Gables chamber names committee to find new CEO
By Suzy Valentine
The Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce has established a search committee to find a replacement for President and CEO Lettie Bien, who resigned last week, citing conflicts with the board of directors.
Adorno & Yoss attorney Neil Linden and Dennis Doucette, general manager of The Biltmore Hotel, are to be co-chairmen of the panel, which aims to install a successor before the chamber's goals conference June 23.
In an e-mail dated March 30, Ms. Bien told members she would not renew her contract, which expired the next day, saying "the board desires a strategic operating approach" she could not support.
Ana Gonzalez, who stepped in as interim president and CEO while Ms. Bien served in Iraq in 2004, will step in again while the chamber searches for a permanent replacement.
Ms. Gonzalez was coy about whether she would be in the running.
"I'm not prepared to say," she said. The chamber hopes to use contacts and member executive search firms in the recruitment drive. "The plan is to use the members. After all, we're in the business of networking."
Ms. Gonzalez would not provide details of Ms. Bien's departure. "It was a without-cause situation," she said. "Either party could terminate the agreement. It was an amicable departure."
In a telephone call, Ms. Bien said she had received a few offers of employment since her departure but would take her time considering options. She is a licensed attorney, but she said she probably would not return to practicing law.
"I don't think I'll practice, but I am exploring a number of opportunities that have been presented to me," she said. "These include private-sector consulting, legal, business development and even going back to Iraq."
In the meantime, Ms. Bien plans to take stock for the next month. "I'll take the next 30 days to regroup," she said. "I may even go to the Pentagon, where I am now assigned."
Ms. Bien is a colonel in the US Army Reserve serving as a policy officer in the Special Operations Low Intensity Conflict division of the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
In an e-mail dated March 29, Chairwoman Gayle Bainbridge outlined the chamber's recruitment strategy.
"We will begin a search immediately for Lettie's successor," wrote Ms. Bainbridge. "In order to expedite the search, we will use the talents of our own chamber leaders to identify the best candidate. There is tremendous talent in our South Florida community, and I am confident that there are a number of candidates locally that we should consider."
Neighboring Chamber South, which covers Kendall, Pinecrest and South Miami, took six months to find a successor to President Donna Masson, who left after 15 years. Karen del Valle replaced Ms. Masson last month. In another change in a regional chamber, Barry Johnson this year was chosen within weeks to replace George Foyo as president and CEO of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce.
In her letter March 30, Ms. Bien hinted at events that played out before her departure.
"At the chamber's monthly board meeting yesterday, I was encouraged to temporarily withdraw my resignation in order to afford all board members an opportunity to openly discuss the issues at hand," she wrote. "It was mutually determined by all in attendance that these issues would not be resolved to my or the board's satisfaction. Therefore, I will step down as ... president and CEO, effective immediately."
Ms. Bien outlined some of her achievements in her message to members.
"We have taken the chamber to new heights, increasing membership levels and sponsorships, improving member communications and outreach and expanding programs," she said. "We purchased a headquarters for our chamber, an accomplishment many years in the making."