Eric Doden, CEO of Greater Fort Wayne Inc., has resigned from the leadership post effective Dec. 31.
During the remainder of this year, he'll focus on promoting local opportunities to investors nationwide and participating in statewide economic development efforts.
John Urbahns, executive vice president of economic development for Greater Fort Wayne, is Doden's choice to lead the organization's efforts to support Electric Works, the proposed redevelopment of the former General Electric campus.
RTM Ventures, the project's developer, is getting down to the wire as it tries to finalize $214 million in funding for the first of two phases.
"My role in the project has reached its natural conclusion," Doden said in a letter emailed today to the nonprofit's board. Urbahns, he said, "has unmatched expertise and personal relationships" that would allow him to see the project through to completion.
Andrew Thomas, Greater Fort Wayne's chairman, agreed in a phone interview Thursday.
Urbahns "ab-so-lutely" has his vote of confidence, Thomas said, pausing to add emphasis.
Doden, 48, made the official announcement on the third anniversary of his hiring announcement. He met with The Journal Gazette earlier in the week to explain his reasons. And launching a mayoral campaign isn't one of them, despite his failed run for the Republican nomination in 2011.
Four or five years from now? "That's another story," he said. "I'm never going to say never, right?"
Doden said he's eager to spend more time with his wife and five children. In his current position, Doden spends four or five evenings a week attending events, which means he doesn't often return home until after 9 p.m.
With his oldest son preparing to start his senior year in high school, Doden is getting sentimental about how quickly his children's childhoods are passing. The five range in age from 12 to 17.
Doden, who describes himself as "a turnaround guy," is also looking forward to again being an active participant in Domo Development. Doden is a principal investor in the local private equity firm, which is considering redevelopment opportunities in four or five other cities. "I want to be able to do deals that transform communities," he said.
Doden took a leave of absence from the firm for 2 1/2 years to run the Indiana Economic Development Corp. He has kept his distance from daily business decisions during the past three years, which he has spent at Greater Fort Wayne.
The grind of heading the city and county's economic development efforts wore on him, he said, claiming he spent the last two weeks of December sleeping.
Doden said he wanted to step down from his position this past January. "I was just done," he said.
After consulting his five mentors – some local and some living in other states – Doden decided to stay on the job one more year.
"What I try to do is listen and learn from people who've gone where I want to go," he said, adding that he also had to listen to his own gut. "Sometimes, being an effective leader means acknowledging I've taken this as far as my skill set can go."
Doden preempted potential efforts to talk him into signing a third two-year contract by publicly announcing his plan to leave and giving the board plenty of time to find his replacement.
Although Doden has selected Urbahns to head Greater Fort Wayne's role in the Electric Works project, that doesn't guarantee that Urbahns will be asked to fill the CEO chair. That decision will be up to the organization's 14-member executive committee.
Thomas, the board's chairman, described the transition as "ample time to do the proper succession planning."
"We have eight months. How nice is that?" he asked.
The committee is carefully considering next steps, Thomas said. He expects they will look first at internal candidates from what Thomas considers to be a great staff. It's undecided whether a national search will be conducted even if an internal candidate checks all the boxes on committee members' wish list, he said.
Greater Fort Wayne was created with the 2013 merger of the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce and the Fort Wayne-Allen County Economic Development Alliance. The organization bills itself as the "single point of contact for economic growth in Allen County."
The organization's most recent initiative, unveiled last month, is the Women's Network. It was created as a community resource to support efforts that include leadership and networking among women, and existing mentorship and engagement opportunities.
Doden said he isn't worried that his critics might think he's leaving Greater Fort Wayne because he met too much resistance from local elected officials on the Electric Works project. Giving up isn't part of his makeup.
"Anyone who knows me, knows that I do whatever it takes to win – unless it is illegal or immoral," he said.
A year from now, Doden will be sitting on the other side of the table, in the developer's chair. He's philosophical about the possibility that some communities might not back what he believes is the best he can offer.
"If you don't want to take that deal," he said, "there's not a whole lot I can do about it."