Column: College Football Hall of Fame CEO search takes unexpected turn

By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on February 5, 2016

John Christie, interim CEO of the College Football Hall of Fame who was considered to have the inside track to the permanent job, has taken his name out of the running.

Christie has been the longest-serving executive at the Hall, starting with the project five-and-a-half years ago. He was the Hall’s chief operating officer when John Stephenson Jr. was the CEO. When Stephenson joined Chick-fil-A, Christie was a natural candidate for the top job.

But then Christie had an epiphany in mid-December, and he realized that he didn’t have as much passion running the hall day-to-day as he did during the challenging five years it took to develop and open the Hall.

“That five-year cycle was so incredible, and it had my heart pounding the whole time,” Christie said. “Afterwards, it really slowed down for me. It became a day-to-day grind, and I’m just not wired that way.”

Christie said he feels “the Hall needs somebody who wakes up everyday thinking about revenue — sales and fundraising.” Although that’s something he could do, he was not as passionate about taking on that role and felt someone else could do it better.

Murry Bowden, chair of Atlanta Hall Management which oversees the College Football Hall of Fame, said he respected Christie’s decision, even though it did come as a surprise.

The search for a new CEO is ongoing, and Bowden said they expect to narrow the search to up to five finalists by the end of the month. Ideally a new CEO would be selected and ready to assume the job by the end of March.

Bowden, a Hall of Fame inductee who is founder and CEO of Hanover Co., a Houston-based apartment developer, added that while it is a national search, it would be great to find someone locally.

“I would love to find someone from Atlanta — the best man or woman,” Bowden said. “We want to engage the Atlanta community. We are going to have to activate and access the philanthropic community, so we can retire the debt. It’s not going to be easy.”

Bowden said the annual attendance of the Hall is about 250,000, significantly less than the 350,000 to 500,000 that had been expected.

“We are little disappointed in that figure, but it’s an extraordinary Hall of Fame. It’s just a matter of getting out there and hitting the pavement,” he said about paying off about $13 million in debt.

Christie, who is a young-looking 49, said he remains committed to the Hall and insisted that the attraction is in good shape.

“I poured my heart and soul into this project. It’s my greatest accomplishment,” he said. “When it was in trouble, I didn’t leave. I wouldn’t be leaving if it were in trouble. I’m leaving because it’s not in trouble.”

Christie said he has no idea what he’ll do next, although he plans to stay in Atlanta, and he has promised to stay on until a successor is hired and there’s been a brief period of transition.

“A lot of people are scared of transition but I embrace it. I think it leads to growth and opportunity,” Christie said. “I loved the challenge. That’s what got me up in the morning. We changed the landscape of downtown Atlanta. That’s how I’m wired.”

Civil Rights walk of Fame

Plans are underway to move the Civil Rights Walk of Fame to a location near the Center for Civil and Human Rights and the other attractions located near Centennial Olympic Park.

The Walk of Fame is one of Atlanta’s most understated Civil Rights honors, where people can go stand in the footprints of many great men and women who have been heroes in the movement.

The footprints of six new esteemed civil rights icons were added to the Walk of Fame during the 2016 Trumpet Awards festivities.

The induction ceremony was held on Jan. 22 in a packed Ebenezer Baptist Church. The 2016 honorees included:

* Dr. Amelia Boynton Robinson (posthumously), a civil rights activist from the Selma movement who was awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Medal in 1990;

* Dr. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, a philanthropist, author, motivational speaker, founder and pastor of the Empowerment Temple AME Church in Baltimore;

* The Rev. Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III, the Friendship-West Baptist Church pastor who is also a committed community activist who formed alliances with local leaders and Dallas city officials to fight violence;

* The Rev. Dr. Jim Holley, the historic Little Rock Baptist Church pastor whose mission was the “ministry of liberation;”

* Gordon L. Joyner, who has been recognized for his leadership by two U.S. presidents, five Georgia governors, and two city of Atlanta mayors; and

* The Rev. Dr. Raphael Gamaliel Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church.

The International Civil Rights Walk of Fame was created in 2004 and has become a significant tourist attraction in the city of Atlanta. The Walk of Fame is sponsored by the Trumpet Awards Foundation Inc., and it was created and designed by Xernona Clayton, founder and executive producer of the Trumpet Awards.

UGA law school

The University of Georgia’s School of Law has established an elite fellowship program thanks to a $2 million founding gift from the John N. Goddard Foundation.

Initially, the program will offer three law school students annually the opportunity to receive an educational experience including domestic and international externships and guided research experiences, opportunities to meet some of the country’s top legal leaders and a full tuition scholarship.

“Enhancing graduate and professional education is a priority of the University of Georgia,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead in a statement. “The Distinguished Law Fellows program will help us to further this goal while honoring one of our most accomplished alumni. We are grateful to the Goddard Foundation for their support.”

Georgia Law Dean Peter B. “Bo” Rutledge said this fellowship program will attract the best and brightest to Athens for law school and will place Georgia Law among a small group of institutions offering full-tuition-plus law school scholarships. “I am thankful to the Goddard Foundation for their generous leadership gift that will make this new level of legal education possible at Georgia Law.”

The Distinguished Law Fellows program is modeled after the university’s prestigious Foundation Fellows program, which was established in 1972. The initial fellows of the law school’s program will be known as Philip H. Alston Jr. Distinguished Law Fellows and will be announced later this year.

Buckhead Coalition

The Buckhead Coalition celebrated its 27th annual meeting Jan. 27, a gathering organized by Coalition president and former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell that includes top business, civic, government and media representatives (see related photos on Page 7A, The Insider).

“I want to thank Mayor Massell for letting me come to Buckhead,” Mayor Kasim Reed said jokingly at the event. “There’s no such thing as retirement for mayors.”

Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves also thanked Buckhead for helping ease the tensions between North Fulton and the rest of the county — also giving credit to those currently on the Commission.

“We have one of the most diverse tapestries – gentile and Jew, gay and straight, black and white, North and South,” Eaves said about the more united spirit within Fulton and the quieting of discussion to form a new Milton County out of North Fulton. “Thanks to your support, that drumbeat has pretty much gone away. I think you are going to see something miraculous happen this year.”

Other program participants were Coalition Chairman Jeff Sprecher, CEO of InterContinental Exchange – owner of the New York Stock Exchange, who acknowledged the staff’s contributions.

Dave Stockert, chairman of the Coalition’s nominating committee, recommended five new executive committee members: Russ Brockelbank, regional manager of DPR Hardin Construction; Jack Cay, president and CEO of Palmer & Cay; Sheffield Hale, president and CEO of the Atlanta Historical Society; Ray Padrón, managing partner of Brightworth; and Jonathan Rodbell, partner and co-founder of Atlanta Property Group.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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