Is there anything more thrilling and challenging than a new job? The excitement of the new step in your career mixes with the nervous energy of all the things you see that can be done, and the next thing you know, it’s been six months since you started.
That’s exactly how Maryland Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Christine Ross feels these days. A bit more than six months into her position, she’s ready to dig into the deep work of a strategy that will move Maryland’s businesses forward.
It’s a sense that can only come after spending a lot of time listening.
“My intention when I first joined the Chamber was to spend my first 90 days gaining an unbiased understanding,” Ross said. “I wanted to understand the organization, how it has worked, how it needs to work – not just for itself, but for our members, our future members, and everyone we touch or may touch. That means understanding strategy, outcomes, perceptions—and it takes time to really get to learn what all those things are and how they synergize.”
It also means a lot of conversations. Ross has now met one-on-one with a majority of the board members and has gone on 11 listening tours, in Howard, Wicomico, Charles, Baltimore, Montgomery, Garrett, Carroll, Prince George’s, Anne Arundel and Washington Counties, as well in Baltimore City. She’s also met with Governor Larry Hogan, several Maryland secretaries of state, legislative leadership and the Maryland Association of County Officials. November, she met with Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond President Jeffrey and other high-level representatives of the bank to discuss economic indicators in the state.
Add in 75 businesses and organizations like the Chesapeake Regional Technology Council, the Cyber Security Association of Maryland, Leadership Maryland, the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore, and the Maryland Association of Chambers of Commerce Executives and you have a fairly good idea of the amount of listening she’s been doing.
“I think the most important thing I’ve learned is that there’s a dramatic need for collaboration at every level,” she observed. “Complimentary and competing organizations, across party lines and business sectors, between job seekers and job creators.
“Learning that helps me facilitate communication and understanding, to convene players who might otherwise not have thought to leverage their efforts to create a better outcome.”
Though Ross is relatively new, the central focus of the Maryland Chamber is unchanged: to be the leading voice for business in the state, advancing it as a national and global competitive leader in economic growth and private sector job creation through effective advocacy, high-level networking and timely communication. The difference, said Ross, is in how that will be done. She has reinvigorated the Chamber staff, infusing the government affairs, membership, and communication departments with new goals, skills and energy. This repositions the Maryland Chamber for maximized effectiveness that’s focused on competitiveness for the state and its members.
“Advocacy is a critical part of what we do, but it’s not the only thing we do,” Ross said.
“Network-building is changing, and so are we. We’re moving toward strategic alliances, the kind of networking that goes beyond the meet-and-greet and gets into how people from one industry can collaborate with people from another industry so both sides benefit.”
Ross and her staff have combed through much of the Chamber’s past to figure out how it got to the present and where it needs to go in the future. Part of this, she said, includes building even better relationships with members and businesses and organizations that aren’t members yet, and meaningfully engaging the board and the Chamber’s committee members. She has a number of projects in mind, including a way to build a pipeline between schools and employers, so that young people, whether they have a college degree or not, can get stable, meaningful jobs.
“This Chamber is going to innovate. We will be leaders and conveners,” Ross emphasized. “There’s so much potential in Maryland for greater collaboration, strategic alliances, a collective of stronger voices—there’s energy and vitality in this state that needs to stay here to help it grow.”
“We are looking for the ideal of sustainability in everything we do.”
Six months in, Ross believes that listening is a permanent part of leading. She won’t stop doing that.
But she hit the ground running, and with renewed focus, the Chamber is ready for the marathon.
Follow the Chamber during January as we continue to highlight innovation in our state. #MDCCInnovation