By NEMS Daily Journal
Gov.-elect Phil Bryant hit an “out-of-the-park grand slam home run” on Wednesday with his appointment of international businessman and philanthropist Jim Barksdale as interim chief of the Mississippi Development Authority, in the words of Mississippi Economic Council chief executive Blake Wilson.
Bryant said he put economic growth and jobs development at the top of his campaign, and he wanted to make his first major appointment to match that priority. He succeeded in spectacular fashion.
Barksdale was a founder and chief executive officer of the Internet giant Netscape Communications Corp. from its founding in 1995 until its merger with AOL in 1999.
He earlier had been in executive leadership for McCaw Cellular/AT&T Wireless and, before that, as vice president and COO of FedEx. After departing Netscape, he founded The Barksdale Group, an investment and advisory group created for helping Internet service companies. He has served on the boards of Time Warner, FedEx, and Sun Microsystems. President George W. Bush appointed him to the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
“There is no business leader in the United States who would not take a telephone call from Jim Barksdale,” Wilson said. “He is a genius. He can accomplish in months at MDA what could require decades for others.”
Barksdale and his late wife, Sally McDonnell Barksdale, endowed the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College at the University of Mississippi. After her death and his marriage to Donna Sones Barksdale, the couple endowed the Mississippi Principal Corps at Ole Miss to develop a new, better way of training school administrators.
The Barksdale Reading Institute, a $100 million gift, is housed in Oxford and works with all eight of the state’s public universities.
Bryant clearly understood Barksdale’s unique ability to envision how business will change, develop and how to capture the potential in profitable ventures for the public good and general prosperity.
Barksdale succeeds Leland Speed as chief of the agency.
Barksdale also led Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts in his position as chairman of the Governor’s Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal, an appointment from Gov. Haley Barbour. Most recently, Barksdale was appointed chairman of the Mississippi Broadband Connect Coalition.
Barksdale, a Jackson native, is a graduate of Murrah High School and the University of Mississippi.
Barksdale’s appointment marks the first major announcement by Bryant.
Gifted Mississippians like Barksdale willing to repeatedly give of themselves for their state’s betterment bring unique passion and determination to positions like leadership of MDA. Bryant, who will be sworn in as Mississippi’s 64th governor Tuesday, did the state a service to get Barksdale on board.