Birmingham’s 50 most influential execs—maybe not?

David SherOn August 30, 2013, The Birmingham Business Journal (BBJ) published a list of Birmingham’s 50 most influential executives.  (Click here to see BBJ list of 50 most influential executives)

The BBJ tried to answer the question, “Who holds the power in the Birmingham business community?”

The list includes the absolute top corporate and political leaders including Birmingham Mayor William Bell and Jefferson County Commission President, David Carrington;  Jay Grinney, President and CEO of HealthSouth, and Grayson Hall, Chairman, President, and CEO of Regions Financial Corporation. 

I know most of these people personally and I like and respect every one of them.  All of them are generous with their time and money and they exemplify the best in leadership. Absolutely nothing much would happen in metro-Birmingham without them.

Don Logan, owner of the Birmingham Barons, Seek Publishing, and Bass Anglers is making a huge impact on our city; John Lauriello from Southpace Properties has been renovating downtown buildings before it was cool and is a voice of conscience for Birmingham; there would be no Regions Field without Robert Simon.  And Fred McCallum, President of AT&T, deserves the Nobel Prize for his community leadership.

I could write about the accomplishments of all 50, but this blog would be much too long.

However, our top executives and other corporate and political leaders are missing one vital component. There’s no coordinated vision for metro-Birmingham and no plan to make it happen.

The Birmingham Business Alliances (BBA) created Blue Print Birmingham* and the BBA is taking the lead in implementation.  But, as usual, we attack the symptoms rather than the root cause of our problems. There’s absolutely no way we are able to compete when we have 37 Jefferson County municipalities, no single political leader elected county-wide, and no home rule.  There’s no political entity with enough geography or strength to accomplish anything of significance.

I give a gold star to Jeffrey Bayer, President and CEO of Bayer Properties, who was brave enough in a recent guest blog to suggest that Jefferson County and Birmingham consolidate without the existing municipalities. Who knows if this is our best solution, but the fact that Mr. Bayer boldly made the suggestion is quite refreshing.

Ambassador Andrew Young, an early Civil Rights leader, spoke at the Downtown Rotary recently.  He said after the Bull Connor dog/hosing incidents and the bombing of our Sixteenth Street Baptist Church that one hundred of Birmingham’s top leaders joined together to end segregation in Birmingham a full year before the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

Yes, Birmingham was a leader in civil rights.

Jeffrey Bayer asks, “Haven’t we had enough?  Aren’t we tired of falling behind our peer cities?”

Birmingham has always been called the “City of Perpetual Promise.”

If Birmingham’s 50 most influential leaders made up their minds–we could fulfill that promise.

*Editor’s note:  I was on the BBA committee that helped create Blue Print Birmingham and I serve on the BBA Board of Directors (at least until this article publishes)

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David Sher is the publisher of ComebackTown, a co-founder of Buzz12 Advertising and co-CEO of AmSher Collection Agency.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham)), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

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5 thoughts on “Birmingham’s 50 most influential execs—maybe not?”

  1. *Birmingham will continue to be the city of Perpetual Promise if it fails to understand that its most important resource are its people. The illiteracy rate is 20+%, the high school drop out rate is 0ver 50%, the poverty rate is in excess of 30%. Birmingham is really two cities one white and affluent, and the other black and largely suffering.  I the last decade over 30,000 people have moved out of the city.  The failing schools was a primary reason for there departure.

    There are many factors that contribute to this situation and first there has to be a willingness to acknowledge that these conditions to exist. Likewise there are neighborhoods that are unsafe to walk the streets in the daytime.  There is too much crime, and the city continues to be a top ten ten city for homicides. The city recently commemorated the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement, what has changed as a result of those celebrations? The city is balkanized and separated largely by race.  There needs to be an honest discussion to address these issues and more importantly a plan has to be put in place. A plan is a written document that allocates resources People, Time and Money, who is going to do it, how long will it take and how much will it cost? The history of Birmingham provides the city with a unique opportunity to share the world the values of reconciliation and tolerance. A great city understands that it is more than buildings.

  2. *I once heard the highly effective Phil Breseden, then former Mayor of Nashville and future Governor of Tennessee, tell a small group of Birmingham business leaders that he focused on 3 major goals as Mayor and said that might have been 2 too many. We need leadership to bring those with power and influence to “focus like a laser” on no more than 3 transformative challenges. Other issues need to be managed, but “managing” everything does not lead to transformative progress.      

    My nominees: Alabama constitutional reform including “home rule” for local government, restructuring Birmingham city government to give the Mayor and some City Councilors elected “at large” the power to lead, and reform and support for the Birmingham Board of Education. If that’s 2 too many, education may be the most important. BUT FOCUS!

  3. A lot has been written about the types of issues we are discussing here. Personally I find Malcolm Gladwell’s ideas some of the most thoughtful and inclusive on the subject of leadership – The Tipping Point is full of thoughts on both leadership and diversity. What if all 50 of these powerful individuals named by the BBJ plus another 50 individuals who many of us know and trust (from all “walks of life”, i.e. all levels of Education, The Arts, Religious, LGBT, Handicapped, and Hispanic Communities, sports, entertainment, environmental and urban planning areas, and many other unnamed areas impacted by the issues – all had a seat at the table? (A Real Cross-Functional Team!) Then we:

    1. Elected a leader
    2. Set ground rules (including a “greediness” rule)
    3. Formed committees focusing on uncovering ALL the root causes of our weakness
    4. Prioritize the findings
    5. Map out a plan

    Would this type of inclusive conversation give the larger community a plan they could trust, embrace, and meaningfully discuss? We have the answers. All we need is the format for working through the dysfunctions. Remember, you get what you pay for and you didn’t pay a thing for my two-cents!

    David, thanks again for everything you do to keep this conversation alive! Rick

  4. Great article as always, David!  But I noticed the lack of women on this list – 2 out of 50? Women leaders are extremely involved and ready to help where and when we can to make Birmingham a better place to live, work and play.  Why aren’t Nina Botsford, Cathy Sloss Jones, Wendy Jackson and many more of the great women leaders of our business community that have helped with our progress not on this list?  I’m just curious – do you have to be a male CEO to be considered influential?  I have the utmost respect and admiration for everyone on the BBJ list.  I’m just thinking that the influence of women in the business community of Birmingham is much greater than 4% of those listed.   Just something to think about as we all move this great city forward……

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