A Facebook posting by Hispanic Chamber of Commerce CEO Ramiro Cavazos has set off a local furor over the national search for the next leader of the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation.
Cavazos posted a lengthy comment Thursday expressing disappointment that his friend and local candidate Trey Jacobson, the managing director for government affairs with the law firm Golden Steves Cohen and Gordon, did not make it past the first round of interviews. The comment served to disclose what Jacobson thought would remain a confidential process, and set off a long chain of comments by people supporting Jacobson or complaining that they do not think local candidates are getting serious consideration.
“I would describe myself as the proverbial canary in the mine, issuing a wake up call to the community,” Cavazos said Friday, defending his post. “We have tremendous talent in our city and I do not buy the notion that we have to go outside our city to find the right person. I hope my social media posting will cause everyone to step back and make sure we are doing things the right way. Social media is a normal way of communicating these days, so if others are concerned about my posting, I’d say this is how communication is evolving and it makes the process more transparent.”
Whether it was this week’s selection of an Alamo Plaza master planner from Philadelphia, or a Houston firm winning the River Walk barge design contract, hiring local vs. out-of-market firms, or individuals vying for leadership positions, continues to trigger strong public opinion on both sides of the debate.
Jorgenson Consulting, a nationally recognized firm based in Greensboro, NC, is conducting the search for a new EDF leader.
“I am one of the major chamber leaders and I served as the head of the city’s economic development department for seven years, yet the search firm has not reached out to speak with me about the candidate we are seeking in San Antonio,” Cavazos said. “If I haven’t been contacted, I can only imagine how many other stakeholders have not been contacted.”
Jacobson said in a Friday interview with the Rivard Report that he did not make it to the second round of interviews with the search firm, and that he did not know if any other local candidates had applied. Jacobson said he mistakenly assumed private text message to Cavazos and other friends and supporters disclosing that he would not be given a second interview would be stay private.
“That was just meant as an FYI to friends and supporters, but it triggered Ramiro to kind of go off,” Jacobson said. “Social media can take a very private and confidential process and blow things up.”
“We were very public about this process from the very beginning,” said Wayne Peacock, the executive vice president for enterprise strategy & marketing at USAA and the chairman of the EDF executive committee and selection committee. “We said we were going through a thoughtful and inclusive process to find the next EDF leader. We’ve communicated with all our constituents and we’ve publicized the names of the selection committee members. We’ve hired a search firm that is one of the best in the country, and we have asked that firm to cast a wide and deep net and we are going through that process now. We are in the process of vetting that slate of candidates, and shortly we will begin the process of face-to-face interviews in San Antonio. We intend to operate very transparently throughout the process, and at the same side time protect the confidentiality of candidates.”
Cavazos, assuming Jacobson was sharing his views publicly and frustrated that he was no longer in the running, took to Facebook on Thursday:
“I was just informed that Trey Jacobson, a brilliant colleague of mine with 24 years of economic development experience and someone who possesses a unique skillset to help lead a new strategy for our City to become a world-class center for great jobs, has not been invited back to be considered for the President & CEO for the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation (SAEDF). As a former Director of Economic Development myself for San Antonio and as a present member of the Executive Board of the SAEDF, I am very disappointed to hear this news. It does not bode well for our community. We stand at a special crossroads in our economic trajectory to get to the next level. I ask those people on the SAEDF search committee . . Do you really believe that hiring an outsider from San Antonio or someone else that is apparently connected to the right person going to help us get better? I also ask these same members of the search committee to reconsider their process for we are watching every step they are taking moving forward. This apparent insider hiring approach has failed our community before. I am hopeful that this message will serve as a wake up call to everyone that is hoping for our City to select the best economic developer for this important position that cares about our diverse community, to speak up and voice their opinion too. Now is the time to do so before it is too late. Hands down, I believe the right person for the job is Trey Jacobson. He will do it right and make sure that we have balanced economic growth with equity and prosperity for all. “
Then, as the comments from other Facebook friends began to appear, Cavazos posted the names of the EDF selection committee, hoping others would join in his campaign to win reconsideration for Jacobson. The selection committee includes Peacock, who is chairman; David McGee, president of Amegy Bank in San Antonio; San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley; Jenna Saucedo, vice president for communications and brand management at CPS Energy; David Marquez, director of economic development for Bexar County; and Ken Halliday, a senior executive at Silver Ventures, owner and developer of the Pearl Brewery.
