Last week marked another significant milestone in my tenure here at the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce as I celebrated my third anniversary in my role as president & CEO of this remarkable organization. These past 36 months have been incredible because of the contributions by our Members, the dedication of the talented staff at the Chamber and the overwhelming support we receive from the community. I normally don’t like to do this, but I want to share just a little bit of how far this organization has come, where we plan on going, and why I am certain we are on the path of continued success.
When I took over this role in May of 2009, our community, economy and Chamber were being pressed and challenged like never before. Area and regional tax receipts (a measure of economic activity) were declining or slowing precipitously, property values were falling, financial and capital markets were deteriorating, lending for small businesses was disappearing and most troubling of all - unemployment was growing at a rapid pace. New business start-ups were at record lows and small businesses were closing – an environment that is toxic for Chambers – so I knew we were in for a tough slog. Simply put we were in a very difficult financial condition. Keeping existing revenues, let alone raising additional funds, was strenuous.
The Chamber was in a tough spot and I knew the Chamber, like all of our Member businesses, had tough decisions to make. However, any business journal of management class tells you that you can’t grow your business by cutting your core customers. We needed to keep our loyal customers and find a way to attract new businesses to our organization.
Through my 30-year affiliation with the Chamber, I’ve come to realize that a vast majority of our Members most utilize the benefits of the Chamber membership during the start-up or reinvention phase of the business. Members also reengage during times of economic difficulty or when new customers or revenues are elusive.
In a way, the Chamber is a supplemental insurance policy – our programs, networks, events and marketing opportunities – have to be available and accessible to every Member when they most need them and at a time and place of their choosing.
You, our Members, had invested your time, talents and treasure with the Chamber through the good times, so while we faced arduous organizational challenges, we needed to press on and find ways to deliver a return on your membership investment. The Chamber had made a promise to you and my job was to deliver on our word.
We continued our industry leading advocacy for the business community, fought against harmful regulation such as a prohibition of banks in the downtown and dangerous increases in taxes. We highlighted the need for reforms of public pension and workers’ compensation systems and were the leading advocate for Navistar’s relocation to Lisle.
I also knew we couldn’t cut any core membership, committee or networking programs. In fact during this period we launched several new initiatives and groups. Some of them have been very successful; some of them have room for improvement. But, through it all, we’ve remained committed to the spirit of entrepreneurship that permeates through our membership, and we keep trying to reinvent, renew and refresh our offerings.
A few weeks ago we launched our annual membership satisfaction survey. (Click here to take the survey or visit http://naper.cc/HYa4jP if you haven’t taken it yet.) I know we haven’t gotten it right every step of the way, but it’s only through your honest and open feedback that we can improve and continually recalibrate the Chamber’s programs and products.
Reflecting on these past three years, it’s been quite the trek. So while there have certainly been a few stress-filled days and several low points, we’ve emerged as a stronger organization, better positioned to provide you a return on your membership investment. The Chamber is in strong financial shape and is continuing to improve every month. Our membership has stabilized and we’ve had positive growth in this key metric.
Along the way we’ve celebrated some amazing wins too. Participating in the announcement of the successful resolution of Navistar’s relocation to Lisle was an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Achieving the prestigious 5-Star Accreditation Ranking in November of 2011 from the U.S. Chamber reaffirmed that we are one of the most elite chambers in the nation.
While accolades, awards and milestones mean a lot to me, what makes me most proud are the connections, stories and positive energy I witness every day at our events, meetings and programs. I’ve been amazed at how Members have worked together to survive and grow in this difficult environment. So many Members have shared a positive story of how someone they met at a Chamber event helped their business. Hearing that an attendee learned something at a program and it helped their career is one of the most rewarding experiences a Chamber executive can have.
The optimism of our business community is on the rise and for that reason, I remain certain that our best days as an organization are ahead of us. We will continue to measure our success by your success, prosperity and growth. We will continue to work on your behalf and leverage the unique talents of our membership to create opportunities for individual achievement and success.
It’s been quite a journey thus far and I remain humbled at the opportunity to serve as president & CEO of your Chamber during such an important time in our business community. Preparing for our 100 year anniversary is a humbling and exciting task – and you know that opportunity only comes around once every century!
Thank you for your continued membership and support.
President & CEO
Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce