At a time when the business community in Alabama should be enjoying a tremendous amount of influence with Republican supermajorities in the Legislature, strong economic development support from the governor, and the state’s lowest unemployment rate in history, its largest association, the Business Council of Alabama, is in the middle of a leadership crisis of epic proportions.
The sun is shining for business in Alabama and its leadership should be making hay, but they are not.
Instead, some of the largest employers in the state are working overtime to push out the longtime head of the BCA, Billy Canary. Why? Well, if you listen to legislators in the State House, they feel a strong disconnect from the business community and it is beginning to show.
Legislation that should be a “chip shot” for business in Alabama is running into roadblocks because of personality conflicts, ego and a desire to settle old scores. There are usually more than one thousand bills filed in any given legislative session, making education, communication and advocacy critical functions for any entity wishing to advance their policy initiatives. And, yet, a consistent criticism of the BCA has been its inability to carry out these critical functions as part of its participation in the policy-making process.
The BCA’s diminished effectiveness and influence seem to demonstrate that criticism in these areas is warranted. In many cases, what’s best for business is being overshadowed by petty power struggles and political whims, which isn’t good for the people who show up to work every day trying to make payroll.
Something has to give.
The growing frustration boils down to Canary and his leadership style. Canary is a native New Yorker who has taken a street fighter approach during his time at BCA. For years, this served him well. Canary’s brash style played a vital role when the Democrats ruled the state and the Alabama Education Association dominated the flow of legislation. He had a boogeyman to go to battle with every day and his members loved it.
No one questioned that he was the right man for the job in this environment.
In 2010, Canary and the BCA went “all-in” on a plan to wrestle control of state government from the Democrats and the AEA and won big. The Republicans picked up supermajorities in the House and Senate and, all of a sudden, the BCA was the king of the mountain. The Democrats and AEA were in shambles and continue to show no signs of making a meaningful recovery.
To the victor goes the spoils and the BCA had a nice run for a couple of sessions following the takeover, namely in the area of education reform. However, when you’re on top in Montgomery, even if you spent years fighting the boogeyman, you become the boogeyman by default. This sudden role reversal seemed difficult for Canary to navigate and his brash, sometimes arrogant style has begun to rub many in the Legislature, as well as corporate titans across the state, the wrong way.
As a result, the BCA is not nearly as effective as it could be. An entity that should be enjoying the type of influence the AEA had in Montgomery for many years is struggling to pass mundane bills.
Mr. Canary, you did a tremendous job taking the BCA to the top. You were the right man for that job and should be forever recognized for your efforts. However, it is time to pass the torch to someone with a different leadership style than yours. In “The Godfather”, Don Corleone understood the difference between a wartime and peacetime consigliere. The time for a wartime consigliere has passed. A peacetime consigliere is needed to make some hay while the sun is shining for Alabama businesses.
It’s time to hit the reset button at the BCA in the interest of its hardworking members who are providing jobs to the vast majority of the citizens of our great state.
The Yellowhammer Multimedia Executive Board is comprised of the owners of the company.