Terry Bassham’s day job — president and CEO of KCP&L and Great Plains Energy — doesn’t seem like it would leave much time for civic volunteering.
But Bassham says he has a great team at the utility company, which allows him time to jump deeply into civic activities. That leap includes becoming chairman of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, a role to be showcased Thursday night at the chamber’s 128th annual dinner.
The genial transplant from east Texas, recruited 10 years ago as KCP&L’s chief financial officer, rose through leadership ranks of the utility and civic organizations, joining several nonprofit boards.
At the chamber, he has headed one of the chamber’s most ambitious Big 5 action priorities, the Urban Neighborhood Initiative. That effort aims to improve a swath of the city’s near east side by rehabilitating housing, encouraging job growth, and opening a charter school, perhaps as soon as fall 2016.
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Meanwhile, Bassham, 55, leads the search committee for a new president to succeed Jim Heeter, who is retiring from the chamber’s top executive job. He said the search group is perhaps a month away from selecting a finalist from among about 10 candidates, most of them local, and he considers the choice to be the chamber’s most important decision during his tenure.
“We don’t have a hard time for the decision,” Bassham said. “Jim has graciously said he’d stay on until the person is in place. As he says, ‘Better to get it right than in a hurry.’^”
In a wide-ranging discussion about his vision for the chamber and the community, Bassham asked for a favor:
“It’s not the chairman’s deal,” he said of his term in office. “It’s not ‘my’ year. I’d like you to say that we need to be consistent and do things long-term. I want to be part of an organization and help make it fluid…But it’s about talking and communicating with each other.”
Bassham says he’s comfortable with navigating team, or group, environments, and he hopes to encourage diversity of opinion in civic circles. That includes bringing more small-business and entrepreneurial voices into the chamber as well as racial and economic minorities and differing politics.
Bassham said that in just his 10 years here he’s watched an evolution in civic leadership as some of the long-standing, big-business executives have stepped down.
“You used to see eight or 10 people in a board room who had been there for many years,” Bassham said, “but company leaderships are changing. It’s both a step process and a huge opportunity to carry on the good things from the past and re-evaluate the steps ahead.”
He said he counts as one of his finest role models Donald Hall Jr., president and CEO of Hallmark Cards.
“He has never stepped away from civic leadership, no matter what is going on in the economy or his company, and he does it with grace,” Bassham said.
He also gave praise to some newer leaders: “I’m so happy to be in Kansas City where our mayor, our chief of police and others have worked so well to communicate,” he said, noting the absence of overt racial unrest here compared to events that unfolded in Ferguson, Mo., and on the University of Missouri campus in Columbia.
“But what worries me is that we have a lot of work to do east of Troost,” Bassham said. “We need to get a lot more people talking with each other. All the money in the world won’t help if we don’t know each other.”
Despite his crowded calendar, Bassham hopes to continue enjoying the arts, restaurants and other metropolitan assets with his wife and children. And, if there’s time, he wants to still be able to ride his motorcycle — not just around town but on five- or six-hour jaunts to see the countryside.