New technology now makes it simple and inexpensive to meet and collaborate with coworkers all around the world. Your inbox vanished from the corner of your desk and reappeared in that phone you carry everywhere, which means you can’t leave those messages behind when you head home from the office.
In addition to technology, generational shifts are reshaping the workplace, and the effects of these changes are just beginning.
Workplace culture is being turned on its head by the arrival of the newest generation of workers. You may know them as Millennials, Generation Y, Digital Natives, or First Globals. No matter the moniker, one thing is for sure: they are changing the face of work in ways equal to the Baby Boomer and Generation X cohorts who came before them. But unique aspects of their up-bringing (such as sustained prosperity and progress, and terrorism as the new global threat) make this generation very different from those who came before.
Recent polling and research by the likes of Zogby and Pew have established comprehensive findings about the attitudes and opinions of Millennials and how they differ from their predecessors. The newest generation is more connected (Instagram), more indebted (student loans now exceed consumer debt), and less politically active than other generations. Broadly speaking, they are fiscally conservative and socially liberal, making partisan labels difficult to apply. While they are fiercely independent, they have closer relationships with their parents than any Gen Xer could imagine. They are passionate about making a difference and contributing to their community, which many define as Planet Earth.
While some of these findings may correlate to the “idealism of youth,” there are other trends that are undeniably changing the workplace in profound ways.
Location First: Researchers such as urban theorist Richard Florida have told us that the “creative class” will find the place they want to live first, and then worry about finding a job there. This makes community development and quality of life a top priority for regions that want to compete for scarce talent. Employers, chambers, and local governments are teaming up to cultivate the kind of experiences and opportunities that will attract the new generation of highly mobile workers. But don’t be something you’re not – more than anything else, Millennials want authenticity.
Untethered to the Desk: New technology frees us from the office. In fact, young entrepreneurs find settings such as coffee shops or co-working spaces (see the Millennial Glossary sidebar) preferable to traditional offices. They can get calls, email, and documents on their mobile devices, and attend webinars or Skype calls on their laptop anywhere they have a wi-fi signal. If you don’t offer your employees remote access to email and files, some job-seekers might keep looking for an employer who does.
Flexible Schedules: Given their embrace of creative places and the power of mobile technology, a top consideration for young workers choosing an employer is a flexible schedule. Late mornings, mid-day yoga classes, early evening happy hours, and late night brainstorms are normal for Millennials (not usually all in one day!), and none of these have to get in the way of productivity. Their passion for results and “making a difference” means they are just as motivated to get things done as any other worker; they just want to get it done at the time that is convenient for them.
At ACCE’s Key Issues Summit in Burlington, Vt., in May, leaders from chambers across the country discussed and debated the best ways to engage this growing demographic group in our important work. Key insights include the distinction between the needs of a young professional (skill development, networking) and a young entrepreneur (start-up capital, professional services). Catering to these groups with specially designed programs and outreach through Young Professional (YP) Networks offers a portal for Millennials to safely enter the chamber world.
Another important point was to make sure these up-and-comers don’t get stuck at this entry point. They have a lot to offer, but feel the need to have “ownership” in their projects and work. Developing intentional pathways or tracks into additional chamber volunteer and leadership opportunities – including seats on boards of directors – will ensure that what starts as a useful resource for a young business owner can grow into a lasting connection with mutual benefits.
Whether you meet these trends with glee or dread, one thing is certain: they aren’t going away. Chambers that figure out how to incorporate these realities into their work culture will leverage the immense power and energy of the next generation of employees and leaders. Chambers that don’t will find it very difficult to attract them at all.
The Millennial Glossary
Autonomy – Identifying the destination, but not the route to reach it.
Co-working Space – A desk in an office for a person without an office.
Slacktivism – Supporting a cause or advancing a movement by doing #virtuallynothing.
LifeHack – Solving a problem using what’s available at hand, a la MacGyver.
Facetime/Skype – Remember the video phone from the Jetsons? It’s like that.
Fail Fast – Just do it; it’s better to try, fail, learn, and try again, than never to try in the first place.
The Cloud – Access to all of your music, cat videos, and selfies from any device, anywhere.
Innovate – Using wild ideas to solve the world’s problems.
Disruptive – When everything changes all at once. You’re welcome.
Crowd-Funding – Financing your startup with money from many small investors. In essence, digital begging.
Ear buds – You might call them headphones.
Tablet – It doesn’t have anything to do with medicine; the light, flat wireless computers that are taking over the world.
Drone – Small flying machines; in the Army they shoot missles, but here they are used to shoot video.
Josh Dukelow is V.P., public policy and leadership, at the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce & Industry in Appleton, Wis.
Globalization, climate change, the knowledge economy, barbell-shaped demographic distributions, digital technologies—all dynamic and impactful, shaping tomorrow with a certain amount of urgency. And all ignored at our peril or embraced to our benefit.
All true, yet not new. All of these headline-drivers have been with us for decades.
Millennials aren’t new, either. True, their relative youth makes them natural early adopters of the new, whether it’s technology, fashion, or slang. But, it’s worth remembering that “early” doesn’t equal “only,” just like “disruptive technology” doesn’t always mean “progress” or “end of life as we know it.”
The point of this word play isn’t to suggest that Millennials are a media-hyped, pop culture bubble, because 76 million Americans (vs. 54 million Gen Xers) are a force to be reckoned with. And they are, in fact, quite different in many ways from the Gen Xers and Boomers who preceded them. But, being different from your predecessors isn’t unique. Xers differ from Boomers. Boomers differ from the Greatest Generation.
Being different isn’t what makes Millennials so important to us in the economic growth, community stewardship profession. It’s how they are different, magnified by their sheer number that makes them one of our profession’s central challenges and opportunities.
Millennials aren’t merely “net natives.” They’re also climate change natives, globalization natives, gender and racial equality natives, and a bunch of other “natives” as well.
Their values, so brilliantly captured and explained by John Zogby in his latest book (with co-author Joan Snyder Kuhl) The First Globals: Understanding, Managing, and Unleashing Our Millennial Generation, may differ from their elders and may not yet be persuasively represented in traditional political and cultural settings. But those values, leavened by increasing career experience and family responsibilities, will prevail.
Matured Millennial values are the inevitable outcome of our nation’s latest battle between the threatened status quo and fearful agents of change, currently fought in proxy arenas of faith, culture, science and politics. Predecessor generations continue to struggle with worsening polarization—and to vote our nation into a form of policy paralysis.
Millennials have remarkable consensus on some of their predecessors’ most heated arguments, while their own fissures are harder to identify. As they progress more deeply into the voting age population, they will, through the simple mathematics of market share, increase their impact. Issues now considered electoral hot buttons will be tipped into the settled category, at least for a decade or two.
Their size makes it essential that we understand and reach out to Millennials – although not at the expense of the other two generations in our three-generational culture. Boomers and Xers must adapt to the forces that have shaped the Millennials because they’re reshaping us. At the same time, we need to help the “natives” navigate the “legacy economy” while working to integrate all three into the larger workforce, marketplace and society.
In a recent meeting convened by ACCE in Burlington, Vt., (with a great job of hosting by Lake Champlain Regional Chamber CEO Tom Torti!), 30 CEOs and young professional staffers spent a weekend with provocative thought leaders. We met some exceptional young professional leaders from Hartford and Burlington, and engaged in a series of valuable, candid conversations. A short, but powerful list of ideas about the relationship between Millennials and chambers—currently somewhat tenuous in many communities—emerged.
Thanks to notes from ACCE’s Ian Scott, here are the group’s consensus conclusions in bold type. My perspective on context follows each:
Early career individuals are stronger in personal connections than professional ones. The chamber offers the opportunity to accelerate the network development process, and provide facilitated access to specific people of interest. One-on-one connectivity, often called “concierge service,” is effective and necessary to help overcome members feeling like outsiders and the chamber being perceived as irrelevant.
The term “net native” is especially relevant here. Social media are enabled by technology; they aren’t the technology itself. Culture change within our organizations, not merely training in techniques, requires role models who live and work with social media as the norm, not the newfangled.
That means fewer repetitive announcements, less telling and selling, and a whole lot more questions, comments, bite-sized messages and immediate responses.
We all process information and express thoughts and feelings differently. Today’s digital technology options let us choose among media. Millennials will use their smart phones for Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook postings, while Boomers will use theirs for email and telephone calls. (Quaint, right?) Our organizations need to fluently use all of these channels – and more.
