One year after it took some dramatic measures to cut costs, the Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce finds itself on surer footing.
But it also is again searching for a fulltime administrator/leader now that its executive director, Gina Jenkins, is moving with her family to Atlanta.
The 25-year-old business organization’s all-volunteer board started 2018 by eliminating the position of CEO/president, cutting some events and making a more concerted effort to grow membership through the efforts of the board members themselves – busy men and women who have their own jobs or businesses to look after.
They looked to Jenkins to handle day-to-day tasks of organizing activities, developing members, keeping the office running and handling other tasks,
Today, said outgoing board chair Ross Murray, the Chamber is a far healthier organization.
“This was a year of restructuring and rebuilding and we are 100 percent way better off now,” said Murray, a loan originator and sales manager for HomeBridge Financial Services. “Last year at this time, we didn’t know the fate of the Chamber. We were in a downward trajectory.”
But he admitted that the board faces an unexpected challenge in the wake of Jenkins’ imminent departure.
“We have a very low budget and there’s only so much we can do,” Murray said, adding the ideal person for the job will be someone with Jenkins’ passion, organizational skills and commitment.
Or, as he put it, “a local community member who has more to give than they can get for the income we can afford.
But he’s also hopeful someone out there can fill the bill – which is why, despite the resumes the board is getting, he hopes someone will be referred to the board by someone who the members know and respect. “I believe in the power of referrals,” Murray said.
How big of a job is it?
“I tried to keep it at 40 hours and I can honestly say I planned my time off around Chamber events,” she said.
Jenkins admits her job with the Chamber turned out to require more time than she expected – attending at least a dozen regular Chamber activities a month, presiding at ribbon cuttings for members, running the office and tending to a myriad of other administrative duties.
She said she ended up working “probably 70 hours a week.”
But she stressed that as demanding as the job has been, she’s enjoyed it.
“I think the thing I like the most about this job is meeting people and hearing their stories,” she said. “You realize that most people don’t end up doing what they’re doing the way when they started. Some sad things have happened to people that got them owning their own business. They lost a spouse, they lost a job. But they picked themselves up.”
“I’m going to miss all the people I’ve met,” she added. “I’m really going to miss the members.”
Membership has more or less stabilized at around 400, and the Chamber now has its eyes on three big events in the first half of the year to help its financial position and increase its visibility.
They include an outdoor adult celebration in February that it hopes will become an annual community event, an enhanced business awards gathering the Chamber hopes to tie in with AFN’s Best of Ahwatukee awards and the organization’s annual golf tournament.
“The board has been super-active,” said Murray, who is handing the gavel over to Ahwatukee business coach Tom Dougherty.
In Doughtery, an Ahwatukee resident who holds an ActionCOACH franchise, the Chamber will have a leader with extensive experience in business – and a passion for small and medium businesses and their economic well-being.
Dougherty said he became a business coach “to help people achieve abundance in their lives.”
He grew up in California and parlayed his passion for skiing into a spot on a national championship ski team while at San Diego State University, where he studied economics.
He began working in the ski industry, as an instructor and as a sales rep for Rossignol. But during his senior year he left school to pursue his dream of becoming a stockbroker.
“I had a passion for the markets and the finance industry, and in my senior year I got an offer from Paine Webber in San Diego to become a stockbroker and financial advisor,” Dougherty said. “I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and felt like I had gotten everything I was going to get from school, so I jumped at the chance.”
He managed a portfolio that grew to $155 million in five years, but eventually quit Paine Webber and began working on a paintball gun called Racegun.
“I hired, fired, managed people, did the books – everything a small-business owner goes through, I saw up close and personal during those four years. It was a fantastic educational experience for me and gave me a perspective on small business I’d never had before.”
He sold the company to National Paintball Supply in 2007 and got back into the industry as a sales representative and then went on to start his own sales agency call SportsGearWest. Over the next four years, the agency grew to represent more than 12 different brands. He grew the sales for one, Canada Goose, in his region from $1 million to $30 million.
After marrying his wife Lorri in 2011, he relocated to Ahwatukee.
Murray said the Chamber board followed through with its determination to “quit trying to do things we weren’t.” It also relocated its offices from Chandler Boulevard and 44th Street to smaller, less expensive offices on the far west end of Chandler Boulevard in Marketplace.
It also discontinued its two-year-old Young Entrepreneur Academy, commonly called YEA!, after an insufficient number of young people stepped up for its intensive 30-week program that aims to help kids between 7th and 12th grade give birth to and run their own business.
Jenkins said she has been impressed by how many members have pitched in to help with events and welcome new members at ribbon cuttings.
Hired as membership director in February 2017 – three months after relocating with her husband and two sons from Chicago – Jenkins took on the responsibilities of running the Chamber’s office after the President/CEO who hired her, Lindy Lutz Cash, was let go when the board eliminated her position.
Several months ago, in recognition of her work, the board made Jenkins executive director.
“Gina deserved to be paid far greater than she was,” said Murray. “We made the job flexible for her and it worked out well. We capitalized on her corporate career as well as her small business experience.”
But now Jenkins is in the midst of preparing for her family’s fifth relocation – her husband manages training for UPS – and is helping the board find her replacement. She said she won’t be leaving until around March – giving her enough time to break in her replacement and tie up other loose ends with the Chamber.
“I’m going to miss Ahwatukee. It’s been a great spot,” Jenkins said. “But they’re all good stops. We tell our kids that home is where we all are together.”
Jenkins said her small business background had given her an understanding of the importance of networking while her corporate work gave her solid organizational skills.
Jenkins said that while membership has not grown as much as she had hoped, “member participation in events has definitely increased.”
She’s helping the board gather and sort through resumes, and while Murray said the Chamber has attracted a number of candidates, what he’s looking for may be a challenge to find: a local resident who has the time and the passion for the Chamber – and doesn’t need a lot of money.
As for Jenkins, the job hasn’t been about money.
After a month or so of settling in the community after her move, she said she was looking for an opportunity to do something that would also help her come to know the community.
There’s no doubt that happened, she said, adding, “I’m going to miss the people here. I’m really going to miss the members.”