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DALLAS CHAMBER: NEW FACES, STRONGER FOCUS

By D Magazine |

For those who take an interest in what goes on at the Dallas Chamber of Commerce, it looks as though the new regime under president Forrest Smith and chairman John Johnson is finally taking shape.

Just before the end of last year, in a little less than a month’s time, three directors, three managers and the public relations manager suddenly resigned. Smith says the exodus is nothing more than a natural turnover for one of the most dynamic chambers in the country. It’s true that most of the seven employees left for higher-paying jobs, but at least one won’t commit to a reason for leaving, and another admits that new pressures and the uncertainties of the job forced a resignation.

The resignations of Sue Bauman (director of transportation), Bob Culp (director of public affairs), Bryan Wilson (director of economic development), Lelon Cobb (manager of resource development), Vicki Cook (manager of publications), Van Light (manager of community affairs) and Steve Kimble (manager of public relations) came nine months after Smith took over as president and about six months after management consultants from Booz Allen & Hamilton Inc. assessed the chamber’s efficiency on a pro bono basis.

Smith says that the resignations are not related to the consultants’ report. “There is nothing unusual about this,” he says. “We regret it, and we miss every one of them. But we have been able to pick up overnight very talented people in nearly all of these areas.” Don Roy will assume Light’s job as manager of community affairs; Phil Jackson, who was vice president of community affairs, was promoted to fill Bauman’s job; and Culp’s position has been filled by Bob Weather-ford, a former vice president with Southwestern Life Insurance.

Smith realized that all the consultants could give him was a blueprint for how the organization should operate. He says that management at the chamber has been streamlined. At least one vice president’s position has been cut, and daily secretarial duties have been centralized. As of early this year, Smith was still debating about how to handle the very important and growing publications department. “It may need to be spun out and have a life of its own,” he says.

Smith says that when he came on board, the chamber’s image was one of a skewed organization with little direction and some worrisome money problems. Under the direction of an unusually strong executive board and board of directors, the chamber has now zeroed in on three areas of general concern: economic development, convention and tourism, and quality of life. Under those broad categories, Smith says, the chamber will take a serious look at how to attract more high-tech companies to Dallas, how to keep the third. largest convention and tourist area in the United States desirable and how to respond to problems such as transportation, education and crime.

Smith says that a brief period of austerity quickly remedied the chamber’s cash-flow problem.

Despite the chamber’s reputation for avoiding controversy, in recent months it has taken strong stands in favor of the city’s new planning policy, the Dallas Independent School District bond program and the state’s new education bill.

Next month will mark the first year of Smith’s term as president of the chamber. During that time, he has seen his role as simply an “imple-menter” of the chamber’s goals. “This is such an unusual city, with all the problems and opportunities to deal with. And the chamber is filling a tremendous role, in terms of leadership, through our volunteers. They really step forward and give this chamber its unique quality of openness.”

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