While the customer may not actually always be right, huge market segments always matter hugely. Reframing priorities through a soon-to-be-dominant segment makes survival sense. In order to reframe without pandering or condescending, see the next point.
An organized group with a formalized role that can see a direct connection between decisions, actions and results is an effective way to engage Millennials. Millennial frustration with process may simply be youthful impatience; “endless” discussion may actually be thoughtful exploration of options. (Or am I unduly affected by my own millennial YP kids?) It may be that too many of us are too process-focused, too risk-averse, and too devoted to engaging the biggest investors to fully appreciate the disruptive change that the Millennials are bringing. Engaging them on their own terms, but on our own initiative, is a healthy way to be inclusive, responsive and open to innovation.
Aspirations, appetite for risk, knowledge needs and much more differentiate YP’s and YE’s. Like gender or ethnicity, common “Y” characteristics don’t equal uniform interests and needs.
Millennials seem to have the planetary perspective that we’re all in this together. That’s why Zogby and Snyder Kuhl call them “First Globals.” Change driven by demographics is inevitable. A chamber’s ability to help direct the resulting economic and social outcomes is not.
Do we Boomers and Gen Xers “get it” the way Millennials do? Do we welcome them into our culture and leadership, or do we make them wait? Do we embrace their expectations or fight harder to prevail in a chamber version of the politics of base mobilization? And, just as importantly, do we engage Millennials in ways that allow them to learn as well as lead? Do we adopt a deliberately developmental approach to their inclusion in our membership, while respecting and celebrating the contributions they are already quite capable of making?
These choices, and many others, are ours to make. Those fortunate enough to have participated in the Burlington conversation left energized. All of us, in every community and every chamber, have the opportunity to kick off our own conversations.
Let’s get started.
Chris Bruhl is president and CEO of The Business Council of Fairfield County in Stamford, Conn. He can be reached at email@example.com or 203-359-3220.
In February, 24 students graduated from a charter high school in the New Orleans area. This feat may sound unremarkable, but to teachers, family members and especially the graduates, it’s extraordinary. “A year or two years prior, they thought they had no future,” says Tom Meyer, chairman of the Jefferson Chamber Foundation in Metairie, La.
The future is brighter for those graduates and their fellow students because they enrolled in Jefferson Chamber Foundation Academy. JCFA is believed to be the first—and perhaps the only—charter school in the nation founded by a chamber of commerce. And it’s not your typical charter school: 57 percent of its students previously have dropped out of high school. The rest have skipped so many classes at other schools that they are “one step away” from dropping out, says Millie Harris, JCFA’s executive director.
Many students must shoulder adult responsibilities, making it difficult to attend traditional schools, according to Harris. Some are young parents; others are breadwinners or caretakers for siblings or parents. Students may have an imprisoned parent or one threatened with deportation.
At JCFA, the average student would be an 18-year-old sophomore at a traditional high school. Once they fall behind, it can seem overwhelming to catch up while juggling other responsibilities, says Harris. Students face other academic challenges. On average, they read at the 8th grade level and test at the 6th grade level in math.
Many chambers work closely with local schools to provide support and resources, but there’s a huge difference between supporting a school and starting one. What compelled the Jefferson Chamber to launch a school completely different from others in its area?
It began with a federal grant. In 2007, Metairie was one of six cities nationwide to receive a Multiple Education Pathway Blueprint grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. Cities of certain sizes were eligible to receive funds if their high school dropout rate was 40 percent or higher. In Metairie, the Chamber Foundation sought and was awarded the grant money, totaling nearly $500,000. The grant was designed to allow cities to “blueprint” and implement a system to reconnect dropouts to a variety of education pathways. Of the six cities receiving grants, Metairie was the only one with a chamber or chamber foundation as the lead agency. In other cases, community colleges, workforce boards and an education foundation administered the grants.
At the time, Larry Dale, then executive director of the Jefferson Chamber Foundation, hired Harris as grant coordinator. As part of the process, the Foundation assembled a coalition of community leaders, reviewed data, organized focus groups, researched best practices for dropout prevention and recovery, and created alliances with organizations serving students. Harris also visited a charter high school in Lafayette, La., that boasted a strong track record of graduating “over-age and under-credited” youth. Along the way, it became clear to Dale, Harris and others that an alternative high school would be a valuable addition to their community. In July 2009, the Foundation submitted a letter of intent to the Jefferson Parish School Board to apply for a charter.
It was helpful that the Chamber’s Education Committee already had a strong working relationship with the school district, says Harris. And there was growing awareness in the business community of “a connection between a strong education system and increasing economic development,” she says. At the same time, the New Orleans area was still reeling from Hurricane Katrina, and charter schools were gaining traction as a way to replace demolished schools, explains Meyer, an investment advisor with Benefit Planning Group.
Even so, school board members in Jefferson Parish were not open to charter schools, says Dale, in part because they feared losing funding from the state. (At the time, the parish had only one charter school, a middle school for students with discipline problems.) Some charter school critics fear they will serve an elite community, siphoning students from other schools.
Such arguments were not relevant in this case, chamber leaders insisted. The school they envisioned would serve students who had already left or likely would leave the school system. Despite heated debate and opposition from the local teachers’ union, the charter application was approved. JCFA opened in August 2010 with 89 students.
Why did chamber leaders and staff work so hard to pursue this alternative? “Education is economic development,” explains Dale. A region “can’t grow unless you have a decent workforce, and businesses don’t want to locate here unless you have a decent workforce.” At the same time, high school dropouts unable to find employment “may turn to other means to survive,” he says. Indeed, studies have shown that 75 percent of state prison inmates and 59 percent of federal inmates are high school dropouts, according to the National Dropout Prevention/Network. “Think how much more it costs to house someone in prison than to educate them,” says Dale.
Todd Murphy, current president of the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, says, “I think any chamber that is going to be relevant has to be actively involved in public policy and advocacy.” As an outgrowth of that, the Jefferson Chamber—through its Foundation, Education and Government Committees and PAC—has worked to reform public education in Jefferson Parish. Their efforts, including founding JCFA and drafting people to run for the school board, “makes us relevant as a chamber and not just a networking group,” he says. The chamber also lobbies the state legislature on education issues.
JCFA, which serves youth ages 15 to 21, was designed to meet the unique needs of its students. School meets year-round from 9 a.m. until 12:30 p.m., with occasional holiday breaks. The shortened day makes it easier for students to hold jobs, says Harris. The school also offers an optional class period at the beginning and end of the day. By attending those periods, students “bank” school time just as employees earn comp time.
The school relies on a computer-based curriculum, allowing motivated students to catch up more quickly than they could at a traditional school. Harris says the curriculum is “very rigorous,” and knows this from experience: she enrolled herself in a chemistry class that was “no joke.” One teacher and at least one tutor are available in every classroom to offer one-on-one assistance. Students with access to computers may complete coursework, but not tests, outside of school.
The Academy does not own buildings or computers. The school’s initial location rents space on a community college campus. A second location, opened in 2013, leases space from the University of New Orleans. This strategy is cost-effective and provides “a clear pathway to post-secondary education,” says Harris.
One of JCFA’s advantages is its ability to confer a Jefferson Parish high school diploma, not a GED. A GED is not always viewed in the same light as a traditional diploma, says Dale, who is now executive director of the Louisiana Business Leadership Network and a member of the Jefferson Parish School Board. (He was recruited by the chamber’s PAC to run for the school board seat.). He says it can be difficult for teenagers to adjust to GED classes alongside much older adults.
The chamber and its foundation are not involved in the daily operation of the school. Harris, administrators and teachers report to the school’s Board of Governance. Funding is derived from the same formula as that of other public schools. (JCFA receives additional funds from public and private grants and donations.)
Even so, the chamber’s influence and support are invaluable, say the school’s leaders and proponents. “The chamber and foundation are very important in helping the community understand why programs like ours are important,” says Harris. Chamber members, including those involved in Leadership Jefferson, visit the school and discuss their careers and what employers look for in employees. Chamber businesses have offered internships to students and hired graduates. “Our job now is to connect the business community to the school,” says Meyer.
“We also use the chamber as a voice for education standards,” says Harris. “Just hearing from us only goes so far.” The Jefferson Parish school district is the state’s largest. “When members of the legislature hear from our chamber, they listen,” she explains. The chamber provides connections and resources locally; it is currently working to make public bus fares more affordable for students. Additionally, chamber members helped JCFA find and foster relationships with its landlords.
The Academy and the Chamber Foundation are “intertwined” in other ways, explains Meyer. The Foundation Board approves membership on the school’s Board of Governance. It reviews the school’s budget and its leases, and brings grant opportunities to Harris. That’s not all. The Foundation provides scholarships to graduates planning to further their education.
