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Chapman checks out – but not completely

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If the economy were going great guns, Steve Chapman would be gone from ITAGroup Inc. headquarters today. On the other hand, if Tom Mahoney were a few years younger, Chapman would still be the CEO.

But the economy is a mess, Mahoney is 49 and ready to lead, and Chapman has begun a transition phase: one foot on the diving board and one in mid-air. He’s still part of the ITA staff, but after 13 years as the boss, now he’s more of an adviser.

Won’t this be a little awkward? “Absolutely,” Chapman said last week.

He announced last fall that he would leave the CEO post on Jan. 1, staying involved with the company only as chairman of the board of directors. But as the economy took one frightening lurch after another, affecting all of ITAGroup’s clients, Chapman started to have second thoughts.

“I feel like I’m walking out of a fight,” he said. Early in December, he told Mahoney that he would be willing to stick around and help. “I told him to think about it over the weekend, and he said, ‘I don’t need to think about it; it would be a great thing if you stay,'” Chapman said.

So Mahoney is now the CEO, as planned, but Chapman’s move from Regency West in West Des Moines to an office in downtown Des Moines has been put on hold. That leaves the tricky decision of when to really, finally, officially pack his stuff and move out. “I believe that will happen sooner rather than later,” Chapman said, although he’s not predicting when business will return to normal.

Chapman is only 57, and this process is not about taking a traditional retirement. He has plenty to keep him busy, with the board memberships and civic causes that have made his days long for some time now.

His has been a life of meetings before work, meetings after work and a stack of reading material awaiting him at home. Now, he says, “I think I can do more of that during the day.”

But he’s thinking about a couple of things that at least sound like slowing down.

For one thing, he intends to take golf lessons. “I’m so competitive that I don’t want to do anything unless I can do it well,” he said. “I have a lot of good friends I’m embarrassed to play golf with.”

And he already has bought a boat that will be docked in the Quad Cities. Chapman grew up in Bettendorf, and he does like to visit the place and let memories wash over him now and then.

He won’t describe the boat, but he’s glad to tell you its name: Chappy. That was his late father’s nickname.

Verlin Chapman was the president of General Life of Iowa and flew his own plane to meetings in Chicago, Minneapolis, Kansas City and so forth. At the age of 14, Chapman started going along. “I sat in the meetings and watched and listened,” Chapman said. “The greatest lesson from my dad was that the most important thing in life is people. What matters most is how you treat them.”

Which brings us back to Tom Mahoney’s age.

“There have been times when I wish the age difference between myself and Tom were greater; then I might have stayed longer,” Chapman said. “I truly believe he has earned the right to lead this company, and it would have cut his time in half if I stayed another five years.”

In the dog-eat-dog world of business, that’s a sentiment you don’t often hear.

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