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Tampa Bay Partnership leaders chart a new course

Stu Rogel, CEO since 1994, is leaving in March.
Published Nov. 28, 2014

For more than 20 years, Stu Rogel's name has been intertwined with the Tampa Bay Partnership as he steered the Tampa group from birth to an eight-county organization with a seat at the policy table for topics ranging from baseball to mass transit.

Last week, he announced he was severing those bonds, stepping down on March 1.

Both the partnership and Rogel, 60, have faced criticism, most recently with the failure of the Greenlight Pinellas initiative to improve mass transit. However, Rogel said he felt no pressure to go.

He did, however, acknowledge a yearning to do other things — like spending time aboard his neglected sailboat, traveling to see family in Colorado and Arizona, and ratcheting up his involvement with Enterprise Florida.

"I'm going to have a lot of fun," he said.

Rogel and Brian Lamb, chairman of the Tampa Bay Partnership, sat down with the Tampa Bay Times to talk about the transition and the partnership's future. Here are excerpts:

What prompted your decision to leave?

Rogel: It was time after almost 21 years. I had a great run. Loved every minute of it. But who the heck stays anywhere for 21 years? Brian and I started talking. I said I think for me and my family, it's the right time. But more importantly, I felt it was also the right time for the partnership. The stars were aligning here and I wasn't going to leave anything hanging.

This comes shortly after the defeat of Greenlight Pinellas. That wasn't a factor?

Rogel: I personally felt like — obviously, we wanted to win — but I felt very energized by the whole Greenlight Pinellas process. Coming out of Election Day and figuring out what we were doing, I was excited about what's next.

Lamb: Let me give you a board perspective. In any great organization when your CEO and longtime leader comes to you and says I think it's time — myself, as chair, and the executive committee, we owe it to not only Stu but the organization to make sure we're ready. Very quickly, we wanted to assess our readiness to accept that resignation. When you look at the staff, at their professionalism and the seniority, we're ready. Our investor base is very diverse ... it's growing. It's highly engaged. ... That felt ready.

Lastly, relevance. We very quickly said this is a great time to think about the next 20 years.

Yet it's not like you have anyone in the wings, anyone groomed as a successor?

Lamb: No, it's not about a successor as much as it is about strength of the staff. And you want to have both. Some organizations do have a successor and are ready to announce it. Ours is more about the strength of the staff. John Schueler (the partnership's current chief operating officer) will step in for day-to-day.

Is he being considered as the new CEO?

Lamb: We haven't gotten into that process. We're meeting with the executive committee in a few weeks. … It will be up to John whether or not he'd like to be considered. We're not precluding anything.

A week ago you said in an interview (with the Times) that you felt energized to stay. Now you're leaving. Were there outside pressures?

Rogel: No. The partnership has had its stories. That's old news to us. There was no outside pressure. There was no pressure from that story or anything else that was there. It wasn't whether we won or lost Greenlight. We did exactly what we said we were going to do and learned from it. … So none of those pressures were there, at least from my perspective.

What are you looking for in the next CEO?

Lamb: This is a good time, as private companies would say, to go to market. What we would like to do in our national search … is look at models of prosperity for economic development that are working. … I'm looking at regions performing exceptionally well that we compete with. And we're going to go after their talent.

Is this transition a time to reflect on changing the partnership's priorities? Is there something that you should emphasize more?

Lamb: I'll point you to the comments made in our annual meeting. We made it very, very clear we are not changing direction.

We are still committed to marketing the region. We are very committed to workforce (development). We've got to play a role … in our educational system. Transportation: if we don't get that right (shaking his head). So you will continue to see advocacy.

Baseball is a dynamic industry here. It's broader than just the Rays. Again, it's not the No. 1 thing we're doing. But you're looking at a half-billion-dollar industry in baseball here around the market. We've got to educate folks and engage folks around that.

Rogel: It's a perfect regional project. There are six spring training teams throughout our marketplace.

Lamb: So the answer is yes. We are staying the course in our priorities and there won't be any material deviation.

With all the chambers and economic development groups here, some have questioned if there's a surplus. Is there? Are you concerned about being overshadowed by successes of groups like the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. (EDC)?

Rogel: I'm not necessarily concerned about what others do well. The EDC plays a very, very different role. … I'm not critical at all, but the role they play is uniquely different than what a regional organization like ours does. We are the only voice for this region.

Lamb: A mentor of mine once told me to seek first to understand. I would encourage those that have an interest in economic development to seek first to understand the partnership. I would welcome them in to have a conversation, to look at the business and understand the data. And understand the outcomes we're trying to achieve. That will help draw a distinction between other organizations. All are equally relevant.

Stu, what are your immediate plans?

Rogel: My first job is to make sure that I'm supportive to Brian and John and the leadership team during the transition. That's critically important.

I'm getting on a plane 6 o'clock Monday morning. We'll fly into Chile as part of a delegation I'm involved with — Hillsborough and Pinellas.

What's your objective for the trip?

Rogel: To support the fact that you have to fly (the new Tampa International flights by) Copa.

It's amazing what Copa Airlines has done to open up Latin America and South America to our market. Chile is one of the strongest markets in Latin America; one of the most stable markets and stable governments; and one of our biggest trading partners in Florida. There's lots of opportunities … to open up exports.

I've got to focus on the export piece, and I'm also meting with a company that is interested in perhaps locating some facilities here.

Brian, did you bargain for dealing with this kind of transition in just taking over as the partnership chairman?

Lamb: Be careful what you sign up for! I'm excited. You know I'm passionate about Tampa Bay. I met my wife here. I graduated from college here. I've had a chance to meet a tremendous amount of outstanding people. … I just see this as par for the course for me to help set up the partnership for the next 20 years. Should be fun. And stay tuned for some great things.

Contact Jeff Harrington at jharrington@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3434. Follow @JeffMHarrington.

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