Miami-Dade County

Politicos, foundation heads in mix for Miami Chamber post

During the 2012 Miami-Dade mayoral race, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce hosts the first forum between leading candidates Joe Martinez, then chairman of the County Commission, and the incumbent who won, Mayor Carlos Gimenez. Four years later, Gimenez’s spokesman is interested in serving as president of the chamber as it searches for a new leader.
During the 2012 Miami-Dade mayoral race, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce hosts the first forum between leading candidates Joe Martinez, then chairman of the County Commission, and the incumbent who won, Mayor Carlos Gimenez. Four years later, Gimenez’s spokesman is interested in serving as president of the chamber as it searches for a new leader. Miami Herald Staff

The hunt for a new president of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce has the area’s largest business group pondering just who should take the top job.

A politico? A Spanish speaker? A veteran of the chamber scene with a track record in a similar organization or a newcomer poised to shake things up? A local fluent in Miami-Dade’s history and ethnic sensitivities, or an outsider without the kind of baggage an insider might bring to the post.

Each category favors at least one of the potential candidates whose names are circulating behind the scenes among chamber officials, hopefuls and those who have spoken to both. While the nonprofit group has yet to establish criteria for applicants, private discussions are already weighing a string of possibilities to replace retiring president and CEO Barry Johnson.

Christine Barney, whose term as chamber chairwoman ended last month, said the search committee — which had its first conference call Friday — has yet to make any decisions on criteria or would-be candidates, or encourage anyone to apply. “We’re still at the start of this process,” she said.

Johnson earned $191,000 in 2014, down from $239,000 the prior year, according to the most recently available tax returns filed by the nonprofit. The difference was Johnson didn’t earn a bonus in 2014, when the organization’s revenues and net income both dipped. Barney said the chamber could consider upping the pay if it means landing a star candidate. A selection is expected by November, with Johnson’s exit scheduled for December.

So far, according to interviews with people close to the selection process and in touch with hopefuls, the list of people either interested in the job or being courted to apply include:

Jorge Arrizurieta, chairman of Arrizurieta & Assoc. in Coral Gables. A top supporter of former Gov. Jeb Bush in his recent presidential run, Arrizurieta had served as a senior aide to Wayne Huizenga and as a former director of the Inter-American Development Bank. A business-development consultant and sometime lobbyist, he could bring the kind of political chops and government connections that some want for the chamber. He’s also vice chairman of the board at Florida International University, where he naturally has the ear of Mark Rosenberg, the FIU president who recently succeeded Barney as chamber chair. In an email Friday, Arrizurieta said he had been encouraged to pursue the chamber job but “don’t see myself” applying at this point.

I am interested and will discuss whether or not I will be formally applying to the position with my family.

Michael Hernández, communications director for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez

Matt Haggman, Miami program director for the Knight Foundation. The former Miami Herald writer who launched Knight’s celebrated push to support entrepreneurship in Miami, Haggman could bring instant credibility to the chamber as it tries to target younger members and the area’s startup community. That’s made him a favorite for some interested in a new direction at the chamber. Haggman declined to comment.

Michael Hernández, communications director for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez. A 33-year-old Democrat who served as a volunteer surrogate on Spanish-language TV for the 2012 Obama campaign, Hernández came to local prominence in 2014 when Gimenez hired him as spokesman. The $140,000-a-year post gives him high visibility and strong ties to county government that could be valuable for a more politically active chamber. “It is an honor to have been mentioned as a potential replacement for Mr. Barry Johnson,” Hernández wrote in a statement. “I am interested and will discuss whether or not I will be formally applying to the position with my family.”

That’s a big compliment. But I’m so happy in my position.

Wendy Kallergis, president of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association

Marlon Hill, lawyer. A corporate lawyer and partner at Hamilton Miller and Birthisel in Miami, Hill’s name surfaced early as a possibility but hasn’t been mentioned in recent rounds of discussions, according to one source close to the process. He’s also a regular presence on television and radio as a commentator on public affairs. Hill said he hasn’t been approached about the job but might apply. “I’m curious to see whether the leadership would consider someone with my profile and background,” he said.

Wendy Kallergis, president of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association. She used to run the Miami Beach chamber and now earns about $165,000 a year as the head of a trade group focused on the local lodging industry. On Friday, she said she was flattered to be mentioned as a possibility for the chamber but wouldn’t be applying. “That’s a big compliment,” Kallergis said. “But I’m so happy in my position.”

Javier Soto, president of the Miami Foundation. Soto already serves on the chamber’s search committee (which includes Miami Herald publisher Alexandra Villoch). As a prominent player in local philanthropy running a leading foundation, Soto is seen as extremely reluctant to leave his current post. He reportedly has already declined an initial offer to consider the chamber job. Pay could be a challenge: The Miami Foundation’s 2014 tax return shows Soto’s total compensation topped $300,000 that year. Soto declined to comment.

Mark Trowbridge, president of the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce. The top administrator of the City Beautiful’s main business group is a favorite pick for many veteran members of the Greater Miami Chamber, where the avuncular Trowbridge is a loyal attendee of functions. He’s given high marks for his work at the Gables Chamber, where he earned total compensation of $175,000 in 2014, according to tax records. He did not respond to a request for comment.

This post was updated to include more recent compensation data for Barry Johnson, the chamber’s current president.

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