How far, wide will Sullivan replacement search range?

Filed under: Tourism | Tags:,

After 20 years at the helm, Terry Sullivan, CEO of the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, will retire at the end of this year. Everyone knows that. What’s not so well known is how the bureau will replace him, including how far from the region it’ll range to find the best possible candidate.

It won’t be easy. Sullivan has been a stalwart and enthusiastic champion of Colorado Springs since the day he and his wife Lori arrived from Texas in 1990.

The CVB board’s seven-member search team has launched a nationwide search for Sullivan’s successor.
It has hired Tampa-based Specialty Search International to run the recruiting campaign.

Time, at least for now, is on the bureau’s side.

“We’re in a very advantageous position. Terry has been proactive about this. It’s afforded us an excellent window of time,” said Greg Birkmeier, president of Specialty Search.

Birkmeier’s strategy will include targeting national and regional hospitality-industry trade publications.
As is the normal course in such searches, the firm will take applications online, screen applicants via telephone interviews, do full background checks, verify professional references and otherwise vet resumes.
Requirements for the position include an undergraduate degree in addition to 10 years’ experience in marketing and communications for a medium-sized business.

Experience should include sales and branding, revenue growth, effective community leadership and the ability to build consensus with key stakeholders in the community and throughout the state, Birkmeier said.
The stakes are high.

Tourism is one of the region’s largest economic drivers, bringing in $1 billion annually. The wrong person for the job could hurt the local economy — just when it is showing signs of life.

While finding someone to replace a man who’s been called “Mr. Colorado Springs” and “Mr. Tourism” won’t be exactly effortless, the very people who will miss him most aren’t too worried about finding a successor.
After all, the Pikes Peak region has many selling points to attract candidates — that is, if a local candidate isn’t chosen.

The region is home to numerous famous and picturesque landmarks, including Garden of the Gods and 14,210-foot mountain Pikes Peak, has amazing hotels and attractions, and has plenty of sunshine, said Susan Edmondson, executive director of the Bee Vradenburg Foundation and chairwoman of the CVB board.
“We have so many good things to promote us to the rest of the nation or the world, so in that sense, I’m not concerned,” she said.

After Specialty Search narrows down the field to a handful of applicants, the search team will interview candidates in-person in Colorado Springs.

In a typical CEO search, the team insists it’s looking for the best candidate, regardless of where that person is based, and this situation is no different.

There are pros and cons, however, of hiring an insider from the community vs. an outsider.
The Pikes Peak region is more diverse in terms of its hotels, tourist and geological attractions and cultural venues than many other comparably sized regions. It takes a while to plug into this community, to truly understand it and its stakeholders.

On the other hand, there’s much to be said for shaking and waking a sleepy, complacent borough; oftentimes, only an outsider has the chutzpah or necessary naiveté to do that.
Pay, of course, also is an issue.

In 1990, Sullivan’s position started at $57,000 per year, plus bonuses. Times clearly have changed since then.

While the board won’t disclose it, estimates place the CEO’s salary in the $125,000 to $150,000 range.
Arguably, some of the best local candidates for the position are sitting on the search team. In coffee shops and around water coolers in the city, several names have been bandied about as possibilities, including John Washko, vice president of sales and marketing at The Broadmoor, and Allen Paty, general manager of the Antlers Hilton hotel.

Several others in the industry — not on the search team — who meet the qualifications include Laura Neumann, general manager of Cheyenne Mountain Resort, and Michele Carvell, executive director of Pikes Peak Country Attractions Association.

The search team hopes to hire Sullivan’s successor by the fall. That person will start at the beginning of 2011.

The team will be looking for someone who — as Sullivan did — can keep his or her finger on the pulse of the industry.

“One of the more intangible things to replace is Terry’s enthusiasm and his belief in the city,” Edmondson said.

“He has served us well and taken us through tough times, drought, changes in the tourism industry of the past two decade, and changes at the state level,” she said. “But having a new perspective is good too.”

Rebecca Tonn can be reached at rebecca.tonn@csbj.com or 719-329-5229. Friend her on Facebook.