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Chamber chair: New TSYS CEO calls Fort Benning 'our crown jewel'

Posted December 15, 2014    

Stepping into the role of board chairman at the Greater Columbus Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Troy Woods knows his marching orders.

 In short, his priority is finding a new chief executive officer who has the creativity, energy and passion to raise enough resources and support to protect Fort Benning from future budget cuts and job losses.

 "We cannot afford, under any circumstances, to fail when it comes to Fort Benning, our crown jewel," Woods told those gathered nearly a week ago at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center, the chamber's first annual meeting in more than a quarter-century without Mike Gaymon, who retired as president and CEO on Nov. 1.

Outgoing chamber chairman and attorney Alan Rothschild, in his remarks, thanked the chamber staff and members for their push on a letter-writing campaign to the U.S. military urging the government to spare Fort Benning from the pending "sequester threat" that could take away thousands of troop and civilian jobs.

No final decision -- following a public comment period -- has been issued from a U.S. Army assessment looking to pare back global troop strength amid a downsizing from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and an overall need to reduce federal debt. A listening session has been set for Feb. 18 at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center to consider questions about the plans.

The assessment floated the possibility that the local military installation could lose up to 11,000 jobs by the year 2020. Job losses in the region -- rippling into the local business sector -- could push the communitywide loss total to nearly 14,000 jobs.

That backdrop sets the stage for making a very important hire for the chamber's top job, said Woods, himself the president and CEO at TSYS, a global credit card and payment processor headquartered in Columbus.

In an interview after the annual meeting, Woods said a chamber committee is still in the early stages of working with an executive search firm to determine what type of leader is needed at this time in the city's history. The hope is to ramp up the efforts after the holidays and have someone in place by April.

"It doesn't have to be a chamber executive somewhere else, such as a current CEO of a chamber who aspires to be at a larger chamber," he said. "It doesn't have to be a number two at a big chamber who's looking to be number one. It could be from the business sector, private sector, nonprofit sector."

Woods said the search committee is hoping to land a visionary and not a manager. It would also be a major plus if they've spent significant time interacting with government entities. He wouldn't say a retired soldier would be the best fit.

"We rule nothing out," Woods said. "Fort Benning is very, very critical, and we made it very clear to the committee we would prefer someone that has ... we didn't say military experience ... but has experience in working with the military, with the government."

The new CEO would have to hit the ground running, most agree, with Rothschild implicitly saying the chamber needs a team in place "so that we can successfully defend Fort Benning in the next BRAC initiative."

BRAC is the federal Base Realignment and Closure process that has been used over and over in the past to slice military infrastructure and personnel numbers, often in post-war periods.

For the chamber, a new CEO hire also comes with membership somewhat stagnant at about 1,200. The organization, which operates with an annual budget of about $3 million, should strive to increase membership at least 50 percent, Woods said.

Aside from protecting Fort Benning, the chamber's other primary mission is working to recruit business and industry to the city, thus creating new jobs. Regionally, it launched the Valley Partnership several years ago to attract major employers. It has cited the South Korean automaker Kia, its network of parts suppliers, and NCR as success stories. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia also has embarked on a major expansion in Columbus.

Woods, at the annual meeting, said what lies ahead won't necessarily be easy or without challenges. But he said landing a new chamber CEO is his top priority, and a critical one.

"Any change, particularly change at the top leadership, can be disruptive. It can be unpredictable and it can be difficult," Woods told the chamber faithful at the Trade Center. "But I think even when change gets uncomfortable and difficult, that's when we need to embrace it the most. That's when we need to get out in front of it, I think, the most."

Original article, written by Tony Adams, can be viewed here.


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