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Slagle accepts chamber leadership

By Thomas Gnau

Former Armco executive Richard Slagle suddenly finds himself interim leader of the Mid-Miami Valley Chamber of Commerce as the chamber faces two key leadership vacancies.

Slagle accepted what he called the “assignment” Friday, the same day Chamber Board of Directors Chairman Dan Sack resigned his position. Slagle expects to hold the job part-time for 60 to 120 days while the chamber tries to fill those openings with permanent professionals.

Sack said it was time for him to move on.

“It was time for some new ideas and a new direction for the chamber,” Sack said.

Sack, owner of The Fourth R Computer Training Solutions and a former Armco spokesman, has been chairman for more than two years.

The 580-member chamber has seen a leadership shakeup in the wake of the city’s largest employer, AK Steel Corp., quitting the organization earlier this month. Former President David Daugherty resigned last week. Sack, in his final days as chairman, asked Slagle to take over as interim director.

AK quit the chamber on the same day Cincinnati attorney Stan Chesley, who has litigated against AK, was the invited speaker at a chamber luncheon. An AK spokesman has said only that the chamber no longer met AK’s needs, and company leaders may reconsider joining in the future.

On Friday, Slagle wasn’t certain of his new job title. Sack called him “interim director” and said Slagle does not have a board seat, although he will be a “communicator” and “liaison” for the board, and he will lead the search for a permanent chamber president.

Sack expects his board seat to remain open until the end of the year.

Slagle pinpointed what he saw as an immediate problem for the chamber, which represents businesses and organizations in three cities.

“You cannot have a viable chamber of commerce in Middletown, Monroe and Trenton without AK’s support,” Slagle said.

He said he has already met with AK representatives, whom he declined to name. Asked if the meeting went well, Slagle smiled and said it went “very well. Or I wouldn’t be here.”

He said AK wants “to see a chamber that’s viable, that’s dynamic and that would be meaningful for them to belong to.”

AK VICE President of Public Affairs Alan McCoy declined to speculate on whether Slagle’s appointment brings AK closer to rejoining.

But he said AK’s leaders will watch the chamber carefully.

“We have an interest in a strong chamber, not just for the benefit of AK, for the benefit of all businesses in this area,” McCoy said.

Slagle said he will meet with “every major member” of the chamber, as well as potential members. He met with chamber staff and ambassadors Friday, he said.

Neither Slagle nor Sack wished to talk about the chamber’s recent relationship with AK.

“I don’t want to dwell on what’s wrong or what has been done wrong,” Slagle said. “There’s evidently a general acknowledgment that the chamber needs to find a new direction.”

Sack sees Slagle as a strong choice.

“He has a wealth of experience in chamber work,” Sack said. “He’s a very savvy executive.”

Sack said that an informal committee to evaluate chamber operations — formed after AK’s exit — remains in place. He declined to name members of the committee, saying they wish to be anonymous.

Slagle, 77, retired from Armco — one of AK’s corporate predecessors — in 1985 as vice president-administrative services. He also worked for chambers in Michigan and Findlay, Ohio, before going to work for what was then the Middletown Area chamber in 1958.

In 1969, Slagle joined what was then Armco Steel Corp. as a special assistant to the company’s president. He was promoted to assistant vice president of corporate relations for Armco in 1971, moving on to be director of public affairs and assistant vice president for government and community relations.

Slagle on Friday emphasized he is taking his new job only temporarily. He has other business interests, working as senior consultant for Englewood, N.J.-based Executive Communications Group, a speaking and communication coaching firm, and as partner in Ultimate Concepts, a communication consultant.

Mary Jane Palmer, a longtime chamber member and owner of the Palmer Group chain of businesses, said the chamber “needs to refocus its mission of being a service and support to the business community, not a business itself.

“Decisions need to be made by the entire board, not a select few,” Palmer added. “Too many times it seems there is a lack of teamwork involved in decision-making.”

published 04/26/03



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