Today, the Academy has “really become the talk of the town,” says Murphy. It seems that whenever he has a speaking engagement, someone asks how a family member or friend can enroll.
“I try to make every one of their graduations,” says Dale. JCFA students “had the perseverance to go back [to school] and there was a vehicle to enable them to go back. It’s inspiring to see that.” In a video prepared for the spring 2011 graduation, student Candice Alexander explained, “People look at this school like it’s just about a million people who dropped out, a million people who failed. It’s not about that. It’s about people who’re making it.”
And make it they do, thanks to the support of teachers, faculty, board members, the chamber Foundation and chamber members. “It’s very rare that students are dismissed from the program,” says Harris. “Everyone here fights for these kids. No one else has, and no one else will.”
Katherine House is a business writer and frequent contributor to Chamber Executive. She lives in Iowa City, Iowa.
Does commerce reduce the likelihood of war or increase it? For some people in the Victorian era and even during the first years of the 20th century, the sense was that increasing trade would lead to a more peaceful world. Such an idea culminated in Norman Angell’s The Great Illusion (1910), a book famous for its poor timing. Angell argued that it was no longer in the interest of industrial countries to try to conquer one another.
World War I began in 1914, and although Angell had not said war couldn’t break out, his perspective appeared dated or just plain wrong. Germany and the United Kingdom, for example, had traded extensively before 1914, and then traded bombs, bullets and mortar shells in the Great War. World War II reinforced the idea that commerce did nothing to stop war, and might even bring it on.
In recent years, however, evidence has accumulated that the 20th century’s two big wars were statistical anomalies. Sophisticated studies have shown that commerce is correlated with peace—not an absolute correlation of course, but a strong one. Wars happen less often between nations that trade extensively than between nations that don’t. The best-known exemplar of this point of view is Harvard’s Steven Pinker, whose book The Better Angels of Our Nature: How Violence Has Declined is a fascinating look at how life has improved while we weren’t noticing, and how sudden death in war or by other violence has become rarer.
Surprisingly, chambers of commerce can help illuminate the war question. And indeed, why shouldn’t this be? Chambers of commerce are organizations of businesses, which in turn are the soldiers of commerce. Presumably the behavior of these chambers may at times reflect the overall views and tendencies of business. In a look at chamber history in North America, covering the years from 1768 through 1945, I have found that major chambers, time after time, used their influence on the side of peace. Indeed, some were very proud of their peace-oriented behavior, even when they shouldn’t have been. And that is the interesting part: peace activism can range from courageous to cowardly to bordering on traitorous, depending on which war and which tactics are involved. Let’s take a look at a few examples over the years.
The first full-fledged chamber in North America, the New York Chamber of Commerce, was founded in this year in reaction to continuing troubles with the Stamp Act of 1765. While the chamber protested British policies, it did so as a loyal subject of King George III. Indeed, the chamber applied for and received a royal charter from the king. About two thirds of the chamber’s members were Loyalists as the American Revolution commenced. This chamber was not made up of adventurists: they had plenty to lose from violence on land and sea.
In Charleston, S.C., a chamber was formed not to throw British tea into the harbor, but to bring it ashore. Most of the merchants there attempted to be a moderating influence on the revolutionary spirit. When the war was lost to the Patriots, these merchants and their British patrons left Charleston in 300 ships, leaving a gaping hole in the local economy.
At a time when British vessels were seizing cargo and sailors from American ships, American public opinion was inflamed. George Washington, knowing the weak United States had to have peace to survive as a country, sent John Jay to England to negotiate a treaty. When Jay returned and the terms of the treaty were known, the Jefferson-Madison faction exploded with rage, saying the document was soft on the Brits. Public opinion was strongly against the treaty until the New York Chamber came out publicly for it, arguing that its rejection could mean war. The Boston Chamber followed suit. Eventually the treaty passed the Senate with not a single vote to spare. This chamber act of peace-making could have helped spare the fragile country from partition as a result of an ill-timed war with Great Britain.
Northern business people, as a rule, feared tremendously the prospect of a war with the southern states. The New York Chamber of Commerce and several of its leading members took a number of steps to avert war, from circulating an antiwar petition to sending a delegate to the Washington Peace Conference in February 1861. Referring to himself as a delegate of the New York Chamber, prominent member William Dodge told President Lincoln, who had stopped by: “It is for you, sir, to say whether the whole nation shall be plunged into bankruptcy; whether the grass shall grow in our commercial cities.”
“Then I say it shall not,” Lincoln responded. “If it depends upon me, the grass will not grow anywhere except in the fields and in the meadows.”
Even after tensions increased, the peace feelers continued. One other leading member of the New York Chamber, Richard Lathers, was delivering a plea for peace to the Mobile, Ala., Chamber of Commerce on the day that shots rang out in Charleston Harbor. The meeting broke up and he tried to give a similar speech to the New Orleans Chamber, but was ordered out of town as an “alien enemy.”
After the Civil War began, the North feared that Britain and France might provide diplomatic recognition to the Confederate States of America, thereby freeing those countries to provide more arms and aid to the CSA. This could even lead to a new war on top of the Civil War. The New York Chamber worked to keep both transatlantic countries out of the war. The chamber publicly honored British statesman John Bright, a friend of the United States; it also arranged for members to contribute to a fund to aid English workers who were unemployed because of the cessation of the cotton trade. In addition, the New York Chamber provided moral support (because public support would compromise them) to people such as Samuel Goddard, an American who wrote pro-Union commentary for British papers and personally tried, and thought he succeeded, at keeping the French out of the war. Finally, the chamber protested vehemently when British dockyards supported the construction of Confederate warships such as the Alabama. The vocal protests, the chamber’s leaders hoped, would embarrass the British government into closer surveillance of its port cities, making it more difficult for local shipyards to menace American shipping and create a casus belli with the embattled Union.
During the Venezuela crisis, with British ships ready to fire on South American soil to settle a debt issue, U.S. President Grover Cleveland made a saber-rattling speech hinting of war with Great Britain. Suddenly the New York Chamber, in a move that shocked even its friends, called for international arbitration in the affair. Tensions gradually eased and arbitration did solve the issue. It turned out, although no newspaper seems to have gotten wind of it, that the London Chamber of Commerce had put the New York Chamber up to the job. The New York Chamber, then, had been pretty close to committing treason – following a foreign group’s direction and directly undermining the President’s policy. But it all worked out fine in the end, and earned the chamber a splendid trip to London to celebrate with its grateful friends there.
After World War I broke out in Europe in late 1914, a number of American chambers supported the idea of “preparedness,” but that meant arms buildup, not joining Armageddon on foreign soil. The U.S. Chamber sent a large delegation to the League to Enforce Peace meeting in 1915. This group, championed by ex-President William Howard Taft (who as President had called the U.S. Chamber into being in 1912), wanted America to stay out of the European war.
Fully 96 percent of chambers polled by the U.S. Chamber supported the idea of the League of Nations, whose main purpose was to promote peace.
Idealistic business people on both sides of the Atlantic formed the International Chamber of Commerce in an attempt to rebalance the unstable world economy. Edward Filene of Boston was one of the leading Americans in the effort. The ICC would be chronicled in a 1938 laudatory history by George Ridgeway called Merchants of Peace.
Thomas Watson, Sr. of IBM was a chamber leader extraordinaire: three-time president of the influential Merchants Association of New York, active in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and, in 1937, head of the International Chamber of Commerce. Watson presided at an ICC meeting in Berlin where he either made a “Heil Hitler” salute or caught himself and stopped, and accepted a medal from the Fuehrer. Watson also described Hitler’s intentions as peaceful. “There will be no war. No country wants war, and no country can afford it.” Watson’s company provided the Hitler regime with a full array of punch-card systems and advanced technology to keep the Reich’s war and killing machines running on time, according to author Edwin Black. Blacks says that Watson used his chamber-aided status to move his products into Germany up to the last possible moment, more easily than a non-chamber leader could have. An IBM punch-card machine is prominently displayed in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.
The U.S. Chamber and other chambers in the U.S. were overwhelmingly against war with Hitler. In a remark eerily reminiscent of the one made by William Dodge to President Lincoln in early 1861, the president of the U.S. Chamber in 1940 said that a war in Europe would “bankrupt” the United States. And Merle Thorpe, editor of the U.S. Chamber’s magazine, Nation’s Business, wrote that “we fear – fear deeply – and for more than our lives. We fear the destruction of the American way of life.”
