In early September, Don Kirkman insisted that he was comfortable in his new role as the No. 2 person at the Piedmont Triad Partnership, the Greensboro-based nonprofit he had run for 10 years before being demoted. Sixteen days later — after last month’s issue of Business North Carolina had gone to the printer with a story about how well the transition was going — he resigned, effective Oct. 31. The partnership, which recruits industry to the 12-county region, isn’t replacing him.
What happened? Kirkman now says he had always planned to re-evaluate his new role as chief operating officer after David Powell, who took over Aug. 23, had been CEO long enough to set a vision for it. “It was always understood that once he was in place, there would be a discussion about the future of the organization that would impact my decision.”
While there were no specific conflicts with the new boss, Kirkman says his presence might have hindered Powell’s efforts to make changes. “It was clear that it’s real hard to move in a new direction when the architect of the prior direction is in the office next door.” He says he wasn’t pushed out, but Powell agreed that his decision to leave was best for the partnership.
The decision to hire a CEO and demote Kirkman — though allowing him to keep his CEO salary of at least $231,848 a year — came after a merger of the partnership’s board in February with the executive committee of the Piedmont Triad Leadership Group, an organization that included Kelly King, CEO of Winston-Salem-based BB&T Corp. King, who had led a drive to raise more than $7 million for recruiting, became chairman of the new board. In an e-mail, King called the resignation unexpected. He didn’t answer a question about the fiscal wisdom of keeping Kirkman in a job the partnership now doesn’t plan to fill.
Board member Nido Qubein, president of High Point University and chairman of the committee that hired Powell, says only the timing of the resignation surprised him. “When you have a leadership change at the top, people choose to realign their roles and move on to other things. I can’t say I was shocked.”
Publicly, board members have said nice things about Kirkman, but privately some complained about the partnership’s recruiting and are looking for improvement. Nevertheless, Qubein says the board believed Kirkman and Powell could coexist. “If we didn’t think that both could be functionally productive and meaningful contributors, we would have made other arrangements. We’re big boys and girls, and we’ve made tough decisions before.”
Bell Partners Inc. continued to narrow its focus on apartment investments and management by selling the 21-story Wachovia Tower in downtown Greensboro to an undisclosed purchaser for $45 million. The 324,000-square-foot office building, formerly First Union Tower, was deveoped by Atlanta based Cousins Properties in 1989 and bought by Bell for $36 million in 2004. Bell will lease two floors as its headquarters.