Thursday, December 4, 2008

TAP Losing Its Driving Force, Dick Robers

When Dick Robers retires from Total Action Against Poverty at the end of this month, there will be a huge void at one of the best run, most innovative non-profits in Virginia. In his six short years at TAP, Dick's use of his business background, creativity and inside wonkish knowledge of how business works best has turned this solid, but sleepy charity into a dynamic economic workhorse.

TAP has developed into a major real estate holder, among many other things, and because Dick helped create that division of an organization formed to help poor people, there has been more money for the core purpose during his years at TAP. Dick's always been an innovator (the "Smart Road" at Virginia Tech was his idea), but never more so than at TAP.

His grasp of "the deal" is sometimes spooky because it is thoroughly innovative. He uses the system as well as anyone I know and he fully understands where the government money (incentives, grants, tax credits and the like) is hiding.

I don't know why Dick's "retiring," but in a brief conversation today, I got the feeling it isn't something he wants to do. Dick's in his upper-end 60s (67, I think), so retirement is a reasonable option, but I have no thought that he will retire. He has more energy and more creativity than a 25-year-old (he was a high school football teammate of Roger Staubach's in Kentucky years ago, by way of dropping in a meaningless factoid).

"Retirement," I suspect, is more code word than reality. Dick loves TAP and I really don't think leaving it was in his plans until recently. We're scheduled to talk in the next few days and I'll know more then.

Dick is so good at his job with TAP (for which he was paid about $65,000 a year, a paltry amount considering what people in his position and with his talent for attracting money make in private industry) that we considered him strongly for our Executive of the Year/2008 at Valley Business FRONT. In any other year, he likely would have won, but we didn't pick him in our inaugural year partly because we wanted a person operating a business to win it and TAP--as well as it's run and as business-like as it is--simply isn't a business. (The winner was Carilion Health System head man Ed Murphy, a powerhouse in his own right.)

I honestly hope Dick's "retirement" is not a case of clashing personalities, of jealousy or anything else negative--as I suspect it might be. That would leave a bad taste following a marvelous tour of duty.

(Update: Dick is joining us at Valley Business FRONT as an advertising executive the first of the year.)

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