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Commerce Authority interviewed 5 before choosing Watson

Commerce Authority interviewed 5 before choosing WatsonMonths before the Arizona Commerce Authority’s prolonged CEO search ended with the selection of Sandra Watson, five candidates were interviewed for the position, including one with years of experience running statewide economic development groups.

DHR International, the search firm hired by the ACA, provided a list of 10 candidates to the authority, five of whom were interviewed for the position. The authority rejected the list of candidates in May and subsequently asked Watson, the ACA’s second-in-command who was preparing to take over as interim CEO, to submit her resume.

One of the interviewees, Donald Jakeway, had extensive experience running statewide economic development groups. Jakeway served as director of the state-run Ohio Department of Development from 1991 to 1997, and headed the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, a public-private organization with a similar structure as the ACA, from 2003 to 2006.

At the time he applied for the ACA position, he was president and CEO of the Brooks Development Authority in San Antonio, which was charged with redeveloping the former Brooks Air Force Base, which closed in 2005.

Jakeway was preparing to leave the Brooks Development Authority when some friends from the Arizona business community urged him to consider the ACA job. He said he found the possibility intriguing.

“I’m one of only two people in the whole country that actually has run two statewide economic development organizations. One was public and the other one was private. So the concept of what the state was trying to do was of great interest to me, and I think it was something that in the long run would have a lot of benefit for the state,” Jakeway said.

A spokesman for Gov. Jan Brewer, who co-chairs the ACA board of directors, declined to comment on why Jakeway and the four other original candidates were passed over.

“The governor’s not interested in replaying the relative merits and demerits of candidates who were not selected to lead the ACA,” Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said in an email. “The organization is focused on moving forward with Sandra Watson.”

A Commerce Authority spokeswoman and the chairman of the selection committee did not respond to questions about the other candidates.

Another committee member declined to comment on the issue.

Less than one year into his three-year contract, former CEO Don Cardon announced in January that he would leave the Commerce Authority. The ACA hired DHR International in March, but the search dragged on for about seven months until the position was offered to Watson several weeks ago.

Jakeway, now serving as deputy city manager in Arlington, Texas, said he interviewed with the ACA’s selection committee in April. But neither DHR nor the authority ever informed him that he was no longer a candidate, though the ACA announced in May that it was rebooting its search after finding the 10 candidates provided by DHR as unsuitable.

In fact, Jakeway contacted DHR about three weeks before the ACA named Watson as its permanent CEO to inform them that he’d taken a new job.

“It was kind of a frustrating situation because, just timing for such a major search, there were a lot of other headhunters out there working with me and trying to attract me to those positions, which I have since taken,” Jakeway said.

Some candidates were informed long ago by the ACA that they were no longer under consideration.

John Bradley, a former vice president at DMB Associates, interviewed for the position, but said DHR International informed him in May that he was no longer an active candidate. But he said he’d already inferred as much when the ACA asked Watson to serve as interim CEO.

Bradley, who founded his own company, Bradley Capital Advisors, in 2009, said Watson seemed like a natural choice, given the length of the search. He said Watson was a great choice for CEO.

“I think once they named Sandra as interim, that seemed like it made sense,” Bradley said.

The board also interviewed two Valley business executives for the position. Susan Cordts, president and CEO of Adaptive Technologies Inc. in Phoenix, interviewed, as did Greg Tipsord, a former senior vice president and general manager at the The Dial Corporation In Scottsdale. Cordts and Tipsord could not be reached for comment.

At least one candidate pulled his own name from consideration. Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said he interviewed with the selection committee after being approached about the job.

After lobbying for the Arizona Competitiveness Package, a 2011 law that created the ACA and implemented a series of phased-in business tax cuts, Hamer said the opportunity to try to attract businesses to Arizona with the legislation’s cuts and incentives was intriguing.

But ultimately, Hamer said he was happy working at the chamber, and noted that he would no longer have been able to participate in political campaign activity at the ACA.

“I love what I’m doing here. There are different components of this job, including the political side, that I would no longer be able to engage in if I moved there — stuff that perhaps I’m knee deep in for the next couple weeks,” Hamer said.

Hamer praised Watson’s promotion to CEO, and said he never would have put his name in for the ACA job if she had not been there.

“I always felt that she was an outstanding candidate, and at the end of the day, the board may have taken the scenic route, but they reached the absolute right destination,” Hamer said in reference to the length of the CEO search. “I truly believe she’s more qualified for that position than I am.”

Watson spent 15 years with the Arizona Department of Commerce before it was replaced by the Commerce Authority in 2011. She helped oversee the Department of Commerce transition to the public-private organization that succeeded it, and took over the agency in July after Cardon officially stepped down.

Some Capitol insiders and members of the business community have speculated that some candidates may have balked at the ACA job because they believed it was too politicized and tied to the Governor’s Office. They chalked up the prolonged search, in part, to difficulty finding a candidate who would be comfortable serving both the governor and the board of directors.

Jakeway said such questions didn’t scare him away from the position.

But he said he did have similar concerns, especially after his experiences in Michigan with then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

“That’s one of the reasons why I left it, and that’s why there were some similarities to what you guys were doing that I thought was very uncomfortable,” Jakeway said. “That line got very blurred in Michigan with the governor and their team. I never quite knew who I was reporting to, and I found that very uncomfortable and I didn’t like it, so I moved on.”

Jakeway said he thought it was unusual that Brewer served as co- chair of the ACA board, and said he would recommend against a governor being a voting member of such a board. He also said the organizations like the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and ACA need to do a better job of figuring out whether they’re more public or private.

But the ACA is new and still figuring out its direction, he said, adding that the concerns didn’t discourage him from pursuing the CEO position.

“There were some similarities (with Michigan) in what I was picking up in the Arizona piece too, but it wasn’t anything that scared me away from it, if they would’ve felt that I was a worthy candidate,” he said.

A 2006 Detroit Free Press article said Jakeway was essentially ousted from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, but noted that the reasons were “murky” and potentially driven by a political turf war over whether his outfit or another newly created agency was the state’s primary voice on economic development. The article said Jakeway and his successor were both regarded as being good at their jobs, but had far different styles.

Jakeway said he wasn’t ousted and that he simply let his contract expire. He said he left for political reasons.

“Michigan didn’t (have its governor on the board). But it was very apparent that even though she didn’t have a vote on the board, she had a big vote overall on the direction of what was being done,” Jakeway said.

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