When it came time for the Mesa Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors to choose a new president and CEO, it certainly seemed like Sally Harrison would be the obvious choice.
She had, after all, already been the “acting” president for close to the past eight months, taking over on an interim basis after former President Peter Sterling fell ill with a brain tumor a year ago.
This month, Harrison became the official occupant of the position — the move came after a tumultuous year for the Chamber where Harrison was tabbed to help the Chamber stay the course as a business mainstay serving the East Valley’s largest city.
To Harrison, it is a time to move the chamber forward with the challenges faced by a small staff, equivalent to about six-and-a-half employees.
“It’s a busy time around here,” Harrison said. “It’s a great time around here.”
Harrison said she intends to continue strengthening the membership roll of the chamber while using the programs created over the past year to enhance the value the chamber offers to its members.
“We just tightened up what we were giving to our members for the value of their memberships,” Harrison said. “We know that our members have choices. There’s other chambers and working groups that they can join. There are lots of ways people can spend their hard-earned money.”
Much of Harrison’s work, she said, is based on networking and creating connections among members and other business and civil leaders.
“People want to do business with people they know and that they’ve met and so the idea that when they join they find way to get involved right away, that’s what we’re looking for,” Harrison said.
She also wants membership renewal to be a no-brainer — a given based on its value.
Harrison said she is building on the trend started by Sterling and that it was a trying time when he had to bow out due to his illness.
“We wanted to move forward,” Harrison said. “We didn’t want to drop any balls. We still had to continue to make sure our members were getting the value for their memberships they deserved.”
Sterling called Harrison’s appointment a “very good thing.”
Sean Barry, the Chamber’s director of communications who works closely with Harrison, commended the board’s decision to have Harrison continue as the organizaton’s point person.
“Sally’s got a lot of contacts and she’s got a great vision of what direction this chamber needs to go …. I think it’s a great move for her and I think it’s a great move for the chamber,” Barry said. “It’s going to be exciting.”
Harrison said last year served largely as a “transitional year,” considering the variety of business councils the chamber created, its staffing issues and a summer move to its current office.
“We’d like to hire more staff at some point ... because we have large goals to fulfill as far as making sure we’re doing everything we can for our members,” she said.
Barry said the continuity granted by Harrison’s presence will help keep the ball rolling on the chamber’s objectives.
“You never know what you’re going to get when you bring in a new president,” Barry said. “You just never do no matter how big the process is you go through to find somebody.”
Beyond her chamber duties Harrison will watch her son leave for Marine Corps boot camp later this month, leaving her home empty, besides herself, for the first time.
“He’s teasing me: ‘Now, Mom, before I go you have to learn how to use the remote control,’” Harrison said.
Harrison said she is proud of her son, but also joked about the money she’ll be saving by not having to feed him.
“The kid can eat — he’s a big kid,” Harrison said laughing. “He’s 6 (-foot) 4 (-inches tall) and he works out like a madman everyday.”
Harrison said she is optimistic about the 107-year-old chamber’s future while staying the course.
“It was a challenging year for us. It worked. We made things happen and this year we want to build on that,” she said. “We’re not planning on making a bunch of changes.”
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