Miami chamber to honor retiring CEO Bill Cullom with annual Sand in My Shoes award
By Kristen Fidh
A day after he steps down after 23 years, Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bill Cullom will be honored with the group's Sand in My Shoes award.
The annual honor goes to outstanding community leaders who have made significant contributions to South Florida. Mr. Cullom is more accustomed to bestowing the award, a tradition since 1981, than receiving it.
"Bill is Miami," said Obdulio Piedra, the chamber's chairman of development. "He personifies what the city is all about, and he has made it a better place for all of us."
The award - a Lucite-covered replica of feet in sand - is based on a phrase written by author Damon Runyon that was often used by long-time Miami broadcaster Ralph Renick to describe his love for Miami.
The award is being given to Mr. Cullom as a thank-you for his dedication to community and civic services, said Peter Roulhac, chamber chairman.
During his term, Mr. Cullom spearheaded the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Coalition for a Drug-Free Miami and the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade County's economic-development agency, and helped the city through civil disobedience in the early 1980s and the 1990s, the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, the economic downturn of recent years and the incorporation of different cultures in an internationally prominent city.
"The thing that makes him special is that Bill is a great listener and a very patient man," Mr. Piedra said. "He finds out how he can best attend to the situation and seeks out the resources he needs to best solve the problem."
Mr. Roulhac said Mr. Cullom embraced Miami-Dade County as a highly diverse community when many older residents rejected the notion of people from a variety of cultures living and working together. After the race riots of the 1980s, Mr. Cullom turned to small-business leaders and bankers to help raise money for African American-owned businesses.
"He held a luncheon and was able to raise $9.2 million dollars just by wooing people," Mr. Roulhac said. "And the Black Business Association still exists today, helping raise loans for black businesses."
Mr. Cullom approaches problems without limiting the city's resources, Mr. Roulhac said. "Bill is the conductor in an orchestra where he has brought together the right combination of brass and woodwinds to make a symphony."
A search continues for the next chamber president, said James Champion, who is helping to lead the effort.
Along with Roberta Kressel of Bank United and Dabney "Bud" Park of Performance Executive Search, Mr. Champion took a survey of 20 core chamber members to discover what qualities and qualifications they expect in a new leader. Aside from leadership, political savvy, effective decision making, and action-oriented planning, Mr. Champion said having an understanding of the community, not just its businesses, was cited as most important.
"The new president needs to be sensitive to the needs and the expectations of all people in Miami," he said. "This person must make sure all people are heard by linking the chamber to what is really needed in the community."
As the area is changing, so must the chamber, Mr. Champion said. He said the new president must expand from Miami-Dade into the tricounty area and conduct comprehensive economic analyses if the community is to continue attracting businesses and visitors.
Mr. Champion also said the chamber is becoming more member-driven, as opposed to committee-driven, and that its new president will need to support the transition.
"Each and every member has something to give, whether it be time, research, money or the use of a facility," Mr. Champion said. "It is the president's job to make sure the chamber and the community capitalize on each member and what they have to offer. Then, the more members (the chamber has), the more powerful, intellectual support it will receive, solving problems and settling crises in creative and innovative ways."