Balancing Responsibilities, Board Members, Staff Issues Among Biggest CEO Challenges

What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a chamber CEO and how have you overcome it?

Ken Brengle, CCE, IOM
Executive Director
Mammoth Lakes (CA) Chamber

I have been through many challenges over the years, but the most trying is the “rogue” board member. Having been CEO in a number of organizations, I have had this happen more than once. When the chair of your board nominating committee presents the name of one of the organization’s main detractors because “it is better to have them in the tent instead of out,” it is time for “all hands on deck, man your battle stations.”

You need to rally the board members who are your strongest supporters to head this off. The amount of time you will spend in your board meetings combating the negative energy this rogue board member presents will drag your organization down. Your chamber is the strongest, most positive organization in your community! Be a leadership organization (a 3C Chamber) and your detractors will have to run to catch up with you.

Sheri Heiney
Prescott (AZ) Chamber

One of the biggest challenges I have faced as a chamber professional during my 27-year career, is the need to “wear many hats” and to make sure that in all that I do, I am fulfilling the chamber’s core mission, while serving the many needs of the community. A chamber president can be drawn into many activities. I have learned to prioritize my time in community involvement, involve others on the team and sometimes say “No” to that additional meeting. Always making sure that these activities in some way serve our members and the business community.

Steve McLellan
Saskatchewan (Canada) Chamber

My greatest challenge is best described in a line I use often. “The best thing about my job is that I come to work every day and there are 100 files on my desk. The worst thing about my job is that I come to work every day and there are 100 files on my desk.”

The need to keep on top of many issues and opportunities, to know which need attention today and how not to lose track of the most important ones is a skill critical to a successful chamber CEO.

Kathy McCorry
Greater Issaquah (WA) Chamber

Some of the greatest concerns I have experienced at several chambers revolve around boards of directors. Much like training a new employee, onboarding board members is key to a chamber’s success. When a board doesn’t understand the mission, purpose and budget, it is easy for an organization to veer off course. It would have served me well if I had been able to identify leaders in the community that understood organizational visioning and fiduciary responsibilities a bit earlier on in my career.

Today, I have come to understand that my success is a direct reflection of the board of directors. And, the best way to ensure our chamber is successful in our advocacy and economic vitality is to make sure my board members are well informed, educated, fiscally responsible and focused on the 3Cs.

Robin McConnell-Trimble
Rocklin Area (CA) Chamber

I have been CEO of the chamber for 14 years. Starting in June 2005, I have been through the “great recession of 2008” and the longest economic boom in the nation’s history. Let’s face it, leading a chamber of commerce in any economy is a challenge and can be “messy.” To truly lead well in any community, you need to lead yourself first and provide consistent and persistent leadership for a diverse group of people.

So my biggest challenge? The lesson of learning to saying “no.” After 10 years of always saying “yes,” saying “no” seemed impossible. But the consistent “yes” to others left little time for family, friends and personal growth. The turning point—my young niece who said “Auntie, don’t try to steer the river.” Saying “no” has taught me to focus and advocate for the highest and best community priorities, as well as the cadence and balance of personal necessity.

Now, on my desk sits this quote from Mother Teresa, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

Robert Goltz, IOM, FCCP
Miramar Pembroke Pines (FL) Regional Chamber

The largest challenge I have faced has been the initial start of being a CEO of a chamber in a new community and/or state. For me, those jumps were Michigan to Northern New Jersey and then to South Florida. My success came from three steps I took when I entered a new chamber. First, take the first 30 days alone in your new community. Second, get entrenched in your new community: wake up early, go home late and attend everything you can in those 30 days—even weekends. Third, go with a lot of questions and a game plan on meeting the leaders and knowledge keepers in the community. This plan allows you to understand your new surroundings and allows you to provide your family a strong foundation when they arrive.

Jill Lederer, ACE
Greater Conejo Valley (CA) Chamber

The biggest professional challenge for me was re-engineering most of the chamber team I inherited when I became CEO 11 years ago. I soon realized that the existing chamber team was not going to be the one to help our business community survive the recession or thrive going forward. In fact, they actively fought any kind of substantive change. Despite this awareness, I was far too committed to that first team, trying to work with them and doing way too much myself.

With the support of one terrific team member (an Academy grad, I might add!), some incredibly supportive board members and a true belief in what our chamber could become, we gradually turned over almost the entire staff, hiring talented, innovative, energetic, happy people who truly believe in our mission. My lesson was that I waited too long to make those changes!