Retirement announcement of longtime CVB leader Marshall comes as a surprise

In a surprise announcement Thursday afternoon, Janice Marshall announced her retirement as president and CEO of the Macon-Bibb County Convention & Visitors Bureau, a position she has held since 1986.

The announcement came one day after the official ribbon cutting for the Macon Marriott City Center hotel, which she said was the last of a long list of goals she had for the CVB.

“I had set a list of goals and objectives — it was just a matter of realizing them,” she said. “The last huge hurdle was the new hotel. Cutting the ribbon on that and seeing how wonderfully deluxe the accommodations are is more than we dreamed.”

Marshall informed the CVB’s staff of her decision Thursday morning. She officially will retire at the end of the year but will stay on until her replacement is named to ensure a smooth transition.

“Everybody was really surprised, but happy for her,” said Ruth Birch Sykes, the CVB’s vice president of marketing. “I hate it that she’s not going to be with us anymore. But this is an opportunity for her to be with her family and an opportunity to do what she wants to do. We’ve never had a better leader. She’s set us up for future success.”

Marshall said spending more time with her family played a role in her decision.

“This is one of the reasons I’m retiring,” Marshall said, holding her 4-year-old granddaughter, Ella Jane, in her arms.

Marshall’s announcement caught many community leaders off-guard.

“I am surprised,” Macon Mayor Robert Reichert said in an e-mail. “I feel like we are losing a great and effective advocate for tourism in Middle Georgia. I certainly understand her desire to get out of the fast lane and to spend time with her family. I wish her well.”

At its annual meeting last month, the CVB announced the results of a study it recently commissioned, which will guide the bureau’s plans for the next five years, Marshall said.

“It heads the CVB in the right direction,” she said. “It sets forth what markets we need to pursue and what portions should be spent in each area of marketing. The new director will have a road map of what we are able to do over the next five years.”

In recent months, Marshall and the CVB drew criticism from some members of City Council, who questioned the CVB’s effectiveness. Councilmen Larry Schlesinger and Erick Erickson, who were among the CVB’s most vocal critics earlier this year, both declined to comment on Marshall’s retirement Thursday.

Marshall said that criticism had nothing to do with her departure decision.

Several community leaders praised the CVB’s efforts under Marshall’s watch.

Steve Jukes, a member of the CVB’s executive committee and chairman of the 2010 Cherry Blossom Festival, said Macon has become a premier tourist destination thanks to Marshall’s efforts.

“I think, under Janice’s watch, Macon became a good city to a great city,” he said. “She’s positioned us to move up to the next level. ... Her accomplishments cannot be overstated.”

Lisa Love, who worked for the CVB before becoming executive director of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, said Marshall was a great mentor.

“She’s been a true leader and she’s respected throughout the industry for her vision, her enthusiasm and her true Southern charm,” Love said. “I think Janice has laid the strongest of foundations and has developed a talented CVB staff that will go forward because of her work.”

Marshall started working at the CVB in February 1983, just before the first Cherry Blossom Festival. She was in charge of group marketing that promoted the city to travel media. She became president and CEO after her predecessor, Keith Stringfellow, resigned because of illness.

Marshall’s first major endeavor as president was to help pass a Sunday alcohol sales referendum. During her tenure, she worked with the city as it renovated the Macon Coliseum and added the Wilson Convention Center.

During the 1990s, she organized the Tourism Development Committee, which helped develop tourism attractions to make Macon a point of destination, including lobbying for the music and sports halls of fame, saving Bond Swamp and the Piedmont Wildlife Refuge and promoting local museums and historical attractions.

Under Marshall’s leadership, the CVB has won numerous honors in the travel industry, including four Southeast Tourism Shining Example Awards and two Al Burris Creative Expression Awards — one in 2004 and the other this year.

Marshall herself received lifetime achievement awards from Georgia’s Historic Heartland in 1998 and from the Georgia CVB in 2005.

Marshall said she doesn’t plan to leave the tourism industry completely behind in retirement. She will continue to work as a consultant and as a public speaker and lecturer.

Terry Smith, outgoing chairman of the CVB’s executive committee, said a search committee will be formed and the search will be national in scope. The board hopes to have Marshall’s replacement in place by spring.

“This is difficult for me,” said Smith in announcing Marshall’s retirement. “I’ve never worked with an organization where I’ve had more admiration for its leadership than the CVB. ... (Marshall) is one of the most respected tourism leaders in the state, the region and the nation.

“We were blessed to have someone so talented and dedicated to the mission. She will be greatly missed.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.