published Friday, April 18th, 2014

Kilbride to head Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's top post

BILL KILBRIDE

* Job: President-elect Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce

* Born: Long Island, N.Y.

* Age: 63

* College: Tennessee Wesleyan College, where he majored in business management

* Work: Employed at several banks; director of market surveillance for the New York Stock Exchange; first vice president of planning for Dean Witter Financial Services; president of American Rug Craftsmen; president of Mohawk Industries' Home Division and its chief sustainability officer

* Associations: He has been a member of The Bright School Board of Trustees, Tennessee Arts Commission chairman, past chairman of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Chancellor's Advisory Board, Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport Authority member; trustee of the Hunter Museum and of First-Centenary United Methodist Church.

* Personal: Married, three children

  • photo
    Bill Kilbride speaks to the media after being announced as the new Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce CEO on Thursday, replacing outgoing CEO Ron Harr, left.
    Photo by Tim Barber.
    enlarge photo

Bill Kilbride came from New York to Chattanooga 23 years ago at the request of college friend John "Thunder" Thornton.

Thornton had started up a company and was looking for a businessman he knew to join him.

"Here I came. What a ride," said Kilbride on Thursday, who was named to become the next head of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.

Kilbride, 63, went onto a long career at floor-covering giant Mohawk Industries, while Thornton has become one of the area's top real estate developers.

Kilbride, who lives in Chattanooga, is president of Calhoun, Ga.-based Mohawk's Home Division and is its chief sustainability officer. He plans to retire July 1 from Mohawk. After fulfilling some summer commitments, he'll start full-time at Chattanooga's chief economic development group sometime before year's end, officials said.

Ron Harr, the Chamber's current CEO, plans to remain in that post until Kilbride assumes the top slot. Harr, who has headed the 1,806-member business group for the past year and a half, announced earlier this year he has decided to take early retirement on the advice of his doctor.

"I'll stay on until he starts full-time. We think it will be a very smooth and easy transition," said Harr, noting Kilbride is the third consecutive CEO to come out of the private business sector, following himself and former banker Tom Edd Wilson.

Howard Levine, the Chamber's chairman, said while hard to replace Harr, Kilbride's selection comes after a national search. He said the business group's search panel decided to focus on local candidates and Kilbride's name rose to the top.

"He helped build Mohawk into a Fortune 500 company with $7 billion in revenue," Levine said, also citing Kilbride's experience in finance and international business.

Kilbride said the Chamber staff and the timing is why became interested in the post.

"They've got this big ball rolling," he said. "The next chapter can hold significant things in store."

Officials declined Thursday to talk about how much Kilbride will earn. When Harr was hired, officials said then his compensation package was expected to be in the range of Wilson's, who earned $215,000 annually.

Kilbride, who formerly served on the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport Authority for many years, would take the Chamber's top spot at a key time for the group.

The Chamber's 4-year, $10.2 million "Can Do" campaign is trying to recruit or develop at least 15,000 jobs in the Chattanooga area by June 2015. The Chamber calculates that it is already more than half way toward that goal, even without the potential expansion of the Volkswagen plant for a sport utility vehicle line.

The Chamber receives nearly $1 million a year in public funds from the city of Chattanooga, Hamilton County government, EPB and the Tennessee Valley Authority for its economic development efforts.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger mentioned Kilbride's experience in advanced manufacturing.

"Bill has on-the-job experience with the workforce issues we're addressing," Coppinger said in a statement. "He can interact with existing industry executives and recruitment prospects as a peer who understands their concerns and needs."

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said Kilbride's track-record combines job creation with environmental stewardship in keeping with Chattanooga's transformation.

"During Bill's tenure with Mohawk Industries, he helped the company grow its regional job totals substantially while also leading efforts to convert 16 of Mohawk's plants into zero-landfill facilities," Berke said.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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