Benson takes on chief strategic officer title.

The Country Music Assn. board of directors has created two new positions for longtime executive director Ed Benson and associate executive director Tammy Genovese that will result in a changing of the guard. On January 1, 2006, Benson will assume the newly created post of chief strategic officer while Genovese will become the CMA's first chief operating officer, handling CMA's day-to-day executive functions. Both will report directly to the CMA Executive Committee.

"I'm a lot younger looking than I actually am," quips 60-year-old Benson, who says he approached the board to initiate a strategy for his retirement. Benson will remain full-time with the CMA in his new post for the next two and a half years, then plans to work another year and a half at a reduced schedule.

Benson, a 25-year veteran at the CMA, says the changes will facilitate an "orderly transition" as he passes the torch to Genovese, who has been at CMA for 20 years. "I have big shoes to fill," says Genovese, citing Benson and former CMA executive director Jo Walker Meador.

"We're really fortunate to have Ed in the position to stay," says CMA chairman of the board Kix Brooks, one half of Arista duo Brooks & Dunn. "Tammy is perfectly capable of making the move. If Ed wanted to leave, she could take over this role and do great. I have no doubt about that."

However, he sees Benson's new role as crucial to the CMA's continued growth, especially in light of the opportunities created by moving the CMA Awards to New York for one year, and the growth in the CMA Music Festival. "We've gone from the [Tennessee State] Fairgrounds to the coliseum and now with a television show," he said of the festival. "With the growth in this organization and the initiatives taking place, more are opportunities are coming through this door every day. To expect one person to run this organization, and have to go out front and gather up all the initiatives, it's asking too much. We are really fortunate to be in a position where we have a very capable person to step up in the running of the organization and also a person with as much experience as Ed Benson to take on all these new initiatives coming through the door. It's a place we've never been before with leadership and with opportunities."

The CMA is currently gearing up for its annual awards show to be held for the first time outside Nashville. The event takes places Nov. 15 in New York's Madison Square Garden.