By JACK WEATHERLY
There have been only three directors of the Mississippi Economic Council in its 68 years.
Soon there will be a fourth.
Nothing is official, but Scott Waller, an 11-year veteran of the MEC, the state chamber of commerce, in February was named interim president and chief executive effective May 1.
The same day, the MEC announced that Blake Wilson, who took the MEC reins in 1998, plans to retire June 16.
Waller and Wilson, 63, are both reluctant to make any assumptions about what’s next, or, rather, who’s next.
Waller’s career at the MEC has been a steady upward movement.
Not by biding his time, but by earning promotions. Currently, he is executive vice president and chief operating officer.
Waller was business editor at The Clarion-Ledger when he got a call from Wilson one day in 2006.
Waller figured it might be some big news. Turns out, it was. But of a personal nature.
What’s it about? Waller said.
“I want to talk to you about your career,” Wilson responded.
Waller had been business editor since 2002.
The first day in that position, he went though a baptism of fire.
Bernie Ebbers announced that he was resigning as chief executive of WorldCom, the home-grown telecommunications giant.
WorldCom had been the darling of Wall Street. Investors just couldn’t figure out how the upstart was turning those amazing numbers.
Over the next few months and years, the truth came out.
WorldCom was cheating. It filed for bankruptcy and Ebbers was convicted of fraud and began serving a 25-year sentence in a Louisiana prison in 2006.
That was the year Waller received that call from Wilson.
He started as senior vice president of public affairs. In 2014, he was promoted to executive vice president and chief operating officer.
Setting goals and achieving them comes naturally for Waller.
He was an Eagle Scout, the highest achievement in Boy Scouts, with only 4 percent of boys reaching that status.
As for the MEC, Waller quoted Shakespeare: “What’s past is prologue.”
“We need to look back and see what . . . we were able to do as the private sector working with public officials [in order] to land the next big thing,” Waller said in a recent interview.
In the recent past, nothing has been bigger than the Nissan plant in Canton, which was landed in 2002 and now employs 6,400 and has largely been credited with propelling the state into advanced manufacturing.
One of Waller’s “merit badges,” you might say, are the legislative “scramblers,” which was his idea, where people in the business sector get to meet with lawmakers to keep abreast of public policy.
Volunteers, who comprise the board of the MEC, are crucial to move the state forward, he said.
Likewise, the Mississippi Scholars program and its Tech Master program help to keep the pipeline of leadership flowing by helping high school students prepare academically for attending four-year or two-year colleges.
It emphasizes the importance of “life skills” such as good school attendance, discipline and community service, Waller said.
Waller’s son, Shane, became an Eagle Scout and was a Mississippi Scholar. He graduated from Mississippi State and is a graduate student at George Washington University.
Waller has served as vice chairman of the Policy Center of the Council of State Chambers. He is a graduate of the four-year U.S. Chamber Institute for Organization Management and serves on the board of regents of the U.S. Chamber Institute in Athens, Ga., where he is a lecturer. He is also a member of the national board of regents of the U.S. Chamber Institute program.
Whether Waller gets the nod as the CEO, he already considers himself “the luckiest guy in the world” to be where he is now.
Robin J. Robinson, 2016-17 chairman of MEC, said in a prepared statement that “Scott has both the experience and background needed at this time of transition to serve as Interim CEO of MEC, as the board and leadership of the organization focus a multi-month approach on determining the strategic direction that will best solidify the next 20 years for this important organization.”
Waller credits Wilson for where he is now.
“He’s been a great mentor for me.”