Charles Gwynne of the New York Chamber won an award for his international arbitration work. Standing in the room to congratulate him was IBM’s Thomas Watson. Watson said at another time that if the principles of chamber-led arbitration had been followed, there would have been no World War II.
Dove or Pigeon?
Clearly, efforts to promote peace can be messy when they happen and occasionally ugly in hindsight. Sometimes the winged emissary of peace is a beautiful dove; sometimes it’s an ugly pigeon munching on an old French fry.
Still, chambers of commerce and their leaders did much to shift the American ship of state away from war, or to make it more difficult politically for Presidents and Congress to go to war. It is hard to guess how American history would have played out without the mostly conservative pressure of these chambers, which were, of course, entangled with many other groups and actors in the drama. We certainly don’t look kindly on peaceful agitation before past wars, such as the Civil War and World War II, that today we consider “good” wars.
There are some caveats here. War against small enemies, or enemies perceived as small, weren’t so unpopular. Several chambers, for example, supported going after the trade-despoiling Barbary Pirates in 1803. And, in a country that would have thousands of chambers by World War II, there were sure to be occasional examples of chambers that were willing to go to war with great powers.
Once major wars broke out, chambers of commerce tended to reverse course immediately and to go all-out. Local business organizations could be among the most aroused and patriotic of the citizenry, ready to do almost anything for victory, and fast. And of course there was, frequently, the corollary that chambers sought military bases and arms and equipment plants for their communities. One exception, cited by a federal official in World War II, was a community that wanted an explosives plant to go to a nearby town; this way some of the economic benefits would come, but no destruction to the first town if the factory blew up!
Overall, in more than two centuries of American history, chambers of commerce have influenced the nation toward peace. Yes, they made some terrible mistakes. But, in combination and sometimes in conflict with other groups and associations of Americans, they helped move the country quietly toward avoidance of big quarrels.
The chambers’ example lends weight to the idea that commerce leads to peace. The road may be crooked and long, but it keeps moving in the direction of reduced violence. The idea of merchants of peace, much maligned, may in fact be true.
Chris Mead is senior vice president of the American Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE). This essay is based on material from his book, The Magicians of Main Street: America and its Chambers of Commerce, 1768-1945. For more information, see www.magicians
ofmainstreet.com. The opinions expressed herein are his own and do not represent those of ACCE.
The global economic crisis has made many of us think about the way we do business. Trust in companies, institutions and leaders is at a record low, and chambers and associations are not exempt. Business increasingly has been seen as a cause of economic, social and environmental problems, and as prospering at the expense of the broader community.
Technology has made business today customer driven, not supply driven. Businesses and their leaders must be seen as human, trustworthy and likeable.
Big and small businesses are being pro-active in ensuring they have a more positive image. Chambers are ideally placed to tell the story of their business leaders and the way they positively influence and help their community and inspire others to do the same. Chambers are also developing guidelines and programs designed to help companies be “businessworthy.”
“Businessworthy” means channelling your business energy ethically and responsibly with the purpose of creating economic value that also creates value for society. Business strategy expert Michael Porter says, “Profit with a social purpose is a higher form of capitalism, one that creates a positive cycle of company and community prosperity.” That is rapidly becoming the mantra of responsible businesses.
At the Oslo Business for Peace Awards this year, six business leaders from organizations big and small, from all over of the world, were recognized for their exemplary way of running their businesses with more than profit in mind. These business leaders show through their actions and achievements the benefits of a constructive relationship between business and society. Chambers are key players in this global awards program, nominating their local business leaders to receive this “Nobel Prize of Business.” Partners also include the International Chamber of Commerce, the United Nations Global Compact and the United Nations Development program.
This year’s honorees included Marilyn Carlson Nelson, chair of Carlson (USA), Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group(UK), and Adnan Kassar, chairman of Fransabank (Lebanon). Lesser known business leaders such as Selima Ahmad, president of the Bangladesh Women’s Chamber of Commerce, Ouided Bouchamaoui, president of The Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA), and Kesha Kumari Damini, the leader of more than 60,000 micro entrepreneurs in Nepal.
This year’s group joins the illustrious 25 previous honorees, including several American business leaders:
David MacLennan, CEO and president of Cargill, Inc., Minneapolis, has shown how to have a record of social responsibility and be a leader in profitability and growth. Cargill is governed by a set of “Ethical Guiding Principles” which announce to the world how it does business.
William Rosenzweig, managing director of Physic Ventures, San Francisco, invests in companies which create value through innovative solutions for preventing disease, promoting consumer-driven health and ensuring a sustainable planet for future generations. His business model includes creating clusters with experienced enterprises working with companies in developing countries.
Cincinnati-born Jeffrey R. Immelt, chairman and CEO of General Electric, implemented “ecomagination” to ramp up development of clean technologies and lighten the company’s environmental footprint.
Dean Cycon, founder and owner of Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee Co., based in Massachusetts, created his firm to prove that businesses can promote positive economic, social and environmental change in developing countries, and be profitable at the same time.
Big businesses are not the only ones to undertake Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives. For Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) and chambers, the topic may seem daunting, but if you already show some level of care for your staff, community and customers, you already have a CSR attitude.
But CSR means more than “going green.” It’s about developing practices that will ensure your business, the people involved in it, and the community you’re based in continue to do well into the future.
Cash doesn’t have to be a factor. SMEs possess other types of capital just as relevant for CSR projects, such as business and entrepreneurial skills, mentorship, and volunteerism.
SMEs can quickly see the quantifiable benefits of engaging with CSR. Workers become more motivated, creative and innovative, with better products and services and improved customer satisfaction and loyalty. New business opportunities can arise with other companies involved in similar schemes, and the combination of the above all helps with growth in sales.
So, your chamber and your members should:
Chambers are ideally placed to develop programs and give expertise to help SMEs address their social responsibility actions towards community, environment, workplace and marketplace. Chambers, for centuries, have been advocates for governance and integrity in business to create a healthy business environment.
Many resources are available to chambers and their businesses on CSR and anti-corruption. The International Chamber of Commerce was an early pioneer in developing CSR and anti-corruption tools by business for business, and is a leader in helping companies take proactive measures such as:
Chambers can also be hands on with SMEs to help them improve their capacity by getting them to work with multinationals with which they may already be doing business; by sharing information; assisting in training employees of smaller partners in their supply chains, and making resources available to build the compliance capacity of smaller partners in their supply chain.
Some chambers around the world have set their mark to ensure CSR and Businessworthy practices are high on their agendas:
Chambers Ireland has developed a successful annual Corporate Social Responsibility Awards program, with 11 categories recognizing leaders in their community.
The Auckland Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NZ) CadetMax program is tackling youth unemployment, providing career opportunities for at-risk youth. Since 2008, CadetMax has worked with more than 600 young people, providing essential life skills, mentoring and career counseling on education and employment, resulting in major changes in the health and wellbeing of young people, their families and communities.
The Bogota Chamber of Commerce’s Hermes program manages school conflicts.
The Dubai Chamber of Commerce has a diverse range of CSR initiatives, from its “green building,” establishing its own Centre for Responsible Business and the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Business Award.
Whatever your position in business, you can make a difference to ensure that you are being businessworthy and responsible. Take the chance and be that leader!
Anthony Parkes, CCE, is executive director of the ICC World Chambers Federation.
Olso Business for Peace Award
ICC Corporate Social Responsibility and anti-corruption tools
World Chambers Federation – Chamber CSR case studies
It’s astounding how technology advances every aspect of our lives. Things like genome sequencing are redefining medicine, changing how we treat cancer and other diseases, and predicting that we might routinely live 120 years (and really get revenge on our children!).
Our DNA makes all of us 99 percent alike, but that other one percent makes us infinitely different. Part of a chamber executive’s unique wiring is a “chamber gene” that many passionate ACCE leaders have. We come from vastly different backgrounds, but common to each of us is a passion to champion business and advance our communities.
As I consider my own chamber gene, I recognize the influence of heredity and my experiences from an early age. I stumbled upon the industry thanks to the wisdom of my grandmother. She was a passionate advocate for education, serving as one of our state’s first trustees in the community college system. She was a local school board member and joined a host of other civic organizations.
I remember her concern when I was filling out my college scholarship application. She worried that my love of people would lead me into the social service field, which she said would “eat me alive.” Her wise advice: “Put down that you want to be in the chamber of commerce profession. Your grandfather is a member of our local chamber. You can still help people…you can help them be successful business owners.” That vision exploded into reality for me. What an astute women she was!
