Snyder to head Chamber of Commerce

Baltimore native is 1st woman to head state organization

Chapter plans softer focus


September 01, 1999|By William Patalon III | William Patalon III,SUN STAFF

After a five-month search, the Maryland Chamber of Commerce yesterday named Baltimore native Kathleen T. Snyder as its new president.

Snyder, 47, the first woman to head the Maryland chamber, takes over for Champe McCulloch, who left this year to head an Annapolis lobbying firm founded by his wife.

"We were looking for a CEO to run the chamber and to change its focus from being a total lobbying organization," said Arthur Ebersberger, chairman of the Maryland chamber, referring to the organization's new emphasis on building membership and service.

"Things happen better because there is a consensus and not because someone puts their foot in the ground and says: `This is the way things are going to be,' " added Ebersberger, president of Ebersberger & Associates Inc., an insurance agency in Severna Park.

As Ebersberger's comment suggests, the hiring of Snyder represents a shift both in the focus of the Maryland chamber and in the personality of its day-to-day leadership.

McCulloch, an attorney, became chamber president in 1994 after a 24-year career with Bell Atlantic Corp. His outspoken style was sometimes viewed as abrasive, and he at times alienated officials within state government, particularly because of his persistent criticism of Maryland's tax and regulatory structures.

Snyder, by contrast, has spent the past 12 years working for Chamber of Commerce groups. She is president and chief executive officer of the 1,100-member Alexandria (Va.) Chamber of Commerce, a post she's held since 1992. In the five years before that, she led the Prince George's Chamber of Commerce.

In Alexandria, Snyder showed herself to be a "high-energy" worker and demonstrated outstanding financial, marketing and leadership abilities, said Lynn Hampton, chairman-elect of the Chamber of Commerce there, who works as chief financial officer of the Metro Washington Airport Authority.

"When she came to our chamber seven years ago, we had an operating deficit and our membership was 700," Hampton said. "We've been operating at a surplus for the past three years; our membership is 1,100; and we're the third-largest chamber in the Washington area."

As a Marylander, Snyder has told colleagues she sees the job as something of a homecoming. But there were other compelling attractions for her: good corporate tenants, a strong work force, excellent universities, a deep-water port, a location that's central to major East Coast markets and a pleasant lifestyle.

She wants to help the state's business community capitalize on those assets.

"I hope to bring to the Maryland chapter the professional management that all chambers of commerce need," said Snyder, who starts her new job Oct. 18.

During their annual planning retreat in June, knowing they had to fill the president's post, leaders of the Maryland chamber reviewed the organization's mandate, reasoning that this exercise would help them decide what qualities were essential in their new chief executive officer.

Though the state chamber will continue its lobbying efforts -- particularly in the areas of tax relief, work-force training and tort and regulatory reform -- its leaders were in widespread agreement that the organization had to be seen as offering more.

The upshot: More emphasis would be placed upon adding new members and providing better service to the 1,200 members it already had.

Too, there was a belief that the chamber should do more to highlight Maryland's strengths, and to dispel the ill will that might have developed as a result of the skirmishes fought under McCulloch.

Because it represents a variety of industries, the chamber must make sure that it isn't benefiting a few members to the exclusion of others, said Carolyn T. Burridge, president of CTB Government Relations LLC, a lobbying firm in Annapolis.

And because the new leader is a woman -- the first -- the appointment goes a long way toward making all members feel that they're part of the organization.

"It's another chapter -- a positive chapter -- and it's a page-turner," Burridge said.

Snyder, a mother of three -- ages 21, 22 and 23 -- was born in Baltimore and has continued to live in Maryland, even during her time with the Alexandria chamber.

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