By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Business Council of Alabama is moving ahead with a formal leadership transition plan, the advocacy group announced Thursday. The plan begins a search process for a new CEO to replace Billy Canary, who will retire in January after 15 years in the job.
Perry Hand, who chairs BCA’s board of directors, released a statement detailing the transition after the executive committee adopted the plan in a Thursday vote.
“The goal is to identify a high-quality dynamic leader, on-board the CEO through a transition process, and install this new leader no later than January 1, 2019, following the retirement of current BCA President and CEO Billy Canary, who has provided great leadership for the organization in his 15-year tenure,” Hand said.
Hand also indicated the group would target bringing a new CEO on as soon as September depending on the progress of the selection process.
The announcement comes amid a treacherous public relations week in which the state’s premiere business lobbying group saw the defections of several high-profile member corporations. Alabama Power, which started the trickle of withdrawals on Monday, has sought Canary’s immediate ouster for the past year and was not satisfied with BCA’s insistence on a more formal, methodical transition.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield, PowerSouth Electric Cooperative and Regions Bank followed the Power Company’s lead in withdrawing their memberships. Mike Kemp, a BCA Vice Chairman who runs a Birmingham tech firm, resigned his volunteer post late Wednesday. Kemp was the latest to be attacked in a long-running smear campaign that has targeted Canary, Hand and others.
Hand called the public spectacle “unfortunate” but said acquiescing to the demands for a hostile leadership swap “would be detrimental to the organization given BCA’s stature as a statewide association representing the issues and concerns of nearly 4,000 businesses of all shapes, sizes and sectors.”
“We will move forward with the transition and succession plans with great diligence, order, and respect, and we are hopeful that all of Alabama’s business community will recognize this work and coalesce for the betterment of Alabama and its business climate. We believe that the BCA will be an even better organization because of the process and changes being implemented,” Hand said.
Alabama Power officials have expressed dissatisfaction with Canary’s “effectiveness and leadership” at the helm of the state’s top business lobby. Many have long expected a divorce between the two groups, partially because of some fundamental differences in their policy aims: the Power Company doesn’t share the same zeal for core BCA agenda items like education reform and resisting union-friendly policies.
The effort to oust Canary has remained mostly below the surface, but came into public view this week.
Hand, the BCA chairman, said that the Power Company’s final demand came from an intermediary who suggested that the immediate appointment of former Democratic House Speaker and current PowerSouth executive Seth Hammett as the interim CEO would smooth tensions. That account was repeated in The Montgomery Advertiser, written about and rumored for months by Alabama Political Reporter’s Bill Britt and referenced by AL.com’s opinion writer Cameron Smith
Hand said that final demand and others confirmed some BCA members’ suspicion that there was a takeover attempt afoot and served to galvanize the group in support of their transition plan. It was approved by a unanimous vote of the BCA executive committee, a show of solidarity amid an onslaught of negative media attention brought on by the corporate defections.
While the BCA staff continues its work in the 2018 elections, Hand said volunteer board members will take charge of searching for a new CEO.
“We’re moving full speed ahead,” Hand said. “I’ve asked the search committee and the onboard committee to get to work. We want to find the right person to lead BCA and bring them on in a way that helps them be successful.”
A changing of the guard at the Business Council has been imminent for months. However, the last week’s bloody process in which there are no winners is exactly the kind of debacle many wanted to avoid.