Business & Tech

Shirley Leung

Botched search for Boston tourism honcho should be restarted

Massport Director of Diversity and Inclusion Kenn Turner.
Keith Bedford/Globe Staff/File 2018
Massport Director of Diversity and Inclusion Kenn Turner.

Time for a do-over.

That’s the only way the board of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau can make this right. When a search for a new chief operating officer yields no candidate of color on the short list, it begs the question: How hard did they look?

I immediately thought of Kenn Turner, the Massachusetts Port Authority executive who was a finalist to run the visitor-centric Massachusetts Convention Center Authority. He’s an African-American and a retired Navy officer with more than two decades of marketing and leadership experience in roles at Hasbro, Hallmark Cards, and AOL.

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Did he even get a call? No.

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“That set of qualifications doesn’t qualify me for a phone call? Really?” Turner told me.

Turner is happy at Massport, but he should have been considered — or at least asked to recommend candidates. His Massport colleague Danny Levy, a woman of color who heads up communications and marketing, also should have gotten a call. She works closely with the tourism bureau.

Danny Levy (left), who heads communications and marketing at Massport.
Bill Brett for the Boston Globe/File 2011
Danny Levy (left), who heads communications and marketing at Massport.

“We are simply not invited into the room to be part of the solution,” Turner said. “It’s the same old song. It’s maddening. You say you want diversity, and you do nothing to promote it.”

This is not just any job. The occupant of the newly created COO post is likely the heir apparent to president Pat Moscaritolo, who at 73 is close to retirement after nearly three decades. After the mayor of Boston, there has been no bigger champion in the marketing and selling of the city.

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What we need now is to show the world we’re not the most racist city in America. Instead, the bureau’s search process reveals how insular this town can be, how the white male insider dominates, and how our leaders still pay lip service to diversity.

Larry Cancro, the bureau’s chairman, sounded rather unapologetic to my colleague Adrian Walker when first confirming that no people of color are in contention for the COO post.

“When we took on this search, I thought we’d find a lot of good candidates, and we haven’t,” said Cancro, a Red Sox executive. “There aren’t many people of color with a lot of experience.”

This is the same cockamamy line of reasoning that kept women out of boardrooms for decades, because search committees would say they couldn’t find qualified female candidates. We now know that was an excuse. When all-male boards look only within their professional networks, well, guess what, you’re going to just turn up more of the same.

Jim Carmody, general manager of the Seaport Hotel, heads the search committee and will be the bureau’s next chairman. Is it any wonder that three of the four short-list candidates are also white male hotel general managers?

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The remaining candidate is a woman from out of state.

Two of the candidates also sit on the bureau’s board of directors. As I’ve warned before, the white male insider reigns supreme in this town so much so that it might scare away strong candidates of color who think the fix is in.

One search committee member told me the group started out with a diverse slate of 20 candidates, half of them women. There were about three African-Americans and two Asian-Americans, but when contacted they decided not to proceed in the process.

At this point, the search committee should have said this is not good enough. This is not how Boston operates in 2018. We need to widen the net.

While Cancro portrayed the process as wrapping up, others I spoke to want to keep going.

“When you went into the ballgame, you had a diverse slate. In the ninth inning, you don’t. It’s time to go back to the drawing board and get diversity back in the game,” one search committee member told me.

Carol Fulp, president and CEO of The Partnership.
Globe Staff/File 2012
Carol Fulp, president and CEO of The Partnership.

So this is what should happen. The search committee should reach out to Turner and Levy to gauge their interest. Massport is where Moscaritolo worked before joining the tourism bureau.

Next, the committee should call Colette Phillips and Carol Fulp. These women each run local organizations that have built networks of minority professionals.

“Nobody called me,” said Phillips, who herself got her start in the hospitality industry. “It is almost like they are totally tone deaf and blind.”

Phillips launched Get Konnected and her GK100 list of influential minorities so no one could ever say Boston doesn’t have people of color who matter.

Similarly, Fulp runs the Partnership, a nonprofit that works to advance people of color. Fulp also never got called. When I spoke to her, she immediately thought of a few people who could be good candidates or could refer people of color.

“We are happy to help,” Fulp said.

Asked whether other companies call her for candidates of color, she replied: “All the time.”

Why does this keep happening in Boston? Because people can get away with half-hearted efforts at diversity. Not this time.

The tourism bureau is a private organization with a big public profile, and Boston’s reputation is at stake. It’s not too late to do the right thing and start this search from scratch.

Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.