Taking a Political Position, Maintaining Balance Among Challenges of Being a Chamber CEO

In your opinion, what is the hardest thing about being a successful chamber CEO?

Scott Ashton
Oceanside (CA) Chamber

Maintaining balance is my greatest challenge as a CEO. I must make sure I am meeting the current needs of the organization, while maintaining a long-term view of opportunities we need to pursue over the next 3–5 years.

Internal versus external balance also is critical. I need to develop and support a staff that serves our business community effectively, while simultaneously giving appropriate attention to our members and policymakers.

I must continually assess what I should take on myself and what should be delegated to staff, so I can be a visible presence for the chamber in our community.

Lorraine Clarno, ACE
Beaverton Area (OR) Chamber

We do so much! “We,” as an organization, and “We” as successful chamber CEOs. That in and of itself is hard; however, communicating the value of what we do and translating into clear and concise terms that people can understand and invest in continues to be the hardest day-to-day challenge. We used to try and get 2 persons deep in each business member’s organization to feel reasonably confident the retention would hold. Recently, all six engrained contacts at the corporate offices of Fred Meyer were lost to retirement and all communications ceased. It took over a year to reconnect and we are still rebuilding the relationship.

Anne Glasscock, ACE
Kaufman (TX) Chamber

In short—“keeping the main thing the main thing.” Once the strategic plan is in place and working, it is often hard to stay on track and not follow rabbit trails to other great projects that we could also do. Because we can always do better, when new ideas are presented it is natural to think that we can easily add that project in. When our staff attends training and comes back with amazing ideas, it’s challenging to stay on course and not jump into all the great ideas they bring back.

The same can be said for projects the city or a developer has on their front burner and thinks should be high priority for the chamber as well.

Gary Plummer
Wichita (KS) Regional Chamber

One of my toughest challenges in running a chamber is getting past the daily whirlwind and finding the time to “work on the chamber.” It’s not unique to our profession because I hear CEO’s from all walks of life express the same challenge. Our day almost never goes the way we expect it to due to a variety of reasons. If you’re customer-focused, you are probably going to drop everything and try to help a member or partner solve their problem

Our best way of overcoming this challenge at the Wichita Chamber is to set aside time for regular executive staff conversations where we can hunker down from the whirlwind. That time helps put all of our work and priorities into better focus.

Amber Smith
Tucson Metro (AZ) Chamber

The hardest part of being a large chamber in a pool of 1 million residents is at times we are pitted against the broader community when we take political positions, support initiatives or endorse candidates. In the interests of creating pro-business policies, we remain committed to taking strong positions because growing businesses creates the means to build communities. Business issues should be considered apolitical.

We are the community champion to create an environment where all of our businesses thrive, and our whole community prospers. It is difficult for the broader community to understand our mission and make that distinction.