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Meet three new Tampa Bay business executives charged with tackling big challenges at their companies

Meet a business trio with much to accomplish — and not always a lot of time to make things happen. These three business leaders are tackling new challenges to push their companies and the Tampa Bay economy forward. Here's a peek at their business passions and why each agent of change may become a bigger player here in the future.

• • •

Election's over: Can we all get back to watching HSN?

1. Carmen Bauza, 54

New Position: executive vice president, chief merchandising officer at HSN in St. Petersburg.

Who is she? Bauza spent the past 10 years as a senior leader at Wal-Mart, most recently as senior vice president for its consumables, health and wellness merchandising division. Before that, she worked at such retail chain companies as Bath and Body Works division and Five Below, Inc. (teen accessories, $5 or less). She also spent time at the Walt Disney Co. as a senior merchandising executive. So she arrives at HSN with shopping strategy cred.

Why we care: At the start of 2015, HSN shares topped $77. They now hover near $40. That's serious slippage. It's not from a lack of trying to be innovative. Selling stuff by TV, over the Internet, by mobile app and via catalogs — all part of HSN's arsenal — is just crazy competitive and changing fast. That's why HSN CEO Mindy Grossman calls Bauza "a consumer-centric brand-builder and change agent" and recruited her to help bring fresh perspective. And more focus on the growing Hispanic demographic.

Here are two recent deals Bauza cut for Wal-Mart. Signing reality TV personality and entrepreneur Bethenny Frankel to place her Skinnygirl brand of cocktails and related diet-oriented products in Walmart stores. And signing actor/entrepreneur Drew Barrymore and her "Flowers" clothing brand.

Grossman describes Bauza's new job as serving as "a big orchestra leader" who helps drive better collaboration across a lot of different categories.

Bauza will report to HSN president Bill Brand. She starts Monday.

• • •

Can aging Outback chain recapture its beefy mojo?

2. Gregg Scarlett, 54

New position: president of Outback Steakhouse chain, Tampa.

Who is he: Scarlett's job is new. Sort of. He has worked at Tampa's Bloomin' Brands (parent of Outback, Carrabba's, Bonefish Grill and Fleming's) and its predecessors in various management jobs since 1994, when he was a managing partner with an Outback restaurant up in Wappingers Falls, N.Y.

Why we care: He has become Bloomin' Brands go-to guy of the moment to fix its struggling restaurant chains. In early 2015, Scarlett was put in charge of reviving the company's Bonefish Grill chain and turn it into the growth engine that parent company Bloomin' Brands had hoped it could become. (We identified Scarlett back then as "someone to watch" but had no idea his job would change so quickly.) With Bonefish slowly improving, Scarlett this past summer shifted from fish to beef to tackle the tougher job of lifting Bloomin's far larger Outback Steakhouse chain out of the doldrums.

Scarlett's challenge: Outback's declining U.S. customer traffic. It slipped sharply in the third quarter, down 6.5 percent. That's a lot. Outback traffic is also down 0.9 percent in the first three quarters of this year — which means the dropoff has accelerated. That may not seem so bad, but the decline is happening in a period when the economy is growing (though slowly) but also when the jobless rate hovers around a pretty low 5 percent. Outback has raised prices to counter declining traffic, but that strategy has its limits.

Can Scarlett work his magic on more than 750 steak locations under the Outback brand?

"No one is better suited to lead Outback in this era of growth," Bloomin' CEO Liz Smith said of Scarlett this past summer.

Don't confuse that remark with Smith's praise for Scarlett last year when he took on the turnaround of Bonefish. "No one knows this brand better," she said then.

This is one popular guy at Bloomin' Brands. Can he be cloned?

• • •

Advocate for women in business lands at WellCare

3. Rhonda Mims, 49

New Position: senior vice president and chief public affairs officer — a newly created position — at WellCare Health Plans, Tampa.

Background: A lawyer, Mims most recently oversaw corporate social responsibility at the law firm Paul Hastings, LLP, involving such issues as firm diversity, charitable giving, pro bono and volunteer efforts, and environmental sustainability. She also has worked as senior vice president of corporate responsibility and chief diversity officer for ING U.S./Voya Financial and president of the ING U.S./Voya Foundation, and before that had an extensive legal career — including roles with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Why we care: For a couple of big reasons. Within this metro area, Mims is a rare commodity: a black woman who is part of the senior management team of one of Tampa Bay's biggest public corporations. A check of prominent public companies here shows only one other black woman — Karen Mincey, vice president of technology and chief information officer at Emera-owned TECO Energy — ranking among senior management. The second reason is Mims is no wallflower. Her professional career is full of advocacy efforts to elevate women into senior management positions. She has served as chairwoman of the Executive Leadership Council (which helps develop black corporate leadership) and this fall was elected president of the board of directors of the Thirty Percent Coalition (urging more women on corporate boards), among many other related groups.

Part of Mims' latest job is building a positive WellCare brand. According to WellCare, that task includes renewed attention to diversity. Mims "now leads a designated team" that will help acknowledge and celebrate broad workplace perspectives. "Those perspectives and cultural differences are a key component of our success," the company says.

She's an impressive addition to a Tampa Bay company hardly known for progressive stands on corporate diversity. Mims won't have to look far for companies thin on female directors on their boards. WellCare's 10-member board includes just one woman. But then that's hardly an unusual ratio at U.S. companies.

Contact Robert Trigaux at Follow @venturetampabay.

Meet three new Tampa Bay business executives charged with tackling big challenges at their companies 11/23/16 [Last modified: Friday, November 25, 2016 4:48pm]
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