New leader of Naperville Chamber of Commerce prepared to take helm
By Hank Beckman For The Sun December 7, 2012 11:08AM
Updated: January 10, 2013 6:28AM
Youth must be served, according to an old adage.
Apparently, the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce is taking that advice to heart.
The Board of Directors recently named 30-year-old Mike Evans as its new president and CEO, and about 200 people turned out to meet him at the Lisle-Naperville Hilton recently. Evans begins work on Monday.
“I’m energized and excited to get started,” he said as he greeted local business people in the reception line. “I was honored … it was a long and exacting process. They did a lot of homework.”
Evans’ resume was one of 70 that the board started out with, later narrowing the list down to 21 and ultimately selecting Evans from three finalists.
“He’s energetic,” said Chamber Director Shane Beard when asked to describe what tipped the scales in Evans’ favor. “He’s got creativity and vigor.”
Beard stressed Evans’ experience with local governments and non-profit organizations as a key to the selection as well, saying “he’s got collaborative, decision-making experience.”
Ray Kinney, owner of Minuteman Press, echoed Beard’s comments about Evans’ high energy level and stressed the value of Evans’ age.
“He has demonstrated that he can deal with young people,” Kinney said.
Kinney noted the importance of the younger generation, saying that one of the largest demographic groups in the recent presidential election was that of people between the age of 25 and 30.
“Without a strong business community, there is no vibrancy in the community,” Kinney said, “no quality of life.”
Naperville City Councilman Doug Krause said that Evans’ challenge going forward was to “focus on existing businesses” in addition to bringing new business to the area.
When Evans spoke to the crowd, he vowed to continue the Chamber’s role as the most important partner businesses can have.
“We’re going to do some amazing things,” he said. “I can guarantee you that.”
Carla Robotti of Interior Investments was impressed.
“I liked what he had to say,” she said. “He seems comfortable in his role.”
Evans is a native of Bolingbrook and graduated from Romeoville High School. He first attended Northern Illinois University, but later transferred to Illinois State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and public administration.
Evans got involved in Bolingbrook government as an intern during his college years and credits that experience with a rapid professional rise that saw him become the youngest CEO of an Illinois Chamber of Commerce when he took the helm of the Bolingbrook Chamber of Commerce at the tender age of 24.
“I was pretty active in local government in high school and college,” he said later in a telephone interview.
After three years with the city, he moved on to a position with the DuPage County Board before being tapped to take over the Bolingbrook Chamber in 2007.
Evans noted that when he took over the Bolingbrook Chamber in 2007, it was in a transitional period and didn’t have the best reputation for working with governing bodies.
“We didn’t have a strong working relationship with the State of Illinois,” he said.
He stressed that his success with the Bolingbrook Chamber was a result of his experience working with government and ability to build consensus between various partners.
He said that many modern business owners suffered from “time poverty,” largely as a result of the soft economy in recent years that has forced so many to work at different facets of their businesses.
“It’s become more competitive,” he said.
In years past, the Chamber could tell businesses that they would get the full benefit of Chamber resources, including referrals and the sharing of best practices if they participated in the Chamber’s activities.
“We told them, ‘you can get all that if you come to meetings,’” Evans said, stressing that those days were gone, and probably for good, considering the modern tech-driven economy.
Evans is concerned that too many people in leadership in business and government are under the impression that the looming “fiscal cliff” the nation faces without a federal budget deal in place by the first of the year is not really a huge problem.
“Ignoring a problem is not the solution,” he said.
Evans stressed that Illinois faced a stronger challenge than most states because the threat of the fiscal cliff comes on top of the generally sorry state of Illinois’ finances.
Another challenge, especially for small businesses, is the pending implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
“The election is over,” Evans said, noting that the uncertainty for the business community over the measure should now be over.
“The reality is that most companies have already started putting some (of the law’s) measures in place,” he said.
Evans acknowledged some concerns business owners have about the new health care system, but is optimistic that the new law will bring some welcome consequences, such as new businesses designed to help administer it.
He said the Chamber has a role in educating members about the law. He said that businesses need to figure out how to deal with it, versus fighting against it.
“The ball has rolled too far,” he said.