By Michael Jacobs / mjacobs@atljewishtimes.com

Conexx spent months searching for a new leader but in the end didn’t have to look far, promoting Chief Operating Officer Guy Tessler to president.

“We went through a rigorous search process and vetted over 50 candidates for this position,” said Joel Neuman, a Coca-Cola North America vice president and senior managing counsel in his final month as Conexx chairman. “Our process reinforced that Guy was the best person for this role, and we’re so glad he will remain with Conexx and continue to take advantage of his wealth of knowledge and incredible connections with both Israeli and American businesses.”

A Haifa native raised in Jerusalem, Tessler has been with Conexx since 2007.

“It’s a great compliment and a great recognition that I’ve been probably doing some good during the time I have been here,” Tessler said of the promotion.

He succeeds Shai Robkin as the Sandy Springs-based business connector’s top professional. Robkin replaced longtime leader Tom Glaser in summer 2013 and led the organization through last year’s name change before announcing late in 2014 that he was leaving.

Having a second change of leadership along with the name change in less than two years after Glaser was in charge for 22 years raised some doubts about Conexx’s long-term viability, Tessler said, so it’s crucial for him to provide stability while ensuring the organization’s legacy.

Conexx couldn’t risk a third search for a leader any time soon, he said, so he had urged the executive committee to make the right decision for the long term. That’s why the search process took six months.

Andre Schnabl

Andre Schnabl

“Assuming good health, my plan is to stick through it and see the organization grow and prosper,” Tessler said.

In shifting from COO to president, Tessler said his focus must change from operations to strategy. He sees a need to develop new processes and programs to increase revenue and thus increase capacity and push Conexx into “spiral growth.”

He has some ideas about where that growth should be.

Tessler said he would like to see more programs that bring together larger U.S. and Israeli corporations and expand their relationships in scope and intensity.

He wants to bring more groups on missions to Israel, both in state and regional groups serving Conexx’s Southeastern turf, and he hopes to bring more Israeli companies to programs in the Southeast.

He said one area that’s ripe for new U.S.-Israeli connections is the automotive sector, which is growing rapidly in the Southeast with companies such as Kia, Hyundai, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo.

“This is a trend that is happening, and there are Israeli companies that serve the automotive industry,” Tessler said. He said some of them are operating in the Southeast, such as ARKAL Automotive in Auburn, Ala., and A.L. Industries in Spartanburg, S.C.

Tessler said Conexx is evaluating its staffing based on budget and needs, so it’s not clear whether he will hire a new COO. “Obviously we are a small organization, so it’s all about teamwork and being able to share responsibilities.”

The team, which includes Vice President Barry Swartz, marketing coordinator Julie Jacobson, Israel representative Bracha Shlomo and office manager Shelley Samach, will have help from former Chairman Andre Schnabl, who has agreed to serve as a strategic adviser to help explain Conexx’s mission and vision.

Schnabl has credibility in the business and Jewish communities and is a strong spokesman for Israel, Tessler said. He expects Schnabl to help attract funding, grow membership, and get more young adults and women involved.

“I think this is a great asset,” Tessler said.