I thank her whenever I’m amazed at all the issues we wrestle with, or how we honor community values, or the different ways we assert ourselves as thought leaders. I remember countless times when she found some topic that interested her, researched it and then gave a presentation to one of her many clubs and organizations. From archeology to the cosmos to the history of buttons, her love of learning became a key part of my DNA that has helped me succeed in the chamber profession.
Also woven into my being is my mother’s love of organization—when I’m stressed I head for the nearest office supply store for more tools to make things orderly. And there’s my dad’s business and financial management skills; I often use his collection of quotes from toastmasters and other business meetings for daily inspiration.
There are other DNA-like traits common to chamber leaders. There’s the roll-up-your-sleeves-and-work-hard gene and the lifelong learning gene. Collecting and sharing information is something we all do, whether it’s innate or learned. It’s a core benefit that your investment in ACCE provides. The power of knowledge and our connection to peers are key to the success your chamber has in moving your community forward.
In closing, and for the last time as your chair, I look forward to seeing you in Cincinnati as I pass the gavel to one of our industry’s thought leaders, Tom Baldrige!
Those of you who are fans of Jack Nicholson or scary movies probably know the scene in “The Shining,” (set in 1980) when Jack looks at the old photos on the wall of the Overlook Hotel, showing grand parties from the 1920s. Spoiler Alert: Eventually we see HIS face in one of the pictures from a New Year’s Eve bash in 1921. I saw my picture recently, too.
In preparation for our centennial celebration, we sifted through 50 boxes of documents and photos previously stored in off-site archives. We found old photos that looked just like the shots from the fictional Overlook. One showed tuxedoed, mustachioed gentlemen (and a few ladies) in a huge hotel ballroom. On the back of the curling Kodak paper, I could see faded hand writing: “NACOS Annual Dinner 1924.” National Association of Commercial Organization Secretaries (NACOS) was the name of ACCE prior to 1948.
Labels on other shots identified the Institute Class of 1919 at Northwestern University (Institute started as a NACOS program), the Mardi Gras Ball at the NACOS Annual Conference in New Orleans in 1938, and many other cool scenes. Looking at them, I could imagine a story in every tired or joyous face. I also saw a guy who had a slight resemblance to me.
The more I dug through our history, the more I fantasized about what it would have been like to be part of those early adventures in local and national civics. Those old timey chamber execs were nuts! There was virtually no scheme, project, or policy too daunting to tackle. Thankfully, these founding leaders also had a sense of history.
We uncovered meticulous transcripts of every word spoken from the podium during the first 50 years of ACCE conferences—printed and bound in books of 200-400 pages. Boxes of photos show beauty queens and presidents dining with chamber executives. We found a press release and photos from a pre-Castro trade mission to Cuba by the Milwaukee Chamber. Sponsored by Miller Brewing, of course!
We have how-to journals from every era and biographies of chamber celebrities who were building strong business communities and powerful economies. There are notes from annual policy meetings between the U.S. Chamber staff and ACCE Board. We’ve got original award applications for local projects that would rival anything you might be cooking up today.
Most inspiring, however, were the initiatives by chambers working collectively to make the world a better place. For instance, on May 20, 1927, the same day Lindbergh took off for Paris, Walter O. Lochner, the exec of the Trenton, N.J., chamber, took off in an amphibious bi-plane on an air tour of 131 cities. He was the NACOS 1927 president (board chair) and his eight-week trip was sponsored by NACOS as a way of promoting commercial air travel and encouraging the building of airports.
There were so many ways that ACCE helped the burgeoning chambers of each generation work with each other to deal with everything this last century could throw at them: A half-dozen or more wars, desegregation, recessions and recoveries, inflation, isolationism, empire building, constructing the interstate highway system, education reform, deep water ports, globalism, the Silent Majority, anti-corruption fights, scandal, terrorism, manufacturing hegemony, the Great Society, off-shoring, demographic change, epidemics, crime prevention, rural depopulation, urban development, downtown hollow-out, wave after wave of technology change, the rise of chain stores, big boxes and the creative class. In short, the making of the modern American economy. Your collective story, told through our history.
The Harvard Business School’s library has taken possession of the entire collection, offering to curate, catalogue and preserve it forever, at no cost. The documents and artifacts will remain accessible to future generations of scholars and to you.
What about today and tomorrow? The question is whether we and you will add unique and valuable stories of our own to the inspiring legacy of our predecessors.
As ACCE enters its Second Century and all of you look forward to tackling the next wave of challenges, we simply have to face the fact that we are, as my mother used to call it, “special.” We all suffer from Nicholson’s delusion: “I don’t want to be the product of my environment, I want my environment to be a product of me.” Maybe Chairwoman Nokes Capestany is right: it might be genetic.
Will it be easier or harder in the coming decades to earn recognition and revenue for the work you do? Perhaps harder, but it was never easy.
When those grand projects described in our archives were undertaken, the work week was nearly 60 hours and plant owners/managers were responsible for every minute. Somehow, chambers still found volunteers among them to lead. Even in rural communities, where dawn-to-dusk were the prescribed hours and dues for a chamber might have been paid in chickens, people figured it out.
Politics today are polarizing and often ugly, but after World War I, anarchists and communists fought self-appointed vigilantes in the streets of Boston. During a half-dozen times in our not-too-distant past, National Guards were employed to “restore order” in American communities. Lincoln was hanged in effigy to protest the draft in 1863, and more than a few readers may have helped bring D.C. to a standstill protesting in 1970. Talk about polarized!
One last Nicholson quote: “What if this is as good as it gets?” I’m not talking about what Secretary of State Kerry derided as the “downsizing of the American dream.”
When it comes to ACCE and all of you, the answer to “What are you going to do about it?” must always be the same. As Eric Greitens, decorated Navy SEAL and author says so much more eloquently than Nicholson or Fleming: “The Mission Continues.”
Mick Fleming is president of ACCE.
Images of John F. Kennedy’s last day typically begin with the President and his wife Jacqueline deplaning Air Force One at Love Field in Dallas, ostensibly after a two-hour flight from Washington, D.C. But it was actually only a 14-minute hop to Dallas from Carswell AFB in Fort Worth, where the President began his day speaking to an audience of more than 2,000 at a breakfast organized by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. It would be President Kennedy’s final public speech.
The Kennedys spent their last night together in Fort Worth’s Hotel Texas, where Suite 850 was specially decorated with sculpture and paintings loaned from the finest private collections in Fort Worth.
Morning dawned rainy and chilly in Fort Worth that day in 1963, but it didn’t matter. Camelot was in Cowtown. A few weeks earlier, the chamber had been contacted by Kennedy’s advance team and asked to host the event, one of several in major Texas cities.
Kennedy, accompanied by Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, Texas Governor John Connally and Congressman Jim Wright, gave extemporaneous remarks to a crowd of thousands in the rain before heading to breakfast at the Hotel Texas. Later, Jacqueline Kennedy was greeted with thunderous adulation from attendees charmed by the charismatic young First Lady as she entered the ballroom and made her way to the head table in a striking pink wool suit with matching pillbox hat, led by Secret Service Agent Clint Hill.
But Fort Worth’s warm welcome would be eclipsed by tragedy a few hours later.
In 2012, anticipating worldwide observances of the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination, Marilyn Gilbert, the Fort Worth Chamber’s EVP of marketing, began her preparations for the chamber’s annual High Impact Breakfast for 2013, which would take place on Nov. 22. She booked former Secret Service Agent Clint Hill, now 82, as a speaker for the event a year in advance. Hill, assigned to protect the First Lady, is the agent photographed climbing onto the trunk of the mortally wounded president’s limousine as it sped to Parkland Hospital, pushing Jackie back into the rear seat and trying to shield her.
The Fort Worth Chamber was proud of its part in this rare presidential visit, but had downplayed its historic role for decades in the aftermath of the assassination. In 2012, the JFK Tribute—an open-air, illuminated exhibit with an eight-foot bronze sculpture of Kennedy—had been dedicated in downtown Fort Worth just across from the historic Hilton Fort Worth Hotel (formerly the Hotel Texas).
Gilbert wanted to commemorate the historic visit as the community continued to search for ways to understand and remember the 50th anniversary.
“Fort Worth’s role was sealed when President Kennedy spoke his last public words at the chamber breakfast,” she said. “There was a huge crush of people in the streets around the hotel hoping to see him, shake his hand, be near him. When he went out into the crowd to embrace them, that was special. That was Fort Worth’s intimate moment with President Kennedy.”
