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Help Wanted Marin Economic Forum Hiring New CEO Ag

Columnist: Bill Meagher
April, 2017 Issue

Bill Meagher
All articles by columnist

But a design flaw has been discovered in the exec suite: a revolving door that doesn't lock

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before the Marin Economic Forum is looking for a new CEO. While the non-profit’s mission is to improve the economic environment and steer desired industries into the county, it’s best known for producing insightful economic reports and white papers.

But a design flaw has been discovered in the exec suite: a revolving door that doesn’t lock. Since June 2011, the organization has hired a trio of CEOs and now it’s on the hunt for a new one after Jim Corderio decided it was time to go after 10 months on the job.

Believe it or not, Corderio’s 10-month stint at the top of the forum’s organizational chart was four months better than his two predecessors. 

Corderio, a former biotech executive, replaced Steve Lockett, a former associate director of UC Davis’ venture investment generator. Lockett came on the scene in September 2015 and stuck around for six months. Before Lockett, Neil Stone occupied the CEO seat having had the same title with the Napa Valley Economic Development Corp. Stone lasted six months at the forum. He was replaced on an interim basis by Sonoma State Professor Bob Eyler, the forum’s chief economist.

Marin County Supervisor Judy Arnold, a vice president with the forum’s executive council said pinpointing an exact cause for the CEO leakage is difficult. Arnold, who is affable and smart, said Marin is an expensive place to live and recruiting and keeping talent here is hard for any non-profit. Marin is also a challenging place to navigate in terms of a business climate where the locals have largely put environmental factors in front of economics. 

In an unusually candid observation, Arnold said the 2008 recession was a positive development for the Marin business environment since the locals finally connected with the ideals of developing home-grown jobs and attracting businesses.

Unfortunately, it appears that energy hasn’t included the forum’s top job.

Part of the challenge might be the organization’s structure. The non-profit has an annual budget of about $470k and relies largely on sponsorships from local businesses as well as a $150,000 annual matching grant from the county to keep the lights on. According to the forum’s website, there are currently four levels of sponsorship, with the “Founding Sponsors” being big guns like Bank of America, Autodesk, Kaiser Permanente and Whole Foods along with the County of Marin, City of Novato and Marin General Hospital.

Other sponsorship levels are Platinum, Gold and Supporting.

The forum has an executive board of directors with 12 members. It also has a board of directors with 24 members according to its website. The sheer number of directors of all stripes can make operations as well the decision making process more challenging, though Arnold said she thought the organization had done well for itself in spite of the turnover in its top spot. The boards are made up of business executives as well as officials from non-profits and 21 different businesses are represented, along with 10 non-profits and four elected officials.

The way the executive search process works is a consultant is hired to locate possible candidates and funnel the choices to the exec board, according to Arnold. The board then filters the choices down to a list of the best candidates and presents it to the larger board. From there, the board interviews the candidates and votes on the choices.

Arnold said that Stone and Corderio were not good fits for the forum’s top job. Stone was more or less encouraged to take his leave and Corderio decided his future lay beyond Marin. Lockett’s departure was hastened by a family crisis, which required him to move back to North Carolina.

After talking with Arnold, the reasons behind the forum’s exec officer challenges remain somewhat unclear. While Arnold said two of the former CEOs were not a good fit, how the measuring process went sideways is murky. Was it that the non-profit made bad hire decisions? Or, did Corderio and Stone settle into the daily grind and then found it wasn’t for them?

Chris Stewart, Novato’s economic development manager and an executive board member, told the Marin Independent Journal that the number of directors on both boards makes reaching a consensus difficult from a policy standpoint and asking an executive to navigate those numbers is difficult. 

Stewart also said he thought money was an issue for the forum from the standpoint of having a large enough budget to pay a new CEO enough cash, saying that $200,000 is needed to make ends meet in Marin and the forum lacks that sort of green.

In the interim, Michael Kadel is holding down the fort for the non-profit. Kadel, a VP at California Bank & Trust and a member of the executive board, is also the former president of the San Rafael Chamber of Commerce and a regional manager for the Bank of Marin.   

Bill Meagher is a contributing editor for NorthBay biz and an associate editor in the west coast offices of for the Wall Street-based financial news outlets The Deal and TheStreet. He and his family live in San Rafael. 




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