for eight years before launching RCG.

If you could change one thing about Southern Nevada, what would it be?

I would replace some of the excessive and over-the-top cheerleading about Southern Nevada with more thoughtful self-reflection and a dialogue about our strengths and weaknesses so we can more effectively plan for our future. Hubris and/or enthusiasm are no substitute for clear-headed thinking.

What’s the biggest issue facing Southern Nevada and its residents?

The relatively low education level of our residents, which leads to relatively low skill levels compared with the other states and regions with whom we compete. This puts Southern Nevada at a great disadvantage. Changing this reality will require investing a lot of what I call the “Three Ts” — time, talent and treasure — for a concerted period of time. And I’d add one other factor: political will. It won’t be easy; nothing important ever is. But it is incredibly critical for Southern Nevada to move forward.

What are you reading right now?

I’m in the middle of three books: “A Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole; “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” by Thomas Piketty; and “A Parliament of Whores” by P.J. O’Rourke. I love going back and forth between political satire and comedy, and nonfiction “nerdy” economic and business books.

What do you do after work?

Spend time with my beautiful wife, Elle. We are dedicated foodies and are always trying to find new and interesting restaurants in Las Vegas. I moved here from New Orleans more than 25 years ago, and she from New York City 17 years ago, so we are pretty particular. The pickings were pretty slim when we both moved here, especially away from the Strip. Now, the local food scene is really vibrant and constantly getting better.

Blackberry, iPhone or Android?

What’s Blackberry and iPhone?

Describe your management style.

Collaborative, with a strong focus on giving my staff the responsibility and the authority to make decisions. It’s challenging sometimes, but folks have to learn. I also sprinkle it with a bit of joking and sarcasm. I’m not saying it’s the best style for everyone, but it’s who I am and it seems to be working.

Where do you see yourself and your company in 10 years?

I’m very excited about where we are today and the growth potential of the company. We have a great, dedicated team of analysts and economists. And we are seeing more than ever that after the ravages of the Great Recession, clients are demanding objective and independent analysis so they can make wise decisions. That wasn’t always the case prior to the downturn.

What is your dream job, outside of your current field?

My dream job would be being a travel writer and photographer.

Teaching regional economics and economic development at the graduate level wouldn’t be a bad gig, either.

Whom do you admire and why?

Dead: Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. I honestly don’t think there is a high probability that Western civilization would have survived intact had they not been world leaders at the perfect time. Their combined political and leadership skills were just amazing.

Living: All those folks who work so hard and sacrifice so much for little pay, and often with no recognition, to take care of the poor and unwanted of the world. It could be aid workers, health care workers, the clergy or just everyday people who devote their lives to caring for the less fortunate. Their strength of character is simply incredible and unbelievable to me. I’m not very religious, but these folks are an example of what it means to be the best kind of human being. I wish I had that kind of strength.

What is your biggest pet peeve?

Three things: Arrogant and self-important people; when opinions are presented as facts; and when groupthink is passed off as consensus.

What is something people might not know about you?

I’m Hispanic. My parents moved to the United States from Colombia in the early 1950s. My brother Steve and I were born in Colombia, and my brother George was born in the United States. My dad was transferred to the United States to be the director of Gulf Coast operations for a Colombian steamship company. Lots of folks think I’m Italian because my name sounds more Italian then Hispanic, so it’s kind of interesting when my non-Hispanic friends and colleagues express their views on Latino issues.

Tags: The Sunday