Power Players: Connecting Man And Nature

It would be difficult to find an office view more pristine than the one en-joyed by Tim Chason, executive vice president of Callaway Gardens Resort, Inc. But the 13,000-acre property founded in 1952 by Cason and Virginia Hand Callaway to preserve and promote azalea species has matured into much more than flowers, trees and a view.

“It’s like a mini city,” says Chason. “We maintain the infrastructure of the gardens. We have our own water and sewer operations. We build and maintain our own road system.”

The resort includes four hotel properties, a spa, two golf courses, a tennis complex, and miles of biking and hiking trails, not to mention the gardens themselves. Chason and his team members want to educate their guests about the beauty of nature in general and Calla-way Gardens in particular.

Callaway Gardens Resort enjoys a symbiotic relationship with the nonprofit Ida Cason Callaway Foun-dation. All after-tax proceeds from the recreational, lodging and retail facilities at the resort are used to fund the work of the foundation.

Callaway also features the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center, the John A. Sibley Horticultural Center and a pioneer log cabin.

“It’s all interconnected. We have a mission to connect man and nature in a way that benefits both,” Chason says. “Whether the landscape is natural or enhanced by man, we hope our guests can enjoy it and that families can be rejuvenated. It’s important for us to communicate that Calla-way Gardens is not just a resort, it’s a preserve.”

Chason’s love of the outdoors was nurtured in his hometown, the small South Georgia town of Lakeland, near Valdosta. “I still enjoy turkey or quail hunting,” he says, “Or just walking in the fields.”

His parents worked for decades at locally owned Patten Seed Company, and he attended nearby Abra-ham Baldwin Agricultural College before moving to the University of Georgia, where he earned his undergraduate degree in journalism and his master’s in public administration.

He started his career in 1983 as head of the Carters-ville-Bartow County Cham-ber of Commerce. He was senior vice president of Economic Development and COO for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

In 2003, Chason left the chamber to start the Chason Group, a consulting firm specializing in serving local chambers of commerce and economic development authorities. Through his firm, which he still owns, he met and began working with Edward Callaway. Their association led to Chason’s joining Callaway Gardens full time in 2007.

Chason keyed in on the value of listening to and communicating with employees. “We have about 650 employees in the off-season, 900-plus in the heavy seasons,” he says.

“We don’t just look for people to fill slots; we want the right people in the right slots. Guests appreciate when they’re dealing with someone who knows about and enjoys what they’re doing.”

Because Chason didn’t come from a traditional hospitality industry background, he’s able to question why things are done certain ways and, equally important, ask why they can’t change. “I think I can push the walls a little more,” he says. “We’re always asking, ‘Is what we’re doing helping our stakeholders?’ Our stakeholders are our guests, team members, our financial partners, our community and environment. Their needs are addressed in every decision we make.”

The questions and answers have important economic consequences. Callaway Gardens Resort was not immune to the effects of the recent recession. Chason says some businesses that held annual meetings at the resort in the past took a couple of years off, but that’s turning around.

“I’m seeing the light at the opening of the tunnel,” he says. “And that’s what it is, the ‘opening,’ not the end of the tunnel. Business groups are coming back, and they’re bringing their families with them.”

The gardens and resort are ready for them. “There are always challenges. We’re not perfect, but we always look to make things right.”

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