WARNER ROBINS — Retired Maj. Gen. Robert McMahon is stepping down as leader of the 21st Century Partnership, effective May 4.
A news release issued late Thursday afternoon states he is going to pursue another opportunity, but it does not say what that may be. The release does say McMahon will remain in Middle Georgia.
McMahon’s selection to lead the partnership, which works to get new missions for Robins Air Force Base and defend it in the event of a Base Realignment and Closure Commission, was universally popular with local leaders.
Many of those same leaders said Thursday they regretted seeing him leave but appreciated his efforts at the partnership and that he is staying in Middle Georgia.
“Gen. McMahon did such a great job,” Warner Robins Mayor Randy Toms said. “I’m kind of at a loss of words and can’t think of anybody else but him. ... He has definitely been the right man for the job to this point.”
In addition to bringing top-notch military expertise to the position, McMahon was also known for his people skills and ability to build bridges.
“He’s a great person and has become a great friend of mine, and he is awesome at what he does,” Toms said.
McMahon did not return a phone call seeking comment.
McMahon was named president and CEO of the partnership in June 2012, a week after he retired as commander of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, and he started work Sept. 1, 2012. His appointment marked a change in the organizational structure of the partnership. Two arms were created — a 501(c)3 to make donations tax exempt and a 501(c)6 to continue the partnership’s lobbying activities.
While at Robins, McMahon led a dramatic turnaround at the logistics center in which on-time delivery improved from 48 percent when he started to 98 percent when he left. It has since fallen back to what it was before he came to Robins, although he attributed that to the fact that hundreds of maintenance workers left through early retirement incentives after his departure. McMahon also guided the logistics center through an Air Force Materiel Command reorganization and was its last commander before it was dissolved and the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex created.
Houston County Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker said it will be tough to find someone with McMahon’s abilities to lead the partnership but said it is of “the utmost importance.”
A Base Realignment and Closure Commission is expected in 2017, and McMahon has been instrumental in readying the community for a BRAC. He commissioned a number of studies to see how Warner Robins and Middle Georgia stack up against other defense communities and has lobbied on behalf of Robins in Washington.
“What he has done has been very good for the partnership,” Stalnaker said. “I’m proud of what he has done.”
Stalnaker said he has no idea what McMahon may be doing next. Centerville Mayor John Harley said he spoke with McMahon after hearing the news, and McMahon wouldn’t tell him about his plans.
“He just said he had an offer he couldn’t refuse,” Harley said. “He said he would say more about it next week.”
Morgan Law, who serves on the partnership’s board, said McMahon transformed the partnership and prepared it for the future.
“He has done a masterful job of extending the partnership’s outreach beyond the bounds of Houston County into the rest of Middle Georgia,” said Law, who is also president and CEO of the Robins Regional Chamber of Commerce. Robins has an impact not only in the region but in the state and perhaps the Southeastern region of the U.S., he said.
Law said he expects a call soon from Brad Fink, the board’s chairman, on finding a replacement, which he called a “daunting task.”
With a BRAC looming, the board likely will look for a candidate with strong military knowledge and Washington connections. Fink did not return a phone call for comment.
“I’m disappointed that we are losing (McMahon) from this important role at the partnership, but I can’t say that we’re surprised. He’s a dynamic individual that anyone is fortunate to have on their team,” Law said. “... It will be a challenge to fill his boots.”
Although known for his affable nature, McMahon was also known for telling it like it is. Shortly after taking command at Robins, he declared that of the three Air Force maintenance depots, he considered Robins to be third in performance.
Last year, he held a news conference highlighting the fact that Robins had more grievances filed than the other two depots combined. That did not reflect good labor/management relations, he said, and would be a major issue if there was a BRAC.
That didn’t go over well in some quarters, particularly the union leadership at the time, which responded by running an altered photo of McMahon wearing a dunce cap in the union paper.
The controversy created a new faction in the union that shared McMahon’s concerns and sought to build better relations with management. In October, the new faction swept an election for the union offices by substantial margins. When that election was thrown out, they won by even greater margins the second time around in March.
Harley said had McMahon not brought attention to the grievance issue, the change in union leadership would not have happened. “I do not think we would have seen that whatsoever,” Harley said.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725. To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.