Longevity Does Not ‘Just Happen’; Invest in Professional Development Programs

Marnie Uhl, ACE, IOM

As I look forward to celebrating my 20-year anniversary in the chamber business, I am acutely aware that longevity does not “just happen.” It comes due to an investment of time, money, energy and passion for working in a great, albeit challenging industry.

How many of us start out as a volunteer, staff person or a one-person chamber? And what does it take to make it through and on to a successful chamer career?

Invest in Yourself

Successful chamber executives have something in common: investment! They invest in themselves by taking advantage of professional development opportunities, engaging with fellow executives away from day-to-day operations, and volunteering and serving on professional association boards.

Each of these activities surrounds the chamber executive with a circle of support for success. And whether you are a small chamber or a large chamber, investment is critical to keep up with this ever-changing, growing, and exciting business world.

Where to Start

Here are some thoughts for longevity and a successful career:

• Join your local state chamber association. This is a must do. It will be the organization that will keep you involved in your particular state issues and requirements for business. This also will connect you to your peers in the industry and will probably offer the easiest and most affordable educational programs, workshops and conferences.

But also join a larger association to extend your opportunities for learning and meeting with other chamber professionals. I have found that membership in W.A.C.E. has made my professional circle much larger, as well as affording me many more educational opportunities and the advantage to obtain a professional designation. Not to be overlooked is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives.

• Attend conferences! The benefits are immeasurable, both to your personally and to your chamber. It is usually here that you will be updated on chamber trends, new programs and ways to stay innovative and relevant. And do not shortchange yourself; budget for attendance at Institute or W.A.C.E. Academy. These programs will definitely lead you on a path for success.

• Serve in leadership. Each organization has a board of directors and your investment in time to serve on the board will bring you valuable connections, insight on planning and development, and governance experience.

Serving on our chamber association boards and as a volunteer has made me a better, more valuable and dynamic chamber executive.

• Cultivate friendships as you go along the way. Seek out mentors and be a mentor to others. Join others for conversations and make new friends. Take advantage of those spontaneous get togethers over coffee or cocktails. Networking is just as important to us as it is that we preach to our members!

• Money and time are two of a chamber executive’s most valuable assets and ones we must invest in to be the best, and to have a long and successful career.

Time is on my side. I am not ready to retire and look forward to many more years of this wonderful industry! Meanwhile, I will lead my chamber to greatness as the Catalyst, Convener and Champion for our business members and community.

Marnie Uhl, ACE, IOM, is president/CEO of the Prescott Valley (AZ) Chamber.