Advertisement
  1. Business

Questions raised over cost of recruiting CEO for Visit Florida

Published Nov. 20, 2012

TALLAHASSEE — After giving $45,000 to a recruiting firm to scour the nation for a new CEO, Florida's official tourism agency found only two candidates — both from obvious places within the state.

A government watchdog group has slammed Visit Florida for its hasty no-bid contract with Searchwide, a Minnesota-based recruiting firm that returned mediocre results.

The two candidates found by Searchwide came from local Florida tourism agencies — places Visit Florida could have easily canvassed on its own without spending $45,000 on an out-of-state recruiting firm.

"What is your process and why are we not having that many candidates after spending $45,000?" Danny Gaekwad, a Visit Florida Board member and hotelier, asked Searchwide vice president Jim Carra. "I don't spend that much money when I look for my CEOs."

Tourism executives from the Tampa Bay and Panama City Beach areas were the only two candidates Searchwide was able to recruit for final interviews, which took place on Monday.

Visit Florida's acting CEO, Will Seccombe, also sat for an interview. After former CEO Chris Thompson resigned, board members at Visit Florida originally considered naming Seccombe to the position. Worried that making that decision unilaterally could upset the agency's chief funders — Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature — the board opted instead to do a national search.

After spending $45,000 in taxpayer money for a brief, six-week, nationwide search, Visit Florida ended up with two local tourism supervisors and Seccombe as finalists. Searchwide was the same firm that recruited Seccombe to Visit Florida in 2007.

Dan Krassner, director of Integrity Florida, a group that advocates for tougher ethics laws, said Visit Florida's no-bid $45,000 contract was a sign of government waste.

"It's disappointing that $45,000 was spent and just two resumes from Florida were found," he said. "Where is the return on investment?"

Robert Skrob, director of the Florida Association of Destination Marketing Organization, defended the organization's recruitment process, calling Searchwide the "category leader" in the industry.

"Finding the right candidate quickly, with an open and efficient process, welcome to all candidates, is exactly how government should work," he said.

Carra said his firm posted the job online, sent out inquiries to more than 150 executives and spoke to dozens of interested candidates over the past six weeks.

Board chairman Glenn Hastings said the contract with Searchwide was helpful because the volunteer board would not have been able to canvass dozens of resumes in such a short amount of time.

Timing is crucial because lawmakers and Scott will soon make decisions about how much taxpayer money to direct into Visit Florida's budget next year. While other agencies have weathered steep cuts over the past two years, Visit Florida has seen its taxpayer funding more than double to $54 million.

Board members said that going into the next legislative session without having a permanent CEO could harm the agency's future finances.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Frances Werner-Watkins Julie Rinaldi
    News and notes on local businesses
  2. Left to right: Oak Hill Hospital Anesthesiology residents Daniel Eskander, Wayne Simmons, Jeffrey Huang and Benjamin Segil. Katie Stacy/Oak Hill Hospital
    News and notes on local businesses
  3. A total of 131 employees are scheduled to be laid off in January as Locale Market and Farm Table Cucina close at the Sundial to make way for a new food hall created by the developers of the Heights Public Market at the Armature Works in Tampa. CHRIS URSO   |   TIMES
    In a notice to the state of Florida, Sundial owner Bill Edwards said the layoffs are expected to take place the first week of January.
  4. WeWork is opening Tampa offices at 501 E Kennedy Blvd. despite company struggles, including $1.25 billion in losses over 2019. SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    WeWork has 200 planned coworking space openings as leadership tries to manage $1.25 billion in losses.
  5. Florida's unemployment rate was unchanged in October at 3.2 percent, according to numbers released Friday. LYNNE SLADKY  |  AP
    The latest numbers were released Friday morning.
  6. Apollo Global Management has offered $130 per share for Tech Data's stock in an acquisition worth $5.4 billion. If regulators shareholders approve, the home-grown company will remain based in Pinellas County, where it employs 2,000 of its 14,000 workers. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Private equity firms like Apollo create wealth for pension funds, financial institutions and individual investors by buying assets that typically are sold later at a profit.
  7. Some of Tampa Bay's largest companies are being sold or are up for sale. Times files and Bloomin' Brands
    Tech Data is just the latest in a growing list of public companies bought up by out-of-state firms.
  8. Hillsborough Community College solicited "non-binding letters of interest or intent” last month from developers interested in purchasing the Dr. Gwendolyn W. Stephenson District Administration Center on Davis Islands. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Developers have eyed the 3.7 acre waterfront parcel for years, but recent interest has prompted the college’s trustees to finally start the conversation.
  9. Tampa International Airport looking north. The Wall Street Journal ranked it the best midsize airport in America. [Times files]
    TPA took first place in the Wall Street Journal’s annual survey of U.S. airports.
  10. Tech Data's CEO Rich Hume (left) shares a moment with former CEO Bob Dutkowsky during a send off celebration for Dutkowsky earlier this year. JIM DAMASKE   |   Times
    A private equity firm has agreed to buy Tech Data.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement