After a career in government, Jay Ash may soon take that big step into the private sector.
Governor Charlie Baker’s top economic development chief just filed an ethics disclosure, not long after Baker’s reelection, saying that he is exploring a potential “employment opportunity” with the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership. (Translation: Partnership CEO.) To avoid any conflicts or appearances of such, Ash will recuse himself from issues that involve the MACP or its members.
That’s no small measure. The MACP is an exclusive club, with only 17 members, top executives all. These CEOs lead many of the state’s biggest employers. The emphasis is heavy on financial services: State Street, Fidelity, John Hancock, Bank of America, MassMutual, Putnam, Liberty Mutual. But other key industries are at the table — from construction (Suffolk) to retail (Wayfair), from computers (Dell) to hospitals (Partners), biotech (Vertex) to energy (Eversource).
This group has been dubbed the New Vault, a reference to a once-powerful cabal of Boston executives who plotted the city’s future a half-century ago. The doors to the original “Vault” closed in 1997; its clout faded as out-of-state acquirers gobbled up some of Boston’s corporate titans.
Unlike the old Vault, the Partnership is far more interested in the economic prospects of the entire state, not just its capital city. Members tackle everything from community colleges to international flights — mostly doing so quietly, behind the scenes. Dan O’Connell, who once had the economic affairs job in Deval Patrick’s cabinet that Ash now holds, has been MACP’s only staff president/CEO since its founding in 2010.
O’Connell has wanted to retire for a while. On Jan. 1, he should get his wish. Partnership members are interviewing candidates for O’Connell’s job, chairman Bob Reynolds says, and hope to have someone new lined up by that date.
Reynolds, Putnam’s CEO, says the group is seeking someone who has demonstrated that they care about boosting the state’s competitiveness. They also need to know the players who can make that happen.
Ash measures up under that job description. He learned the Legislature’s arcane ways as a Beacon Hill staffer. Ash helped lead a renaissance in Chelsea as its city manager before Baker named him economic affairs secretary four years ago, a Democrat working for a new Republican governor. Ash made it his mission to get out beyond Route 128, to help juice local economies from Pittsfield to Provincetown. He worked on deals that brought GE to Boston, and the PawSox to Worcester.
His deal-making skills and affable nature won him friends in the business community. His name has been floated for other high-profile jobs — running Massport or Associated Industries of Massachusetts. But the MACP search is much further along. The other two organizations are just getting started.
Ash has another asset to offer the Partnership: the governor’s confidence and friendship. As the Baker administration and the Partnership separately draft plans for 2019, an even stronger alliance could only help both organizations achieve their economic ambitions.