Janesville’s business community was dealt a terrible blow by the untimely death this week of Michael Osborne, the newly hired but not yet seated new CEO of Forward Janesville, from injuries he sustained in a motorcycle crash. At about 10:45 p.m. June 24—mere hours after the announcement that Osborne would take the helm of the city’s business association—an oncoming car swerved into his lane. He braked hard and was thrown from his motorcycle. Despite wearing a helmet, Osborne, 50, succumbed to his injuries six days later.

The loss is greatest for Osborne’s family in Batavia, Illinois, where the crash occurred. He is survived by Kathie, his wife of 27 years, their three children, Annie, Tristan and Brooke, and three grandchildren. Friends and family will celebrate Osborne’s life this afternoon at a bar in Geneva, Illinois. The crowd that gathers for this occasion will mourn the loss of a man who achieved much over a lifetime that ended far too soon.

How Osborne might have changed Janesville with his extensive experience in manufacturing and investment banking will never be known. Osborne had only just introduced himself to the community, yet he had greatly impressed the members of the search committee of Forward Janesville.

Among them was Gazette Publisher Orestes Baez, who helped vet Osborne for the position that had taken a year to fill. Baez said he found Osborne to be “instantly genuine, smart and engaging. I believe he would have helped Janesville move to the next level.”

Osborne certainly would have taken Forward Janesville in a new direction, if only because the position has been held for the past 20 years by John Beckord. By all accounts, Beckord successfully led Janesville’s business community through decades of change and set the stage for the city’s next chapter and a new identity.

Beckord brought a background in association management and economic development to the job—and to the Rock County 5.0 initiative. In contrast, Osborne’s resume was replete with executive positions at automotive, electronics and technology companies. He held senior operational roles at Ford and General Motors in Canada, suggesting he might have insight into how a community like Janesville remakes itself after major car manufacturers take their leave.

Accepting the Forward Janesville job meant Osborne leaving his position at Mirus Capital Advisors as an adviser on mergers and raising capital investment in the manufacturing sector.

With that diverse background, Osborne’s arrival could have significantly shifted the focus and thrust of Forward Janesville from catering to its existing member businesses to becoming a more aggressive recruiter of new companies to the city. Of course the organization has always endeavored to do both. It’s just sad to speculate what opportunities the city may have lost, along with Osborne, since he was denied a chance to make his mark here.

That’s a path too dark and unproductive to contemplate though. Forward Janesville officials are understandably upset by the tragic loss of Osborne as their new leader, and they have expressed deep sympathy for his family.

Nevertheless, “forward” is the first half of the organization’s name, and a search for a CEO must start anew. Given that the recent search uncovered a stellar candidate, confidence is high they can identify another.

The city’s chamber of commerce would do well to seek the caliber of businessman Osborne appeared to be at a moment when Janesville is ready to capitalize on such leadership.

“Exuding optimism has become central to Forward Janesville’s credo and its strategy,” Amy Goldstein observed in her award-winning 2017 book “Janesville: An American Story.” Finding its way back to optimism is what the city’s chamber of commerce will no doubt do after this terrible setback. Janesville remains worthy of a man like Osborne, may he rest in peace.


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