Chief executive of the Massachusetts Port Authority is one of the highest-paying and most powerful public sector jobs in the state. And with Thomas Glynn’s retirement on Thursday, the race is on to fill it.
Already, Boston’s power-broker machine is in motion, floating a number of prominent names as possible contenders for the job of overseeing Logan Airport and a host of other major properties. So far those names most frequently mentioned are of older white men with political connections to match their resumes.
But the two Massport board members heading the search for Glynn’s successor, Stephanie Pollack and Lew Evangelidis, pledged to cast a wide net to consider female and minority candidates as well. They have reinforced that edict to the headhunting firm the board expects to hire on Thursday to find and vet applicants.
“While the job description is not yet written nor posted, the committee is looking for diversity in the pool of candidates, and that includes candidates of various genders, races, and cultural backgrounds,” Pollack said in a statement.
They’ve also made it clear they would prefer a candidate who knows the political players and the landscape in Massachusetts. Board members would almost certainly face criticism if they consider only white men to replace Glynn.
They can look at what happened this year at the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau as a warning: The private-sector tourism agency had to restart its search for a new chief executive after taking heat for not having any candidates of color on its short list.
“I would be extremely disappointed if the [Massport] candidates are not racially and gender diverse,” said Colette Phillips, who runs a public relations firm in Boston and holds events that bring together professionals of different races and backgrounds. “That’s not for political correctness, but because that’s how the world is, the world is diverse.”
Glynn, who is paid about $300,000 a year, has pushed to diversify Massport during his six-year tenure there. Among other things, he helped ensure the development team that won the right to build a giant hotel near the convention center included minority investors and contractors.
The majority of the Massport board seats are appointed by Governor Charlie Baker, giving him great leverage over the board’s choice for CEO.
Among the names being kicked around is Jay Ash, Baker’s secretary of economic development and housing. Ash is highly regarded by Baker and his advisers, respected in the business community, and well-liked among municipal officials. He previously was city manager of Chelsea.
The board has said it wants a proven manager — not just an airport operator — particularly someone with economic development expertise.
But Ash’s name surfaces in discussions about at least two prominent jobs running private-sector organizations that pay much more: Associated Industries of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, where the current CEOs are retiring.
His spokeswoman, Colleen Arons, would say only: “Secretary Ash is not focused on anything other than the work of the Baker-Polito administration right now.”
Other names that have emerged with regard to Massport include: Representative Michael Capuano, who is leaving Congress after losing in the Democratic primary to Ayanna Pressley; Joseph Aiello, chairman of the MBTA fiscal control board; and Brian Golden, who oversees the Boston Planning & Development Agency.
The top internal candidate is John Pranckevicius, Massport’s chief financial officer, who will serve as interim CEO when Glynn leaves.
These other potential candidates either declined to comment or didn’t return calls seeking comment.
Massport has, for the most part, been run by white men over the years, and Glynn was no exception. However, three of the seven Massport board members are women. The vice chairman, L. Duane Jackson, is black. And Glynn has made it clear he wanted more diversity within Massport ranks and within its development ventures. On Nov. 5, the Partnership, a Boston group that helps minority executives, announced it was giving its annual diversity award to Glynn.
Glynn, for one, indicated he was hopeful that the emphasis on diversity will continue.
“Since four of the seven Massport board members are diverse, I think I can say they are expecting in the year 2018, a diverse pool of candidates,” Glynn said. “If that doesn’t happen, I predict they will require a do-over.”
Partnership CEO Carol Fulp said Glynn’s leadership shows that the skin color of the Massport chief executive isn’t essential to encouraging diversity. But Fulp still wants the search team to cast a wide net and not limit itself to well-known candidates in Massachusetts.
“There might be an opportunity to interview people from outside Massachusetts to determine if we might be able to gain something that we don’t already have here,” Fulp said. “I just want people to be as open as possible. . . . It’s healthy to consider a diverse slate.”
A slate that includes female and minority candidates could help undo Boston’s insular reputation and diversify the city’s power structure.
Evangelidis said knowledge of Massachusetts politics is beneficial but not crucial for a successful candidate.
“The landscape is littered with people who have come here without the ability to navigate the politics of Massachusetts and Boston,” added James Rooney, chief executive of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. “You still need to know how to navigate, how to build relations.”
Sticking to local candidates could limit the diversity of the candidate pool. But, Rooney said, “you can get to a nondiverse candidate if you demonstrate that the process was fair, and at the end of day, the right person was selected.”
Glynn, who is 72, came to Massport in 2012, after leaving a top job at Partners HealthCare in 2010 and then a teaching stint at the Harvard Kennedy School. He has overseen a staff of about 1,300 workers and an annual budget of $800 million. Logan Airport alone represents a time-consuming responsibility: a veritable mini-city where nearly 20,000 people work, including with more than 40 different airlines, accommodating more than 120,000 passengers a day.
The Massport chief executive shoulders tremendous responsibilities beyond Logan — overseeing the Hanscom and Worcester airports, major properties in the booming Seaport District, and freight and cruise ship terminals. The new CEO’s salary hasn’t been established.
And the new CEO already has a full to-do list, including construction of a 1,000-plus-room hotel near the convention center and new buildings on other Seaport properties, a massive renovation of the international terminal at Logan, and an expansion of the Conley cargo terminal.
“The agency has to be viewed as the most important regional economic development agency in New England, not just Massachusetts,” said Steve Tocco, head of lobbying firm ML Strategies and a Massport CEO during the Weld administration. “It’s the way to link our goods, services, and people to the rest of the world. It’s not as simple as just running an airport, as important as that is.”Jon Chesto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.