Bowles national group's choice

Photo by Avan Clark

Photo by Avan Clark

ALBANY -- Somebody needs to talk with Bill Bowles about his negotiating technique.

When Quail Unlimited National Board Chairman Cameron M. Harris called Bowles, a partner in the Arlington-based Quail Country Plantation, and pretty much told Bowles he had to accept the presidency of the struggling organization, Bowles eventually agreed under two conditions.

One was that he serve only on an interim basis. And, second, he would accept no pay for the position that comes with a lot of headaches and an anual salary around $90,000.

"I have a job, a job that I love," Bowles said earlier this week. "But I couldn't turn my back on this organization, on its excellent staff, on the Quail Unlimited chapters. And I couldn't turn my back on Albany, Georgia, and the Celebrity Quail Hunt. This is my home, and this event has meant too much to this community."

So Bowles has, for the past week, served as the official interim president of Quail Unlimited, the nonprofit conservation organization founded in 1981 to help preserve the country's dwindling quail population and its declining wildlife habitat. It's a high-profile job that comes at a pivotal time in the 28-year-old organization's history.

The downward spiral of the nation's economy and some questionable accounting practices left the organization unable to meet its payroll recently, forcing an emergency two-week furlough of employees while QU's board looked for answers.

"We were at a crossroads," Bowles said. "We could just shake hands all around and walk away, or we could dig in and try to turn things around. It didn't help that there were rumors floating around that the organization had shut down, that our doors were padlocked, that no one in the organization would take a phone call.

"All the negative talk hurt our credibility, and I took it personally."

Harris, Bowles and others in the organization who believe strongly in its principles rallied to right the Quail Unlimited ship. By the time the two-week employee furlough had ended, enough money had been raised to pay staff and to continue the work of the nonprofit conservation group.

"Cammie Harris called me in the middle of all this and told me a decision had been made in my absence," Bowles said. "I asked him what it was, and he said, 'Big boy, it looks like you've got a new job.' I told him I already had a job."

After talking the offer over with his family and with Quail Country owner Dr. Paschal Brooks, the son-in-law of the plantation's founder, Tommy Newberry, Bowles took on the challenge.

"Bill is a breath of fresh air for this organization," Harris, a Charlotte, N.C., businessman, said Wednesday. "Quail Unlimited was decimated by the practices of its prior interim president (Craig Alderman), and some changes had to be made. It came down to the fact Bill and I and a couple of others were about the only ones left standing.

"But the history of this organization meant so much to us, so we busted our backs to turn things around. And I believe Bill is the right person to lead us in our efforts."

Born and raised in Albany, Bowles graduated from Deerfield-Windsor School before earning a business degree at Auburn University. Just before a 10-year run of operating his own business ended in 2002, Bowles got his first opportunity to manage a hunting property when he worked at Quail Run Plantation in Calhoun County.

In 1997 Bowles became the managing partner of Wynfield Plantation in Dougherty County, and he's held that same position at the Orvis-endorsed Quail Country Plantation since 2007.

It's no accident of fate that Bowles would be drawn to the plantation. He was given his first bird dog by famed Lee County kennel owner John Rex Gates when he was 9, and shortly after that he went on his first quail hunt with his father, Jim.

"We went on a hunt on land owned by my grandfather, and I got an opportunity that day to see what a trained adult dog could do," Bowles said. "That hunt started a fire burning in me."

One of the concessions Bowles asked for and received after accepting the position as Quail Unlimited president was that the organization open an office in Albany, home of the annual Celebrity Quail Hunt that is QU's largest fundraiser. And even while tending to the day-to-day operations at Quail Country, he's kept one eye on the business of Quail Unlimited.

"I feel that the worst is in the rearview mirror," Bowles said. "But we've got to make sure we do everything we can to assure something like this never happens again. There are some things I'm looking at, but the biggest thing we have to do is run the organization like a business.

"When all the rumors were swirling around Quail Unlimited, a lot of people were mad. They called me to complain, and I let them vent. After they did, I asked them if they just wanted to quit and walk away. I told them we didn't need to throw the baby out with the bath water. Yes, the water was really dirty, but we had to hold onto the baby."