At this point, Chuck Sykes may feel a bit like a baseball player stepping up to the plate for the third time after two strikeouts.
First, he was highly supportive of the effort in Hillsborough County to add a penny to the current 7% sales tax for transit expansion purposes, including a proposed light-rail system in Tampa. That referendum failed by a broad margin in the Nov. 2 election.
One month later, Sykes chaired a committee of local business and community leaders hoping to attract World Cup soccer to the Tampa Bay area as part of the United States' bid to host those matches in 2022. The U.S. lost out to Qatar.
Now Sykes, president and CEO of Sykes Enterprises Inc. and chairman of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, is at bat again in a new effort to seek private financing for a new ballpark for the Tampa Bay Rays. It's not the type of thing the chamber normally gets involved with, he says, but Tampa needs to prepare for the prospect that the Rays will relocate from St. Petersburg, where they have played since 1998 and are in the midst of a 30-year lease at Tropicana Field.
“We don't want to be caught flat-footed,” Sykes told the St. Petersburg Times recently. “We want to study how other stadiums have been done around the country, and maybe that will help the conversation.”
Despite his willingness to take on controversial causes, Sykes remains highly revered among Tampa Bay's business elite. He took over the day-to-day operations in 2004 of the publicly traded call center company founded by his father, John Sykes.
The 47-year-old native of Charlotte, N.C., where Sykes Enterprises was founded before relocating its headquarters to Tampa, has been with the company for 25 years, working his way through the ranks.
He took on various administrative duties while attending North Carolina State University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, and later became a junior sales representative in the telecommunications division, moving into various middle-management roles and later serving as general manager of the Americas.
He was senior vice president of global operations prior to his appointments as CEO in 2003 and president in 2004. His father remains involved with the company as chairman emeritus, though he tends to stay out of the way on most matters.
“I'm very pleased and have a tremendous amount of pride for my son,” the elder Sykes said in a previous interview with the Gulf Coast Business Review.
Since taking over the reins of the billion-dollar worldwide company, which trades on the Nasdaq exchange, Sykes has become highly involved in the community.
In addition to chairing the chamber, he serves on the board of trustees of the University of Tampa, is a member of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. and secretary/treasurer of the eight-county Tampa Bay Partnership. He is also a supporter of America's Second Harvest of Tampa Bay, a charitable hunger relief organization.
Sykes is regarded well enough in Tampa's business community that he was asked last spring to serve a second term as chamber chairman.
“Chuck continues to demonstrate a unique ability to convene business leaders from across the region to address issues of community prosperity in a collaborative effort,” says Bob Rohrlack, chamber president and CEO.