EDUCATOR AND FORMER Georgia state senator Cecil Staton is AAHOA’s new president and CEO. He will succeed Interim President and CEO Rachel Humphrey, who has held the position since previous President and CEO Chip Rogers stepped down in January.
Staton, who assumes the AAHOA position on Nov. 18, served as Chancellor Emeritus at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, since 2016 before leaving the position after a political disagreement. Before that he served as interim president of Valdosta State University, and as vice chancellor for extended education with the University System of Georgia.
He served five terms on the Georgia State Senate, at one point as majority whip, and has founded two publishing companies as well as Georgia Eagle Media, a broadcast and print media holding company.
“I am excited at this opportunity to work with nearly 19,000 small business owners. The achievements that AAHOA’s members continue to realize in the hospitality industry make them a living testament to the American Dream,” said Staton. “The great energy and excitement from AAHOA’s 30th anniversary celebrations earlier this year still resonate to this day. Rachel and her team did a brilliant job maintaining that momentum and capitalizing on it with increased member and industry engagement.”
As part of its search for Rogers’ replacement, AAHOA formed an executive search committee and hired consulting firm Korn Ferry.
“Throughout the comprehensive search process, we looked for someone who would excel in building upon the foundation of AAHOA’s success, welcome opportunities to develop relationships with our key stakeholders, and bring a vision to the association that will enhance AAHOA’s profile in the industry,” AAHOA Chairwoman Jagruti Panwala said. “We are confident that we found such an exemplary leader in Cecil Staton.”
Humphrey said Staton’s experience, particularly in advocacy and education, will serve AAHOA well.
“As an accomplished legislator in the Georgia Senate, as a leader and administrator at East Carolina University and Valdosta State University, and as a small business owner, Cecil understands what drives the association and its members and will position AAHOA for continued success,” she said.
Staton stepped down from his position at ECU in May following a three-year tenure marked by some criticism, as well as support, according to the Raleigh, North Carolina, News & Observer newspaper. His supporters said politics led to his departure, which Staton himself characterized as being not of his own choice.
“Let me just simply say: I did not initiate this,” Staton said during a news conference after announcing his resignation, according to the News & Observer.
The criticism Staton faced included blame for losing seasons by some fans of the school’s sports programs, as well as the ECU foundation’s purchase of a $1.3 million chancellor’s house and a branding campaign for the university. However, according the News & Observer, dozens of people signed a letter in January supporting Staton, insisting that his positive performance evaluation be released.
But Staton also had many supporters. In January, dozens of people connected to East Carolina University signed a letter backing Staton and even calling on UNC system leaders to release Staton’s recent performance evaluation as proof that he was doing a good job.
Rogers left to take up the position of president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, succeeding previous AHLA President and CEO Katherine Lugar. He had been in his position at AAHOA since 2014.