Chamber Leaders Share Wisdom They Wished They Knew When Starting Their CEO Careers

What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started as a chamber CEO?

Lance Beck
President/CEO
Greater Spokane Valley (WA) Chamber

A month in I can honestly say that I wish someone would have suggested scheduling set office hours for the first couple months.

One of the biggest challenges early in my time as CEO has been finding enough time to take care of the general management tasks for the organization. Initially, there is so much focus on getting out to meet the membership and partners in the community that you just run out of time in the day. Finding a balance between that and getting a good grasp of the day-to-day business is key.

Jake Mangas
President/CEO
Redding (CA) Chamber

I am fortunate to lead my hometown chamber of commerce. I have known some of the people in positions of influence within local government my entire life. I have seen them in the grocery store and played Little League with their children. They would never be anything but forthright in their care for this community, right? Not always. In fact, there have been a few occasions over my three years in chamber work that I have been surprised that sometimes what is spoken by local politicians and governmental leaders as Gospel truth, is in fact at variance with reality. I have grown to realize that as chamber CEOs ours is a position of great influence as well, and we play a crucial role as a watchdog for the business community. Though my parents raised me to be trusting of my friends and neighbors, it is vitally important, especially in the sometimes opaque waters of local government, to question everything!

Pam Ridler, CCE
President/CEO
Castle Rock (CO) Chamber

Being in the chamber industry for more than 25 years, I’ve seen numerous changes. As we have increased our political engagement to enhance the chamber’s value to the business community, I’ve discovered the need to develop a “thicker skin”—especially since social media has become the typical method for people to give their opinions.

The current practice of a few is to hide behind this communication method and personally attack people rather than to give feedback in a face-to-face encounter regarding issues or candidates. I have found local business leaders have become more supportive of my chamber and myself as our advocacy efforts have increased.

Nancy Hoffman Vanyek, ACE
CEO
Greater San Fernando Valley (CA) Chamber

One of the biggest hurdles I faced early in my career was a lack of confidence. Even if I had great ideas and valuable insight, I sometimes felt I didn’t have enough experience to speak up. But a chamber colleague offered me advice that changed my perspective: “You were hired for a reason; people saw something in you. They want your input. They want your ideas. They want your leadership.”

Having a fresh perspective is incredibly valuable. When you’re too close to a project or too entrenched in specific processes, you can’t always look at things from a high level. When you’re new, you can identify blind spots and inefficiencies, and come up with new and creative solutions.

It’s much easier for others to believe in you once you believe in yourself. If you speak up when you have an insightful comment or idea, you’ll not only make yourself look good—you’ll likely unlock new opportunities for yourself.

Simon Brackley
President/CEO
Santa Fe (NM) Chamber

I thought I was a pretty decent multitasker before I joined the chamber, but had no idea just how many hats I would be wearing—manager, lobbyist, fundraiser, community cheerleader, business adviser, spokesperson, pollster, volunteer, connector, journalist, radio host, pragmatist and bottlewasher!

Mike Neal
President/CEO
Tulsa (OK) Regional Chamber

I wish I had realized the importance of teamwork and collaboration. In the beginning of my career, I felt it was incumbent on me to do everything myself. Since then I’ve realized that the important thing is to move our communities and regions forward, and that as a chamber CEO, you cannot do this by yourself. You must obtain ownership and buy-in from so many others, including your volunteer leaders, the broader business community, elected officials at all levels, and numerous community partners. It’s not about us individually winning as chamber leaders. You have to give the credit away. It’s about moving our cities, counties and regions forward, with everybody contributing to, and sharing in, the successes.

Kara Stoller
CEO
Steamboat Springs (CO) Chamber

I wish I’d known just how many meetings I would go to. I’m still trying to figure out how to have fewer meetings on my calendar, but it is great to work on so many projects in our community.