I often wonder why the salaries of chamber CEOs frequently seem to lag behind those of economic development corporations (EDC), convention/visitor bureaus (CVB) and other association executives.
I’m sure there are exceptions, but for the most part, compensation for chamber executives just hasn’t kept up. There even are chambers out there that were paying their executive more 10 years ago than they are paying the CEO today.
I guess my real question on this CEO salary gap issue is: WHY?
One theory is that those more focused, single-purpose organizations, like EDCs and CVBs, provide more measurable value.
While that may be the answer, another explanation that I’ve heard is: the perception of chambers of commerce is the problem.
With chambers being so consumed by doing the “soft stuff” like ribbon cuttings, parties, parades and pageants—the dreaded 3 Ps—fewer true CEO skills are needed, resulting in lower salaries.
Decades ago, I heard a story and collected this quote from a top business person about the chamber exec in his city: “He’s great at public relations, but I’d like to see more ‘chief executing’ out of John over at the chamber.”
In some communities when there’s “a piano to move”—the BIG Cause—the chamber leads the way and is ready to make the heavy lift.
In others, the chamber and the business community are nowhere to be found and seem to excel at avoiding lifting anything heavier than a huge pair of scissors.
So answer me this: are your chamber’s leaders ready to answer the bell and play a leadership role on the tough issues?
YES…the BIG Cause issues can be controversial, and, maybe even confrontational, but leading as a 3C (catalyst, convener and champion) chamber CAN pay dividends.
Believe me, there are businesses that will invest BIG dollars in the organizations that are willing to fight and get things done. But it’s not enough to just be in the game; you also need to be able to clearly communicate what you’re doing and the value of what you’re doing.
AND…then you also need to have the guts to be able to ask for major investment dollars.
For the chamber CEO to be seen as a leader, the chamber MUST be seen as a leading organization. If the chamber’s value is known and is on the rise, the chances of the CEO’s compensation increasing goes up dramatically—a fact that is backed up by our annual CEO salary survey responses.
Some chambers may never embrace the 3Cs and lead the charge on controversial issues out of the fear that they will lose members.
To those who have that school of thought, I say I’d rather have someone drop their membership because of something we did, than to never be a member because they perceive the chamber as not doing anything that really matters.
I’ve always said that you can be whatever kind of chamber you want to be, but as the Holy Grail Knight in the movie “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade” said, “Choose wisely.”
If you’re a chamber CEO, your compensation may depend on it.
Dave Kilby is the president and CEO of W.A.C.E., and is executive vice president of corporate affairs at the California Chamber.