The Beacon Council tapped as its new president and CEO a veteran of the economic-development front who currently runs the technology arm of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.
Larry Williams, 49, was picked by the tax-funded group’s board as the replacement for Frank Nero, the longtime head of the Beacon Council who was ousted earlier this year amid tension with Miami-Dade’s elected officials. The Beacon Council is an independent nonprofit that relies on Miami-Dade taxes for the majority of its budget. Its mission is to recruit companies to Miami-Dade and promote economic growth in the county.
“Miami has a lot of great things going for it,” Williams said in an interview at the group’s Brickell Avenue headquarters in Miami. “It seems to be doing well.”
In picking Williams, Beacon Council leaders opted for an executive with experience in the economic-development business, rather than a local candidate well-versed in Miami-Dade politics. PortMiami director Bill Johnson, a longtime county executive, pursued the job, as did other local notables, including former Miami Beach manager Jorge Gonzalez and former ambassador Luis Lauredo.
A native of North Carolina, Williams talks with a Southern accent but he addressed board members in Spanish before Friday’s final vote on his contract. He became proficient in the language as a student at Costa Rica’s National University in the 1980s.
The hiring of Williams caps a tumultuous year for the Beacon Council, which has scrapped with county commissioners over the $4 million it receives each year from Miami-Dade. After a series of confrontations with commissioners and private friction between Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, board members forced Nero’s resignation with a six-month severance package.
Williams is scheduled to start his post on Oct. 7. Nero’s compensation package totaled about $390,000, a sum that rankled critics. Williams accepted a pay package estimated to be about 30 percent less than Nero’s: a base salary of $225,000, plus a bonus of about $68,000 if he hits performance goals, according to two people briefed on the terms. The contract lasts for three years and came with a $10,000 signing bonus, the source said.
Williams will be the Beacon Council’s first new permanent leader in two decades. Nero took the job in 1996, and resigned on March 8. Robin Reiter, a consultant for private foundations, was hired as temporary CEO and will continue until Williams begins his job.
In picking Williams, the Beacon Council ended a guessing game of whether PortMiami would be under new leadership at a crucial time, as a new tunnel prepares to open and port cities gear up for a deeper Panama Canal. Johnson seemed a leading candidate for the Beacon Council job in May.
At the time, Gimenez said Johnson would be “great” for the job and approved a $120,000 raise to keep the port’s deputy director, Juan Kuryla, from taking the top job at Jacksonville’s port. Gimenez named Kuryla “seaport director designee” with a salary of $290,000, slightly more than Johnson’s $263,000 yearly pay, according to county records. Johnson has already committed to retire by 2015.
“It’s full speed ahead at PortMiami,’’ Johnson said in a statement issued Friday. “My continuing focus is on growing our port and creating new jobs for this community.”