In booking Hill for the commemorative breakfast, Gilbert knew he would provide a “unique, behind-the-scenes” perspective of a well-known story in Fort Worth. To ensure exclusivity, Gilbert included in Hill’s contract a clause stipulating he would not book another speaking engagement in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for 60 days prior to the anniversary breakfast, although we knew he would be called upon for other brief visual appearances near the anniversary date.
The 2013 event was booked at the historic Hilton, in the same ballroom as the original breakfast. The chamber would also honor former Speaker of the U.S. House Jim Wright with its High Impact Legacy Award during this event.
The Texas Boys Choir, which entertained at the original breakfast, was booked to sing some of the same selections prior to the breakfast as attendees registered, and then performed a moving rendition of the National Anthem at the beginning of the program. Colors were presented by the Junior Cadet Corps of J.P. Elder Middle School, one of the Chamber’s adopted public schools.
The original breakfast seated 2,000 because the Hotel Texas ballroom was much larger in 1963. Now, with round tables, a smaller ballroom and floor space needed for 12-foot projection screens, lighting, and an A/V control booth, the Hilton could accommodate only 650.
The chamber could have held the event at the Fort Worth Convention Center and accommodated thousands. But the historic nature of the event made the hotel venue non-negotiable.
The chamber, not wanting to have to disappoint the public by turning them away from the breakfast, delayed publicity and marketed it internally to the membership first. Sponsorship sales for members began in the spring of 2013. In August, email invitations were sent to the membership with upper tier members having a first chance at table sales.
As we were thinking of how to adequately honor Speaker Wright with a photo presentation, local filmmaker Parker Vandergriff contacted us and volunteered to produce a video tribute to Wright. Vandergriff, whose grandfather was a Tarrant County Judge, possessed the talent and the contacts with high-profile politicians such as Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, U.S. Ambassador Tom Scheiffer, Vice President Walter Mondale and Congresswoman Kay Granger. He produced a stirring video tribute that prompted a standing ovation as the 91-year-old Wright made his way to the stage, 50 years to the day after his beaming introduction of President Kennedy in Fort Worth.
Presenting sponsor Pinnacle Bank purchased more than 700 freshly minted Kennedy half-dollar coins, which were placed at each attendee’s setting. Media sponsor Fort Worth Texas magazine carried an article mentioning both breakfasts and provided copies of the magazine and a DVD with news footage of the JFK Fort Worth visit for each attendee. Congressman Wright provided a transcript of Kennedy’s 1963 breakfast speech. Car collector Farris Rookstool also brought the 1963 Lincoln Continental convertible that carried the President and First Lady from the breakfast to Carswell AFB for their trip to Dallas; it was parked at the entrance of the Hilton Hotel.
The chamber also arranged for Half Price Books to provide copies of Hill’s new book, while he and co-author Lisa McCubbin remained afterward to sign for attendees.
An event of this historic significance deserved a commemorative program with professional design. The chamber reached out to long-time member The Balcom Agency for assistance.
Knowing our budget constraints and wanting to be part of history, Balcom agreed to a combination trade/cash proposal. The program they produced was a square 8.5” x 8.5” keepsake with black-and-white photos from the original breakfast. The two-color logo intertwined the letters JFK and FW, graphically illustrating the theme, “An Intersection of History.” The font used was a popular graphic design font used during the ‘60s. A timeline spread reminded readers of how the 1963 event unfolded in Fort Worth.
Because we had delayed publicity and details about the 2013 event, the misperception arose that the Chamber was “recreating” the 1963 breakfast. We were even asked if we would have JFK and Jackie impersonators.
In July, my counterpart at the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau and I discussed a number of JFK-related exhibits and events going on in Fort Worth. No one organization was coordinating the publicity for these. We pulled together a meeting of community partners—museums, theatres, the city, Downtown Fort Worth, Inc.—to share plans and discuss messaging and tone of the various community observances.
The group agreed that our goal was not to try to celebrate what was certain to be a somber remembrance, nor create a redundant observance in light of Dallas’s city-wide plans. Talk of broadcasting the chamber breakfast via closed circuit TV in the street and in surrounding restaurants gave way to an understated dawn wreath-laying by Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and Clint Hill at the JFK Tribute, prior to the breakfast, with no remarks by either.
However, we did want the public to know about the many 50th anniversary-related events happening in the Fort Worth area. The CVB surveyed its partners about events, and the chamber relayed information to the CVB to coordinate a comprehensive webpage and news release of Fort Worth “JFK activities.” The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza coordinated a list of all the Dallas activities and we submitted ours to them as well.
Before any media plan was drawn up, a Star-Telegram columnist was contacted by National Geographic TV in April 2013 through Texas Gov. John Connally’s former press aide, Julian Read. National Geographic was looking for people who were either in the street crowd or at the chamber breakfast Nov. 22, 1963.
The chamber linked to National Geographic’s Facebook JFK page, placed advertisements in the local business journal, ran a blurb in our newsletter and began collecting dozens of names and stories, which we forwarded to the producer. He interviewed numerous Fort Worthians who had been in the crowd or at the chamber breakfast. The documentary aired Nov. 8, and the chamber’s role was made known to millions of viewers. As there were a number of retired community leaders, people who participated in the National Geographic special, and other non-members for which we did not have email addresses, we began collecting snail mail addresses for a limited number of print invitations.
The chamber did not need nor want publicity to drive registration for the breakfast; we knew it would be a sellout. We continued to focus on media coverage surrounding the event itself.
Our goal was to place Agent Hill on as many local, regional and national morning talk shows as possible, with the location headlines reading Fort Worth, and Fort Worth images in the background. As part of our collaboration, the CVB provided their list of national and some international media contacts. The general news release about the breakfast and JFK activities in Fort Worth went out locally and to the CVB’s list in September.
In October, we learned that Agent Hill was releasing a new book, Five Days in November, days before the breakfast event. Hill’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, had already begun scheduling national interviews in November for the book release. In fact, they had scheduled the first interview as an exclusive with NBC’s Today Show.
This development required us to readjust our expectations as to the media we could obtain for Hill and for Fort Worth, as he was already being exposed and booked nationally through his publisher. We decided to move ahead with our own media plans, with Hill being interviewed that morning in front of the JFK Tribute, which serves as a stunning visual for media opportunities.
Hill had only one hour for media interviews, from 6:30-7:30 a.m. on the morning of our breakfast. His contract did not allow live streaming of his presentation at the breakfast.
Due to our relationship and prior meetings with city representatives, the City of Fort Worth Public Events Department waived their extensive permitting process to block off one block of Main Street in front of the JFK Tribute for the chamber’s media interviews and in anticipation of increased pedestrian traffic around the tribute that day. Fort Worth police officers were dispatched to keep crowds away during the wreath-laying and during Agent Hill’s interviews.
Although I had coordinated interviews for local media for years on location, doing so for a national broadcast with a studio on either coast was not in my recent realm of experience. We reached out to a former TV news producer and asked if he would run the show. This was not in the budget, but we knew we needed him on site to coordinate national media.
With Dallas as the main subject, we knew media would want to have their cameras positioned there early in the morning, although their event began closer to noon. We also knew many would want to interview Hill. How would we decide who gets an interview at what time slot? Our producer had the answer.
We had a “lottery” in which we called for the interested TV/radio stations to put in their bid; we then randomly drew for the time slots. The time slots were in 5-minute increments, with 3 minutes interview time, and 2 minutes to call the next network or affiliate and establish audio and video feeds.
Also, telephone lines would need to be run down the street to the media tent switchboard for us to dial in to the stations. You don’t want to risk a cell phone dropping the call during a once-in-a-lifetime PR opportunity. We reached out to an executive board member at long-time investor AT&T, and the phone lines were installed the night before the breakfast.
After diligent cold calling and emailing New York media contacts, we were succeeding at scheduling interviews with MSNBC’s Morning Joe, CNN, and Fox & Friends—until they asked for our satellite coordinates. We didn’t have satellite coordinates. We had planned to use a live van or two from the local TV affiliates for feeds to the East Coast.
When the national morning shows learned this, they withdrew from the line-up, because the local producers could not guarantee that their live van would stay onsite for the entire hour should breaking news occur. One week before the event we needed a satellite truck!
A chamber member referred me to a satellite truck rental company. Price tag for truck, labor and satellite time: $2,800. After calling the national shows back, at this point, I only had certain time slots remaining. The only national show where the time slot would now work was CNN New Day.
