Josh Gruber knows Beaufort County.
That, he believes, is something that gave him an edge over the 135 other candidates who applied for the assistant town manager’s position for Hilton Head when his predecessor announced his retirement last fall.
The Ohio native assumed his new post Aug. 6 after spending the past eight years serving as counsel and as interim Beaufort County administrator.
“I think the combination of the experiences I’ve had during my professional career – I know that they kind of checked all the boxes for what Steve (Riley, town manager) and Greg (DeLoach, outgoing assistant town manager) were looking for – and on top of that, the added benefit that I’m local to the area,” Gruber said.
Gruber, 37, and his wife, Ashley, and two young boys live on Lady’s Island. “Being in the area for the last eight years gave me a leg up and allows me to hit the ground running,” he said.
The ground he will pound as assistant town manager is to support and supervise six town staff departments and to assist Riley in all capacities. Gruber will work with and oversee the areas of finance, information technology, administrative services, municipal court, cultural affairs and public information, as well as being the liaison to the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office.
“Josh has a demonstrated track record of successful performance and the ability to competently handle positions of increasing responsibility,” Riley said in a prepared statement. “He manages approximately 1,300 county employees and a budget over $123 million, is familiar with local issues, and is exceptionally well-suited for the assistant town manager position. We look forward to having Josh join us.”
Gruber said he believes the transition will be smooth because of the ably-functioning and well-performing town staff. This is not an overhaul, but a continuation of what is and maybe more, he said.
“I’m coming into a situation where Steve and Greg have really created a great foundation,” Gruber said. “I now have the opportunity to come in with a fresh set of eyes and look at things and offer maybe different viewpoints. I’m not coming into an organization that’s in crisis or chaos. It’s a very stable organization with a lot of great staff members.”
He said he’s a goal-setter because it lets him know when he’s accomplished something, and will articulate what those goals are in the next four or so months after he’s settled in. For now, he wants to focus on getting to know the staff and what their specific functions are, the intricacies and the nuances operationally. He wants to learn how each staffer functions within the organization, what they do and how they do it.
His management style is straightforward, and he made clear he’s not a micro-manager.
“I believe in leading by example,” he said. “My management strategy is twofold: I want to clearly communicate what my expectations are … then I leave it to staff to execute and carry it out. My door is always open. I am not going to be looking over their shoulders.”
His candor in talking about himself as a government administrator is refreshing and perhaps modest.
“I consider myself to have a little bit of knowledge about a lot of things, but I am no expert in any particular area,” he said. Gruber is a graduate of Clemson University, earned his Master’s at Georgia State University, and a law degree from Capital University Law School.
Gruber said applying for the position was a no-brainer, but accepting the position took “serious consideration” because it had to meet his and his family’s needs.
Ultimately, this is what he decided: “I’m excited about this opportunity and to work in paradise.”
And there was another tipping point as well in the decision; his wife commutes to the island as a licensed professional counselor at Memory Matters.
“I have had the opportunity to get together with her for lunch, which is something we haven’t been able to do in years,” he said. “So I’m pretty excited to be able to do that more often now.”
Lowcountry resident Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer.