It was May 1973, and I was about to graduate from Lenoir Rhyne College when an opportunity knocked on my door. Jerry Spann, then-executive vice president of the Greater Hickory North Carolina Chamber of Commerce, took a chance and hired me as a student intern.
A few weeks after I started work, he explained to me that learning is a lifelong journey. Shortly thereafter, he sent me to the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Organization Management in Athens, Georgia to learn all facets of running a nonprofit organization. I realized then that the investment he made in me would be long-term.
Jerry started me on a professional journey from intern to Institute attendee, peer, leader, teacher, and mentor. Almost four decades later, I have the honor of being the chairman of the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Organization Management, the most respected chamber and association leadership and professional development program of its kind. I am living the proudest moment of my entire chamber career.
This year, as I reflect on my chamber career and Institute’s 90-year legacy, I want to tell my fellow chamber and association professionals to take advantage of the many opportunities that are available to connect, learn, and collaborate with your industry peers. You are not alone. Institute provided me with unlimited resources and a network that empowered me to flourish as a successful chamber executive throughout my entire career.
I love the chamber profession. It has enabled me to stand up for something I believe in and to share in my dad’s passion for the free enterprise system. My dad was executive vice president of the Winston/Salem, N.C., Chamber and a faculty member at Institute. I never imagined that I would follow in his footsteps and make the chamber career a lifelong journey.
As chamber professionals, we do incredibly important work. As the voice of business, we help advance our free enterprise principles—the principles that helped build this great country. Our work helps revitalize economies, spur growth, create jobs, and provide boundless new opportunities for our people.
Today’s world is rapidly changing and is a different place from what it was 40 years ago or even a year ago. We have to educate and engage a new generation of leaders to perpetuate the free enterprise system in the 21st century.
I am fully vested in this industry and in the Institute program. I invite and encourage you to commit yourself to lifelong learning, professional development, your organization and business community, and to our industry by investing in yourself and your staff.
We have the power to reinvent ourselves and bring our industry standards to even higher levels of excellence and relevance. Our significance comes from supporting, representing, and protecting the entrepreneurial spirit of our country. Together we can make our voices heard loud and clear, help grow our economies, and create the jobs that will sustain the next generation.
It is my wish that every industry professional has a “Jerry” in his or her career. The opportunity that Jerry gave me has impacted my life, my family, and the hundreds of people in my career that I hope I have helped as a result of his “gift” of trust.
Let’s spark the flame of entrepreneurship in the next generation of leaders in our industry.
Danny Hearn, IOM, CCE, is president and CEO of the Catawba County Chamber of Commerce in Hickory N.C., and chairman of the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Organization Management.