Chamber head could come from afar: Greater Indy Chamber taking more corporate than clubby approach to search

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The No. 2 man at the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce isn’t necessarily a shoo-in to succeed retiring president John S. Myrland, according to directors of the city’s primary business advocacy group.

It’s not that Executive Vice President Roland Dorson might not well be the best candidate and ultimately picked as president, as was Myrland when holding Dorson’s job 14 years ago. Some chamber directors say Dorson is the strongest internal candidate. But, in a departure from years past, the board wants to cast a broader net to potential candidates in other cities.

“Before, we really never had a search committee, per se,” said J. Albert Smith, managing director of JP Morgan Private Bank in Indianapolis.

The heir to the chamber throne often came from within over the last 115 years, in more of a clubby than corporate process. And just as for corporations in the handwringing era of Sarbanes-Oxley, directors can get their collective pants sued off when things go wrong-even at a not-for-profit like a chamber.

“We as executives of the board have the responsibility to look around and see who else is out there and absolutely hire the best person,” said board Vice Chairwoman Catherine A. Langham, president of the Indianapolis logistics and transportation company that bears her name.

Smith noted that the state chamber and the local United Way also conducted nationwide searches for their top jobs, although they ended up picking internal candidates.

If Dorson, 50, eventually is tapped, and if some of the 38,000 chamber members later have an issue with his leadership, “a lot of people might well have said, ‘Why didn’t you do a search?'” Langham added. “It’s about covering him, too.”

Another practical advantage of an outside search is picking up a few ideas along the way from candidates-ideas and practices that could be put to work to improve the local chamber. “We’re looking at this as a learning opportunity,” said Gene Zink, chairman of the chamber board and CEO of Triton Pacific Investment Management.

Zink won’t go as far as saying the search team headed by retired Bank One executive Joseph Barnette will comb the nation; it’s more a “modified” national search, he said. “We’ll be primarily [looking] locally.”

Board members said the search is not about finding someone with a different agenda than Myrland’s. Smith said he’s pleased with how the chamber has been more proactive in researching policy issues and taking a bolder stance, whether on Mayor Bart Peterson’s “Indianapolis Works” plan or the divisive smoking ban in restaurants. With all but a few minor differences, the chamber backed the smoking plan as passed by the City-County Council earlier this year, Smith said.

Previously, “in a lot of issues, the chamber just wouldn’t take a stand because we didn’t want to alienate a member,” he said.

Myrland, 54, currently receives a salary of $229,734, along with $26,253 in benefits and $9,918 in other allowances, according to the 2004 Form 990 filed by the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

Myrland said he’s leaving to study for the ministry in the United Methodist Church.

His No. 2, Dorson, oversees the day-today operations of the chamber. Before joining the chamber in 1992, he was vice president of the Indiana Retail Council, a job that included managing the state bakers’ and jewelers’ associations.

Dorson is pursuing his master’s degree in counseling at Christian Theological Seminary.

Whoever is named president of the chamber, with its staff of 30 and a $3.5 million annual budget, will have to face the issue of regional transportation, Smith said.

The city of Indianapolis and leaders in Hamilton County have been studying a route for a rapid transit system. Collaborating with surrounding counties on any number of issues will be key, Smith added.

The committee expects to name a successor to Myrland by Jan. 1.

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