Stuart Rogel, CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership, is stepping down after 20 years at the helm of the multicounty economic development and advocacy group.
Partnership chairman Brian Lamb said chief operating officer John Schueler will assume day-to-day activities as needed while a national search is launched to identify a new CEO.
In revealing his plans Wednesday, Rogel, 60, insisted he was under no pressure to leave. Rather, he said he felt the time was right to part ways, both for his family and for the partnership. "I had a great run. Loved every minute of it," he said in an interview. "But who the heck stays anywhere for 21 years?"
The partnership, which was created by local business leaders in 1994 to market Tampa Bay as a single metro region, had been on the losing end of a number of recent campaigns, including mass transit initiatives in Pinellas and Polk counties.
Rogel resigned amid a growing drumbeat that the partnership's mission had been muddied and that it had been overshadowed by successes of other area groups like the Tampa/Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. and Tampa International Airport. Last week a story in the Tampa Bay Times by business columnist Robert Trigaux suggested Rogel was under pressure to leave.
Rogel's salary also has been a lightning rod for critics. In the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2013, he made $458,965, even as the group's revenues decreased to just over $2 million. In the latest fiscal year ended Sept. 30, the group's revenues had risen to $3.8 million. The partnership has not yet disclosed Rogel's latest compensation nor terms of any severance agreement.
In responding to the column last week, Rogel said he would "respect" the wishes of the partnership's business leaders if asked to give up his post but insisted he was still energized to lead.
In another interview with the Times Wednesday, however, Rogel gave a different account of his energy level, saying he approached board members about three weeks ago to discuss his exit.
"There was no outside pressure. There was no pressure from that story or anything else," he said.
Asked about critics of the partnership or his stewardship, Rogel said it was a result of the partnership being forceful, effective and influential. "There's an old saying: You're not taking flak if you're not over the target," he said.
He remained undaunted about setbacks like the loss of transportation initiative Greenlight Pinellas at the polls, a theme he had stressed in a recent letter published in the Times.
"The Tampa Bay Partnership takes pride in stepping out on issues that do not have easy or immediate solutions. Issues that, while complex, require an unwavering leadership and a regional perspective," Rogel wrote. "We face Tampa Bay's challenges with confidence and vigor, regardless of how insurmountable they may seem."
Both Rogel and Lamb said the partnership has been on the upswing, attracting 32 new investors over the past year and improving its retention level of current investors.
Lamb, who runs Fifth Third Bank's bay area operation, said Rogel also leaves the partnership in strong financial shape. He credited the outgoing CEO with a string of successes, including helping to attract notable companies to the area, establishing relationships with site selection experts around the country, marketing the area as a prime business destination, and taking on difficult regional challenges such as transportation and water.
The partnership, Lamb said, will remain focused on several key initiatives: marketing the region, improving its workforce, solving transportation challenges and securing the future of Major League Baseball here.
He declined to give a timetable for the executive search but said it will include candidates who have held leadership roles in high-performing economic development regions.
Rogel plans to stay until March 1 to help with the transition. Lamb said it was too early in the process to say whether Schueler, a former Tampa Tribune executive, will be under consideration as his replacement.
The partnership is made up of nearly 150 public and private businesses, along with 11 regional economic development organizations.