New era: Hats off to the Chamber’s first she-EO

<p>Nicki Anderson gives her incoming speech as president and CEO at the 2014 Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce gala. The chamber welcomed the new board and thanked the outgoing one. | Submitted</p>

Nicki Anderson gives her incoming speech as president and CEO at the 2014 Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce gala. The chamber welcomed the new board and thanked the outgoing one. | Submitted

I have a new hero.

When the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce set about searching for another head honcho, for the third time in less than six years, the committee agreed they wanted someone who would last a while, someone with “the energy (and) passion for our members” that the job demands, board President Tom Kallay said.

Rosemarie Breske-Garvey, who led the search group, said it quickly became apparent that Nicki Anderson’s “purpose-driven leadership approach” would help the Chamber move forward. It looks as though what lies ahead is an era of more purposeful and stable leadership.

A person who truly loves the city, its people and its robust business community, Nicki is stepping into some shoes that might not fit her feet perfectly, but I’m fully confident that she is ready to fill them for the long run, with both extremities planted firmly on terra firma.

She is taking over the job that was held for just less than a year by Mike Evans, who had come to the organization after leading the Bolingbrook Chamber of Commerce. John Schmitt filled the post for three years before parting ways with the Chamber in May 2012. Mike Skarr had stepped down in late 2007 after 11 years at the Chamber helm.

Yes, it happens that she is a she — the first woman to hold the position on a permanent basis in the Chamber’s 100 years. The way I see it, that’s just icing on the cake.

I would submit, however, that there are some specific advantages her gender brings to the job. Most obviously, she’s a mother of four, and moms are the original CEOs. We’re delegators and negotiators, cajolers and reinforcers, limit setters and, occasionally, boundary benders. These are crucial management skills.

We’re also pretty adept at multi-tasking, perhaps dipping our toes into that pool the first few times we simultaneously sorted socks, caught up on the day’s news, teleconferenced with the office, kissed a bigger kid’s bruised elbow and breastfed.

With new relationships to nurture, and a few in need of minor repairs, Nicki expects to do a bit of multi-tasking.

Of course, she has great business instincts as well. Her first “entrepreneurial gig” came when she started making jewelry and selling it, when she was in seventh grade. She was already running a thriving business, Reality Fitness, when she started writing a column for this paper a decade ago (which, bittersweetly, saw its last submission this week). Oh, and she had four teenagers in the house then, too.

Above all, she’s deeply devoted to her hometown. When I asked what she likes about it, “the amazing amount of give-back from residents” topped her list.

“It’s a very unique community that way,” she said, adding that the job she’ll officially begin Monday is all about building relationships, and she’ll relish that. “There is nothing more valuable than knowing your neighbors.”

Nicki also expects to focus on getting much better acquainted over the coming weeks and months with her new day-job neighborhood.

“I think sometimes we get so bogged down by leadership, we forget our membership,” she said.

I guess, at least from my perspective, she kind of puts the “her” in hero. Seems like the gal deserves a shot.

I say all the best of luck to you, Madame President.