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JAX Chamber President Wally Lee to Retire after 23 Years at Helm

The JAX Chamber has announced Chamber President Walter (Wally) M. Lee, III, plans to retire from the organization in March 2013. He will step down as chief executive officer of the Chamber on Dec. 31, 2012, but continue in an advisory role through next March.

Jerry Mallot, president of JAXUSA Partnership, will serve as interim president and CEO of the Chamber, effective Jan. 1, 2013. Chamber vice president Anna Valent will assume additional operational and administrative duties. The Chamber Board of Directors is forming a search committee to hire a long-term president and CEO.  Kelly Madden, North Florida wholesale regional president of Wells Fargo, will chair the search committee and Ed Burr, president and CEO of GreenPointe Holdings LLC, will serve as vice-chair.

During his 23 years as Chamber president, Lee helped drive quality economic growth in our region, championed civil rights and significantly contributed to the National Football League awarding a franchise to Jacksonville as well as bringing the Super Bowl here.

Lee, who has planned his retirement to coincide with his 65th birthday next March, said, “My career at the JAX Chamber has been enjoyable beyond belief, filled with almost daily opportunities for personal and professional fulfillment. After almost a quarter century as JAX Chamber president, I announce my retirement with a dash of bitter sweetness but with tremendous energy about the possibility of continuing to contribute to our region’s health in new and different ways. I hope my greatest legacy is an amazingly effective staff complemented by a highly-capable and energetic corps of volunteer leaders.”

“Wally has represented Northeast Florida very effectively at the local, national and international levels,” said Tom Van Berkel, 2012 Chamber Chair and Chairman and CEO of The Main Street America Group. “When we were looking to relocate Main Street America’s corporate headquarters in 2002, Wally’s team clearly demonstrated this is the best area in the country to work, live and play as well as the best place for our employees and their families.”

Lee joined the Chamber staff as president in November 1989 after 14 years in previous professional chamber positions. Under his leadership, the Chamber attracted major employers, including Fidelity, Main Street America, Deutsche Bank, Pilot, Landstar, and dozens more.  These companies have created thousands of new jobs and invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the region. He developed the holistic Cornerstone economic development initiative in 1991 (now known as the JAXUSA Partnership) and recruited Jerry Mallot to lead it in 1994. He also developed nationally recognized entrepreneurial growth programs including the Jacksonville Women’s Business Center (JWBC) to assist small and woman-owned businesses.

“In addition to helping recruit large corporations, Wally also mentored dozens of employees and helped hundreds of small businesses grow,” said Greg Smith, 2013 Chamber Chair and Northeast Florida market president of Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “His accomplishments are too long to list. Leading the organization through the Great Recession to emerge even stronger and more nimble is just one of his remarkable achievements.”

With a $7 million annual budget, approximately 3,000 members and more than 50 employees, the JAX Chamber is one of the largest local chambers in the nation.

“Wally always provided value to Chamber members, made good business decisions and kept the Chamber strong,” said Bruce Barcelo, long-time Chamber leader and principal of Barcelo & Company. “He makes executive leadership look easy.”

Lee took a strong stance for equal rights in 1992 when he and then Chamber chair Tom Petway called for the resignation of a local judge who publicly criticized people of different ethnicities. He withstood harsh criticism and death threats, but stood up for what he believed to be right.   He continued to stand strong for equal rights in 2012 when he advocated for Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

In 1993, Lee helped organize NFL NOW! to facilitate the sale of $75 million of club seats in just 10 days, leading  NFL owners to choose Jacksonville as the site of a new franchise — the Jaguars.  He continued to generate global attention for our region when he joined other community leaders in bringing Super Bowl XXXIX to Jacksonville in January 2005.

“We enjoy life in Jacksonville,” said past Chamber Chair Ron Autrey.  “The quality of life in Jacksonville comes from the steady work of Chamber leaders moving a city forward, every day, every year. Wally has been the leader of that pack for more than two decades.”

During his career, Lee served in various community and professional roles, receiving many citations for his leadership. He was chair of the U.S. Chamber’s Institute of Organization Management at the University of Georgia and chair of the Florida Association of Chamber Professionals (FACP). The FACP awarded the JAX Chamber with the Chamber of the Year recognition in 1999. Lee received recognition as Chamber Professional of the Year in the states of South Carolina, Alabama and Florida.

His current community involvement includes serving as a member of the Board of Directors of the Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) Foundation, a member of the Board of Jacksonville University’s Institute of Public Policy, a member of the Leukemia-Lymphoma Society and chair of the Board of Trustees of the Florida Coastal School of Law. In 2010, Lee was inducted into the First Coast Business Hall of Fame and served as a member of its 2012 Selection Committee. He has been recognized as Person of the Year by the Jacksonville Jaycees, the Baptist Children’s Home and the Arthritis Foundation. Lee was the founding chair of Leadership Jacksonville’s Executive Program during its first three years.

Prior to joining the JAX Chamber as president in 1989, Lee served as president of the Mobile (AL) and Spartanburg (SC) chambers of commerce and director of industrial development at the chamber in Greenville, S.C.

About JAX Chamber

The JAX Chamber is the business membership organization dedicated to driving quality economic growth in Northeast Florida to make this region the best place to work, live and play. Membership provides the opportunity to connect with and buy from other Chamber members. The connections result in business growth and a more prosperous economy.

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