38 attend Miami chamber's orientation program
By Charlotte Libov
The lights of Miami glittered through the 55th-floor windows of the Miami City Club on Friday night, but it was a far different city than it was 19 years ago, when the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce held its first Senior Executive Orientation Program, William D. Talbert III recalled.
Back then, said Mr. Talbert, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, "the room was half-filled, and mostly with people who had been forced to come to be here. Now, we have the largest percentage of international visitation in the US and nobody even comes close. That tells you from the get-go how hot this community is."
His remark was greeted by applause from the audience, which filled the large room atop the Wachovia tower and included the 38 participants in this year's orientation program.
The event kicked off the program, which is designed to welcome new or newly promoted senior executives and their spouses/partners and acquaint them with their community.
They'll spend the next six sessions visiting museums and a cruise ship, exploring Miami Beach's Art Deco district, learning about cultural resources and regional issues and attending a spring social - all with the goal of fostering "an experience of belonging," according to the program's brochure.
As for the newcomers, many said that was what they were seeking.
Thomas J. LeBlanc, provost at the University of Miami, arrived here six months ago. "I'm new to the university community. A number of people told me this was the best way to do learn about it and get involved."
His wife, Anne, agreed. "I've been a stay-at-home mom, and now we're empty-nesters," she said. "I want to get very involved. I'll probably do some volunteering. When you sell the university, you are selling Miami, so when I take other wives around, I want to be able to tell them what's available."
Gary L. Good, managing director of development for the Florida Grand Opera, moved here from Orlando. With him was his wife, Jackie, whom he met in a similar orientation program years ago when he worked in Omaha.
"I want to learn more about the city, and I'd like to meet some different people in addition to the ones I'd meet through Gary's job," she said. "I want to get to know as many people as I can."
Virginia A. Jacko, president and chief executive officer for Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, was accompanied by her guide dog, Tracker. "I want to know what other people are doing," she said. "I want to learn from the pros."
David Maltby, executive vice president for Amedex Insurance Group, and his wife, Janet, came here from Saudi Arabia, where Mr. Maltby worked for the same company.
"They said that this would be a very good opportunity to meet people and for people to get to know who we are," he said.
The event's keynote speaker, Tom Fiedler, executive editor of the Miami Herald, sketched Miami's history from 1986, when the chamber began its orientation program, to now. Back then, he noted, "'Miami Vice' was on TV, and 'Miami Vice' was basically a documentary. We'd had the riots and the Mariel boatlifts. It was kind of a dicey time." And even though Miami may have changed, he noted that just last week, a man made national headlines climbing a radio tower to publicize a 1962 case that "involved Cuba and the CIA, so it shows you that Miami is still an interesting place, and it shows that you're not in Kansas City anymore."
"If demographics is destiny, we are a place where our signature is our diversity," he said. "In this community, diversity runs broad and it runs deep. People come from everywhere. They come here because they can be what they want to be."
So, he added, "as you meet people, I encourage you to ask them their stories. You'll find out that their stories are what makes Miami the most American city in the US."
Chamber Chairwoman Rosa Sugrañes, chairwoman of Iberia Tiles, urged the group to learn about Miami by participating in the community.
"I came here 25 years ago from Barcelona, and I learned to love Miami," she said. "The more things you do for Miami, the more you are going to love it."
Barry Johnson, the chamber's president and CEO, agreed. "Get involved. Get engaged. This is a real small town."
Or, as Diane de Vries Ashley, an executive at Bank of America, put it, "Over the years, I've been asked many times to go to other cities, and whenever I am, I go outside, sit in my pool, and look up at the moon, and ask myself, 'Could I ever leave here?' and the answer is no. If you are ever asked to move, resist the temptation. The best temptations are here."