There’s a saying in Texas: “If you don’t like the weather, stick around for a few hours. It will change.” What had been forecast as a mild day was now expected to be a winter blast. Rain and cold seemed a certainty, but we had no idea what time it would blow through. To ensure the cameras, phones, A/V equipment and Agent Hill were kept dry, the chamber decided to rent a 20x20x10 tent for $500 rather than move our interviews inside the hotel, where the satellite truck and live vans might not have been able to establish a good signal.
On the morning of the event, the vans and satellite truck began arriving at 3:30 a.m. The A/V company, our producer, cameraman and volunteers on the media team arrived around that time for set-up and test runs. I had provided the satellite coordinates for the wreath-laying to the national and international media distribution list, for use as a bumper live or taped for later broadcasts. I pitched it as, “We hope your viewers will begin their observances of this historic anniversary in Fort Worth, where President Kennedy’s last day began optimistically 50 years ago.”
Hill and Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price were joined in the wreath-laying—carried by satellite worldwide—by Congressman Roger Williams, who shook Kennedy’s hand as a boy at the 1963 breakfast. Hill then stepped under the tent and was interviewed live with five DFW network affiliate morning shows, CNN, and YNN of Austin, before entering the hotel ballroom for the chamber breakfast, as he did on that rainy morning long ago.
Breakfast guests included many who were there in 1963, as well as business leaders, lifelong Fort Worthians, history buffs and a doctor who had come from Padova, Italy to attend. With Mr. Hill, their emotions ran the gamut as they viewed familiar black-and-white images, heard the angelic voices of the Texas Boys Choir, honored Congressman Wright’s storied career and contributions to our city, and then hung on every word of Hill’s recollections.
Even after unexpected expenses and a reduction in the number of tickets due to the venue, we exceeded the event budget with $21,000 in revenue, primarily from sponsorships. From a media standpoint, combined local and national broadcasts featuring Fort Worth, the Fort Worth Chamber, and/or Clint Hill in Fort Worth for Nov. 22-23 reached 5.2 million viewers, with market media value estimated at $421,000.
That figure does not include international coverage and the many print publications that carried mention of our 2013 breakfast, including the Associated Press and the Times UK as well as several features in our regional dailies. During the year, we received dozens of Google alerts from blogs, websites and print publications referencing the Fort Worth Chamber 1963 breakfast.
The overarching challenge? In a large regional media market, we were tasked with handling the delicate balance of commemorating Fort Worth’s exuberant moment in time with Kennedy while respecting Dallas’s plans to observe a long-overdue day of healing. We believe the chamber accomplished that.
“The satisfaction of producing an event that created such positive media coverage and strengthened brand equity for the chamber overcame any disappointments about weather or media goals we didn’t reach,” Gilbert said. “The moral of the story? All the best planning can be wrecked by unexpected circumstances, but long-nurtured community partnerships prevail. The flow of the program, the JFK coins, the video, the youth involvement, the care that was taken with every detail—that is what our community and our investors will remember.”
Even members of the skeptical media were complimentary, as Star-Telegram Bud Kennedy columnist wrote: “When you throw a breakfast only once every 50 years, you ought to do it right. Fort Worth did it right Friday, remembering Jackie and President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 stopover with a nod to history, a sense of reverence and a burst of pride.”
Andra Bennett House, APR, is senior director of communications at the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. She can be reached at 817-338-3333 or firstname.lastname@example.org
A well-worn adage describes collaboration as an unnatural act between unwilling parties. If you’ve ever tried to come to consensus on an issue with the Sierra Club, Tea Party or AFL-CIO, you’re probably nodding knowingly.
There’s inherent difficulty in getting independent groups with different perspectives and motivations to band together, but what about alliances between chambers and similar business associations?
To an outsider looking at our memberships, core principles, and the composition of our boards, chamber coalitions might seem totally natural, even easy. But they’re not easy. Chambers and other business associations have often rallied behind the U.S. Chamber on federal policy issues, but as an industry, our ability to present a united front at the local, regional or state level is episodic at best.
During my decade leading public policy for Greater Louisville Inc. (GLI) we recognized the value of a coalition approach. We partnered with the local chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners, the African American Business Alliance and the Hispanic Latino Business Council to lobby on issues ranging from a prevailing wage ordinance, which would have created disadvantages for small and minority businesses bidding on city projects, to opposing a project labor agreement on the construction of a downtown arena. Working together on policy issues strengthened our relationships and made it easier to work together on other ventures, including a business-focused Mayoral Candidates Forum.
Our experience with chamber and business partners at the state level also proved to be worthwhile. In 2010, realizing that chambers of commerce from urban areas across the state shared similar policy goals at the state level, GLI organized a Metro Chambers Coalition. It brought together the policy staffs from Louisville, Lexington, Northern Kentucky, Paducah, Owensboro, Bowling Green and Ashland, along with the Kentucky Chamber, to discuss a common agenda. While not every chamber agreed on every issue, we were able to work collectively on some important business-related legislation, including worker’s compensation reform, improving educational standards and an angel investment tax incentive program.
The kind of cooperative relationship chambers enjoy in Kentucky is emerging as a trend in other parts of the country.
Coalitions can be forced by necessity or they can emerge over time. What started more than eight years ago as a get-together among neighboring chamber executives in the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex has evolved into the 80-member North Texas Chamber of Commerce Executives Association. Until last year, this peer network was primarily a forum for sharing best practices. That’s when a pending vote on vital infrastructure transformed the group into a policy coalition.
At issue was a ballot measure that would move $2 billion from the state’s rainy day fund to be invested in critical water projects. The referendum was strongly supported by a majority of the Texas legislature and championed by Speaker of the House Joe Straus. However, 16 legislators voted against the measure, including 10 from the North Texas region, who felt that the private sector, not the state, should fund water infrastructure projects.
Water is a critical issue for businesses and communities of all sizes across the region. “This was not an urban, suburban or rural issue, it was a business issue with region-wide implications.” says Jay Barksdale, senior V.P. of government relations for the Dallas Regional Chamber.
With the launch of a public referendum campaign planned for early summer, chamber leaders knew they needed to do something to quiet the critics, and they knew no one voice could carry the day. “We wanted elected officials who were opposed to the proposal to hear from their constituents about how important these water projects are to our part of the state,” says Barksdale. “Even if we didn’t convince them to support it, we at least wanted to counteract the negative messages.”
The North Texas Chamber Executives held a meeting where information and materials about the ballot initiative were provided. A representative from the advocacy group leading the public campaign was on hand to answer questions and rally support. Attendees were encouraged to return to their communities and use email, local media and social channels to raise awareness and spur engagement about the issue.
In late September, the Dallas Chamber hosted a luncheon with Speaker Straus. Prior to lunch, the Speaker met with the regional legislative delegation, local elected officials and representatives from the North Texas Chamber Executives. Following the meeting, they held a joint press conference endorsing the referendum. “It was important to present a united front,” said Barksdale. “There was significant media coverage of the press conference, and we demonstrated the business community in North Texas was solidly behind the water project initiative.”
The referendum passed in November by a comfortable margin. As a result, the legislature is planning a similar proposal in the upcoming session to move rainy day funds into a special fund for transportation projects. The coalition built around the water vote plans to use its collective voice again to back the transportation program.
Building a successful coalition involves a series of steps. If step one is defining compatible interests, steps two and three are about the resources, financial and political, and skill sets each prospective partner will bring to the coalition. Four chambers in the high growth Middle Tennessee region have found that clearly defining questions about resources and roles up front is a good foundation for collaboration.
The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce created a regional partnership focused on public policy with the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce, the Robertson County Chamber of Commerce, and the Hendersonville Area Chamber of Commerce to form Middle Tennessee Business Voice.
Partner chambers participate in an annual policy survey that helps shape a common legislative agenda for the region’s business community. The coalition uses an online tool administered by the Nashville Area Chamber to track state legislative issues and facilitate communication with elected officials. The Nashville Area Chamber’s advocacy staff also works during the session under the Middle Tennessee Business Voice banner to advance the regional agenda. Each chamber’s members are considered advocacy members of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, which represents the interests of more than 5,000 Middle Tennessee businesses in the Tennessee General Assembly through its lobbying, research and staff resources.
In exchange, the partner chambers share the cost of advocacy work, increasing the membership value of all four chambers, creating efficiencies across organizations, and strengthening the collective influence of Middle Tennessee businesses on state policy issues. Outside the area of legislative advocacy, each organization retains its own membership and benefits. In addition, each organization continues to have complete control over its own legislative positions.
