If you have been in the chamber industry any length of time you have probably noticed something a little shocking about the comings and going of chamber staff people, especially presidents and CEOs.
What I am talking about here is, gasp, staff turnover (see Dan’s comment).
According to some reports, the chamber industry loses about a third of its paid leadership every three years. That equates to almost 100% turnover each decade.
Can this be healthy?
To be sure, some of the people that leave are simply retiring. We all know by know about the massive baby boomer exodus and how that will affect industries that have a lot of 50 and 60 somethings in their ranks. Chambers are not immune to this. We have to be prepared for it but in no way can we consider it anything other than the nature of things. No one is at fault that chamber CEOs are going to be retiring in droves.
Then you have another group of people that are simply good at what they do and are discovered or decide to move on to greener pastures where, perhaps, the pay is higher and the time demands are less. The industry really needs to wrap its head around this one. On one hand, the vast majority of chamber professionals aren’t in it strictly for the money (they wouldn’t fit it real well if they were). On the other hand, these professionals have mortgages and kids to feed and college to pay for.
Chambers have to at least be competitive, salary wise. This is more of a problem at the smaller chambers but even some major metros look for bargain employees and then wonder why the only last a few years. The pay issue is important but just getting higher salaries won’t entirely fix the turnover issue.
Then you have a third group, and this is the one that really bothers people in the industry, I think. This is the one where the CEO is talented, hard working, and dedicated to the community and members. They pour their hearts and souls into a job that requires 60+ hour weeks most of the year, that pays 25% less than they deserve, and they take the weight of the world (at least their chamber world) to sleep with them at night.
And then the board election comes along and the CEO’s life is turned upside down by a personality conflict or small town politics. This is the one that really grinds at the people in the industry (because we see it all too often and have been there).
Some of the solutions are strictly on the industry, such as making sure all CEO’s have employment contracts that protect them from the whims of small town politics. Another thing on the CEO is making sure they work darn hard to keep the wrong people off the board room bus. But even with these two things, it can still happen, and does all too frequently; the person that you thought would be a great board member or chair ends up being the end of your career at that chamber.
Luckily, there are chamber jobs open all over the country. Changing chamber jobs is no small issue as it impacts your entire family. It is not like quitting one bank to work for another. It almost always means moving. Not fun. On a side note: Vale, Palm Springs, and Key Largo all have chambers : )