More than 2 dozen apply to fill McLeese’s shoes at Columbia chamber

02/02/2014 6:24 PM

02/02/2014 6:37 PM

The Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce has received more than two dozen applications for a new chief executive to replace Ike McLeese, its longtime chief who died in October.

Most of those resumes are from South Carolina, said Holt Chetwood, chamber chairman and S.C. president of Wells Fargo bank.

The deadline for applying for the job was Friday. Chetwood said the chamber hopes to have a new CEO in place by the end of February or early March, after a review by a committee of chamber stakeholders.

“There has been great interest in the role,” he said.

McLeese died Oct. 29 after suffering a heart attack in September and undergoing heart surgery. He took the reins of the Chamber in 1994, guiding it from $3.8 million in debt to solvency and prominence as the leading voice for business in the region. When the Midlands lost Southwest Airlines to the Upstate in 2010, he worked behind the scenes to build a coalition of governments and business groups to present a united face to help bring in future opportunities.

He also served as a civilian aide to the secretary of the Army, and was given much of the credit for Fort Jackson’s gains in the 2005 round of base realignment and closings, and McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Eastover remaining open.

McLeese also worked closely with former Lexington mayor Randy Halfacre to build ties between the Lexington and Columbia chambers as well as business advocacy groups from across the region.

“The difficulty of replacing Ike on a scale of 1 to 10 is 10,” said Halfacre, who delivered a eulogy at McLeese’s funeral along with Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and University of South Carolina Athletics Director Ray Tanner. “He knew the politics, the business community and all the players.”

His replacement will need to be “an individual with experience not just in the chamber but in working together as a region,” Halfacre said.

McLeese announced in September after his heart attack that he would be stepping down as chamber chief in December, but he had planned to stay on as an adviser to the chamber on military affairs.

“Certainly we would like to have an individual who understands the strong role that the military and Fort Jackson play in the Columbia community,” Chetwood said.

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