Jacobson said that Cavazos’ decision to go public with his unhappiness and to invite others to complain to search committee members provoked a backlash.
“I got a sense today that Ramiro got some serious blowback about his posting,” Jacobson said. “I personally felt bad for the search committee members that this blew up yesterday. There shouldn’t be any blame put on anyone on the search committee.The search firm made the decision not to advance my candidacy.”
Jacobson said his friendship with Cavazos remain intact, but the Facebook posting caused him concern over his professional standing.
“I’m not real keen on the fact that I was outed because it has resulted in some collateral damage for me,” Jacobson said. “It was a confidential application, and now through social media, it’s been exposed to the partners here where I work, to my colleagues, many clients that rely on me, and the competition. I would have been forthcoming about it if my candidacy had progressed. The cat is out of the bag and there is no way to put it back in. I don’t want to see the EDF search disrupted by people, it’s too important.”
Jacobson responded to Cavazos’ post with his own comment:
“After emerging from a four-hour long meeting, it was amazing reading Ramiro A. Cavazos post and all of your kind and encouraging words. I am truly elevated, today. While I am disappointed that I am not being considered in this process, I respect the process and people involved. They too share your passion for improving this city. The SAEDF Executive Committee and executive search firm have the difficult task of finding a new economic development leader that can take the BOLD steps necessary to align the organization with the community’s ED goals, and to build the trust and teamwork that is so critical to success. Their success is a victory for all of San Antonio and the region. Please support SAEDF as they try to move this community forward. With all my heart, THANK YOU for your amazing gestures of support.”
“Ramiro I can’t agree more. I think your comments are on point. Trey is an excellent candidate and I can’t for the life of me understand why once again someone who has demonstrated expertise and commitment to this community has come up short. I support Trey’s comments and urge everyone to join him in supporting the EDF selection committee in their selection process. The selection committee includes dedicated individuals who want the best for this community and I am sure we will eventually understand the decision. Thank you for standing up and making your feelings known. I wish I had the same support. While I received many calls personally for support, and I remain humbled and genuinely appreciative, I am sure Trey is overwhelmed by the outward expression of support. Let’s all keep San Antonio first in our support and quest for the best community we can be.”
“No, I was not a candidate for the EDF position,” LeBlanc Burley said Friday evening. ” In my comment, I was referencing the decision by the CPS Energy board to go outside again for the CEO position. Once that decision was made, I decided it was time for me to retire after 34 years in local government.”
The Facebook posting and comments have moved what has been a behind-the-scenes debate into the public arena.
The desired profile of the next EDF CEO has been a topic of intense conversations in local business and civic circles for months, one that grew out of frustrations among many that the EDF under Hernandez spent too much time recruiting low-wage back office and call center jobs, and lacked strategies for growing smart jobs in the health care, biosciences, tech and cybersecurity sectors. In many respects, the debate over the CEO search has really been a larger conversation about differences among the city’s older guard establishment leaders and younger, more tech-driven leaders impatient to see San Antonio become more competitive. The latter group believes San Antonio is not moving quickly enough to close the gap with cities like Austin, Denver and Portland, where greater public investment in their urban cores have driven more robust economic development and in-migration of talent.
One generation of leaders seems more comfortable promoting individuals who know the local political landscape and are familiar figures, while others believe significant change in the city’s economic development strategies will be easier to undertake with an outsider hired as the new CEO.
“Many of us have been very, very frustrated with the direction of economic development in our city for a long time,” said one tech company leader. “We want to bring in someone who has had success elsewhere and can bring in fresh energy and ideas.”
“It’s fascinating world today with social media,” Peacock said Friday, seemingly undisturbed by the turn of events. “As I sit here in my office speaking with you, on one side of my desk I have the Twitter board and on the other side I have the Facebook board, and all day I read the comments and communications our (USAA) customers are posting. It’s important to know what people are saying. Social media is changing how we all do business.”
*Top Image: President and CEO of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Ramiro Cavazos arrives at the Tobin Center. Photo by Scott Ball.