Adam Lister, Nashville Area Chamber director of public policy, gave this example of the coalition’s impact: In 2012, the partnership worked to pass “impact-to-commerce” legislation that directs the legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee to provide an impact-to-commerce analysis for legislation referred to the House and Senate commerce committees. This ensures bills are studied not only for their impact on government but also for their impact on commerce or jobs.
The Nashville Area Chamber initiated this legislation with its advocacy partners as a way to put more information into the hands of state decision makers. In addition, chamber members will have a better idea about how a bill might impact their bottom lines before the General Assembly takes final action. Previously, each legislative proposal was studied for its impact on government, but no consideration was given to its impact on Tennessee’s economy. That changed on Jan. 1, 2014 when the law took effect.
“The advocacy relationship enables our members to have a stronger voice in the Tennessee General Assembly,” said Rutherford County Chamber President Paul Latture. “This partnership is an additional benefit that will help keep our members informed and will let them know when their voice needs to be heard.”
The benefits of coalition building go beyond increased power in your public policy efforts. Other key advantages include:
Choosing to lead or join a coalition is both a rational and an emotional decision. Rationally, you must consider whether your effectiveness and ability to attain your goals will be enhanced or harmed by participation in a coalition. Emotionally, you must be willing to invest the time it takes to understand your partners, otherwise cooperating is bound to feel like more trouble than it’s worth.
As the political climate becomes more polarized and our communities become more fragmented, the ability to create and manage an effective coalition is an increasingly essential skill for any chamber executive. When goals are compatible and interests are aligned, forming a coalition can be productive and beneficial.
Without a doubt, coalition building and keeping the collaboration working effectively can be a lot of work. But the gains can be well worth the effort. As Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”
Carmen Hickerson is community advancement advisor for ACCE. She previously served for more than a decade as V.P. of public affairs and communications for Greater Louisville, Inc.
ACCE’s Centennial Celebration will culminate at the 100th Annual Convention in Cincinnati, Aug. 12-15, 2014. Mark your calendar now and make plans to be at this once in a century event. Here are some important dates:
July 14: Early Bird Registration Deadline
July 21: Hotel Reservation Deadline
August 12: Centennial Convention Opening Reception
August 13: Awards Gala Evening
August 14: Centennial Celebration Extravaganza
August 15: 100th ACCE Annual Meeting
More program details are available online at www.acce.org/convention.
Chambers of commerce were not new in the early 1900s; some had existed for more than a century. But fundamental changes were coming that would transform life in the U.S. and along with it the way chambers viewed themselves and how they operated:
Amid this climate of rapid change, chambers that had been operating independently in the U.S. began to associate with one another more frequently. Chamber executives believed the way to progress was through unity, and they wanted to share standards, techniques and best practices to accomplish more for their communities.
At a 1906 meeting in Binghamton, N.Y., 25 executives from chambers in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania formed the Inter-State Association of Commercial Executives, the first established association of chamber professionals on record. It later became the American Association of Commercial Executives. A similar group, the Central Association of Commercial Secretaries, was formed in Cincinnati in 1909.
These two organizations were the foundation of the National Association of Commercial Organization Secretaries (NACOS), which would ultimately become the American Chamber of Commerce Executives. Back then, chambers of commerce were referred to as “commercial organizations” and chamber executives generally had the title of “secretary.”
In 1913 S. Cristy Mead of the New York City Association of Merchants was authorized by his colleagues at the American Association of Commercial Executives to confer with the Central Association about consolidating the two bodies. A year later an agreement was finalized at a meeting in Cincinnati and the National Association of Commercial Organization Secretaries (NACOS) was born. Mead was elected first president of the newly formed national organization, the equivalent of today’s board chairman. One year later, at the first convention of NACOS in St. Louis, there were 203 members from 156 communities in 39 states and three Canadian provinces; 46% of the members served in towns of less than 50,000. By 1930 membership topped 1,000.
In his opening remarks at the 1915 St. Louis Convention, S. Cristy Mead underscored the important role chambers of commerce must play in community development, saying:
“The modern commercial organization, whether large or small, is the expression of cooperation and coordination on the part of individual businesses in the accomplishment of results beneficial to the community. The operation of such an organization calls into play an influence of peculiar potency, pregnant with great possibilities for the future development of the community.”
The important role chambers can and should play in community growth and development – public policy, infrastructure expansion, business attraction – were the first words uttered at the first convention. Mead, who also was involved in the formation of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Institute for Organizational Management, established a focus we maintain a century later.
May, 2, 1934, the NACOS Board recommended that permanent association headquarters be established in Washington, D.C. Up to that point, the association’s offices moved each year with the new president to his home town office. NACOS’ Washington office space was donated by the U.S. Chamber. NACOS’ senior professional staffer at the time was Norma McKellops. Her title was Assistant Secretary-Treasurer. McKellops served in that role for fifteen years, stepping down in October of 1943. She was succeeded by Elizabeth Glenn, a Fort Worth native and Institute graduate who edited the Washington Board of Trade’s Bulletin publication for the prior eleven years.
The February 1928 issue of NACOS News, the association’s monthly newsletter, announced that a committee was considering a name change for the association. Members were asked if they liked the association’s name and its acronym, and if they had suggestions for a new name. Apparently most members liked NACOS, because it wasn’t until 20 years later, August of 1948, after a year’s study, that the NACOS Board approved changing the association’s name to American Chamber of Commerce Executives. (In 1944 there was an attempt to change the name from NACOS to ACCE, but it failed.)
The change was overwhelmingly approved by the membership at the 1948 convention in Philadelphia. In January of 1949 NACOS News still carried the old name and masthead with the added notation “Published by American Chamber of Commerce Executives.” The April 1949 issue sported a new name: “The American Chamber of Commerce Executive,” with “Executive” dominating the masthead such that the newsletter name appeared to be “Executive.” A page 2 story announced that the name change was taking place on the 28th anniversary of NACOS News.
Throughout the early years, the monthly NACOS News and the annual convention kept the chamber industry connected. Like today, most of the news items and conventions sessions were about successful chamber-led initiatives that expanded opportunity for businesses and the community. Many reflect challenges of the day, others are remarkably similar to ideas we share today. Here are a few interesting headlines and convention notes from your predecessors:
The Allentown, Pa., Chamber caught “a group of stock swindlers of notorious record who also were being sought in New York in connection with a $5,000,000 swindle.” — NACOS News, Feb. 1927
The Tyler, Texas Chamber conducted a rat extermination campaign, enlisting “school children throughout the county into a formidable army of pied pipers which ceased work only after 100,000 rats and salamanders had been killed. Keeping repaired the dykes of business demands of a commercial organization that it fight with equal ferocity vermin in any of its forms.” — NACOS News, March 1928
The Columbus, Ohio Chamber announced a campaign to eliminate the city’s rat population, estimated at “600,000, twice the number of human inhabitants,” with a “specially prepared poison being used by a crew of five exterminators.”
The Albion, Mich. Chamber conducted “Better Radio Reception Week” in late March of 1927. All local radio owners were furnished surveys about their radio reception that week to determine where in the city interference was prominent, followed by the use of a “highly sensitive radio to trace the causes of interference—leaky transformers and the like.”
Columbus, Ohio was the site of the 1927 NACOS convention. Room rates at the Deshler-Wallick Hotel ranged from $2 for a single room without bath ($2.50 to $5 for a single with bath) to $6.50 to $12 for a double room with bath (twin beds). The opening reception featured “an organ recital and a program by a string choir.”
By Robert B. Beach, Chicago Chamber
From a presentation at the 1919 NACOS convention in Indianapolis.
“Why do your members resign? Did you ever catalog the reasons?
Put all these reasons together and they reduce to one that contains them all: ‘I am out of touch with the chamber and the chamber is out of touch with me.’”
NACOS promoted the 1925 convention in Kansas City by publishing a letter from Kansas City Chamber Secretary John Guild describing the venue. Guild wrote that “We are happy over the fact that we can have the entire Kansas City Athletic Club, a twenty-three story building right in the heart of the city. The headquarters for NACOS will be in the Chamber of Commerce quarters on the third floor of this magnificent new building. The club has sleeping rooms sufficient for all members of our Association with the possible exception of a few with their wives who may want to be in a hotel, but even that can be arranged for if they want to be in this building.” Guild described rooms for breakout sessions and larger rooms such as “the Roof garden, a beautiful room with an ideal setting … twenty-three stories above the street with nothing to interfere with or detract from our meetings.” He also noted that the club contained “the largest swimming pool in the west.” — NACOS News, March 1925