Choose Wisely…

I’m a huge movie buff and I have many favorite movie lines that I like to use in real life. Sometimes it helps me personally, sometimes it makes others laugh and sometimes I find it good for my chamber work.

This is one of my favorite ones from the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

“But choose wisely, for while the true Grail will bring you life, the false Grail will take it from you,” said the Grail Knight. Indiana Jones chose the plainest cup …that of a carpenter. He chose wisely and lived.

As I near my retirement on June 30 after 38 years in the chamber profession, I think of this movie line to leave my advice to those who have joined me in this profession. Especially now as we enter into a post-COVID-19 era, it’s more important than ever to… “choose wisely.”

Selecting Board Chairs

What I’m referring to is the selection of your Board Chair each year. I know that selection should be made by a nominating committee, but let’s be honest—you need to place the name of the person you want as your boss on the table at the right place at the right time.

Ideally, you should have a list of the chairs you want several years in advance and line them up in your head and visually imagine it happening. Getting them ready by placing them on the right committees, getting to know them and them knowing you.

I can’t tell you how many of my counterparts over the years have lost their job as they allowed the wrong volunteer to become their chair. For the majority of my career, I’ve almost always gotten the chair I wanted, although not in the exact order, but I eventually got them. I did lose a couple of potential chairs I wanted as they moved away or couldn’t do it for variety of professional reasons. I’m very fortunate that most said yes.

Of course, I knew them well enough to the point of recommending them to the committee (which consisted of the current chair, immediate past chair and incoming chair) as they would get approved.

I strongly believe most of my success over the years is that I have had the right chair in place. The diversity represented many sectors of the business community. These included owners or senior-level executives from the following industries: restaurant, banking, law, accounting, telecom, retail, aerospace, medical, hotel, railroad, engineering, insurance, consulting, construction, commercial real estate, manufacturing, logistics, international trade, and even a superintendent of schools, vice president of a community college and a university dean.

Adjusting While Educating

As I look back on all the leaders I’ve had the pleasure to work with, there were times it was necessary to adjust to their management styles while educating them to the inter-workings of leading a chamber of commerce and representing the business community. Some chairs had more chamber experience than others. It was always a give-and-take working relationship with new leaders on goals and chamber procedures, and having the opportunity to learn first-hand their operations and challenges.

I will admit in the last 26 years in Long Beach, I never had a bad chair; some were just more challenging than others. I found that the more successful chairs were my best ones as they had little time to micromanage me. By the time they became chair, they knew me so well and they trusted me so much that they empowered me to lead the organization.

I worked hard at forging solid relationships with them and some of them are close friends today. I created a social atmosphere of past chairs, kept them close, communicated with them, and always recognized them at events.

I just can’t think of anything more important to a chamber CEO than choosing the right chair. Be “a relentless talent scout in finding the right one.” It’s essential to your job security, your well-being, and your happiness.

So, my advice as I depart this wonderful profession after almost four decades is…“Choose wisely.”

Randy Gordon, ACE, is president/CEO of the Long Beach Area (CA) Chamber and served as chair of the board of W.A.C.E. in 2002.