Taylor Batten

Can CEOs find their voice?

A group of Charlotte CEOs could not convince NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to keep the All-Star Game in Charlotte.
A group of Charlotte CEOs could not convince NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to keep the All-Star Game in Charlotte. AP File photo

When two dozen Charlotte CEOs came together one year ago, they said their new group would use its influence to solve prickly problems and help shape the public agenda.

“We heard it from a variety of areas: Where is the business community? Where’s the voice, where’s the leadership in the community?” Lynn Good, the group’s chair, said at the time.

We’re still asking.

It was encouraging news, this creation of the Charlotte Executive Leadership Council. Business involvement in addressing public problems had waned over the years. And with elected officials polarized and often unimpressive, our city and state could benefit from private-sector leadership.

Sadly, more than a year after its creation, the group has failed to fulfill its potential. It has accomplished nothing publicly whatsoever and its private dealings appear to have amounted to little more than discussion. The council has the brainpower, the money, the credibility and the connections to help shape Charlotte and North Carolina and to tackle their thorniest issues. But the group hasn’t done so, in large part, it appears, because of an unwillingness to take public stands on anything.

Observer reporter Rick Rothacker this week offered a glimpse into the group’s dealings. Through a public records request of UNC Charlotte Chancellor Phil Dubois, Rothacker obtained the group’s emails as it tried to address HB2 and the NBA’s decision on moving its All-Star Game out of Charlotte.

The group had the right intentions. Members hoped to have HB2 repealed or changed and to have the NBA keep its game and its economic impact in Charlotte. It appears they spent many hours meeting in person, crafting letters and statements, and working with public officials and the Hornets.

But they never said a word publicly, never even sent a planned statement to the NBA, and ultimately they failed to achieve their goal. HB2 remains the law of the land almost entirely intact, and the NBA walked.

The legislature and Pat McCrory deserve blame for that, not the CEOs, of course. With many of them running multi-billion dollar businesses, the CEOs committed significant time and effort to the project.

And without question, HB2 is an especially hot lightning rod that executives would want to handle with care. But the group’s extreme caution and obsession with secrecy saps it of much of its power. It’s not surprising that CEOs are used to working in private. For the group to have influence, though, the public must know it exists and where it stands.

When the group was created last July, I wrote, “The danger with this group is not that they’ll bulldoze over what others are doing to get their way. If anything, I worry that they’ll be too passive and deferential.”

Maybe the group is still finding its footing. Its leaders said a year ago that it would “walk before it runs, starting out at relatively slow pace until it grows into its work and mission.”

But they also said their core mission was “to advocate for solutions that improve Charlotte’s economic vitality and quality of life for everyone.”

They haven’t done that, so the community’s question that Good quoted a year ago remains:

“Where’s the voice?”