Can Seattle have a 21st century Chamber?

Fresh from work reviewing a proposed sports arena, interim Chamber of Commerce head Maud Daudon discusses how attracting the millennials, building connections, and getting results are parts of the recipe. The next big focus: Seattle's waterfront.

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Maud Daudon.

Fresh from work reviewing a proposed sports arena, interim Chamber of Commerce head Maud Daudon discusses how attracting the millennials, building connections, and getting results are parts of the recipe. The next big focus: Seattle's waterfront.

With 2,200 members, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce is the largest business-oriented organization in the region.  Yet some of the words used to describe the Chamber included “low profile,” “suffering from generational disconnect,” “skewed toward big business,” and “too close to politicians.”

The comments came during a discussion Thursday between Maud Daudon, interim President and CEO of the Chamber, and a group of Crosscut writers and editors. Daudon had asked the group how they would describe the Chamber.

Daudon, who accepted the interim job in mid-March, took the comments well, but also made a case for how the Chamber’s changes in recent years make some of those perceptions inaccurate. “We have moved from a membership-driven organization to an event-driven organization,” she said, in part because “millennials don’t join, they act.”  The events usually center on skill building, networking, and dealing with the “hassle factor” for businesses in Seattle. She praised the work of her Chamber predecessor, Phil Bussey in moving the organization forward.

Daudon also said that the Chamber has been working on what it calls its “common-ground agenda,” pulling together environmentalists, labor, business, non-profits and government to fund those issues where people can agree.  “It is all about being a convener and exercising some leadership,” she said.

Among other examples of new initiatives at the Chamber, Daudon said two stand out: a statewide organization of chambers of commerce (32 in all) that created a legislative agenda this year and an effort to help women- and multicultural-owned businesses grow and succeed. Another positive contribution has been an annual jobs survey the past two years that provides some benchmarks from which to operate.

Daudon was also reflective in regard to the Chamber, agreeing in part with a sense that it tries too much to be all things to all people.  “It’s partly the nature of a 2,200-member organization,” she said.  But it does mean at times that instead of being a voice for business, the Chamber is a whisper, as one of the Crosscut editors said.

Daudon was the financial adviser to the review committee for the new sports arena proposal for the Sodo District, which issued a report on the proposal a week ago. She had praise for the group for asking hard questions. There are a number of questions about the arena and the proposed site, she said, including transportation and the precise nature of the business plan. “There are a lot of things to still ferret out,” she said.

Daudon has just stepped down as president & CEO of Seattle-Northwest Securities, a Seattle-based independent, employee-owned, regionally focused investment bank, broker-dealer and asset management firm specializing in debt securities and related businesses. She served for four years as deputy mayor and chief of staff in the Paul Schell administration and, previous to that, Daudon was the chief financial officer for the Port of Seattle for six years and held other finance-related positions for another two years.

She was a natural as interim president of the Chamber. She has been involved with the Chamber for 20 years and was chair of the Chamber in 2010-2011. In that role, she helped establish the Chamber’s three-year comprehensive plan.

How long is interim?  “Until mid-June,” she said. She has been mentioned as a possible candidate for mayor in 2013, but she dodged that question saying she was “concentrating on the Chamber” for now. She did say the next mayor needed to be a “mayor for everybody” and one with both leadership and a vision.

What’s ahead for the Chamber?  “I’d like to make the Chamber less of an ivory tower — engaged in business and issues, especially around jobs.  The next big issue is the waterfront,”  she said, calling it a bottom-line issue having to do with jobs, and sustainable jobs. 

She told a story about the Chamber international study mission to England and Scotland last year. The group met with leaders of the Edinburgh Summer Festival, who told the Seattle group how the large festival came about through cooperation.  “We came away from this and said Seattle could do this too,” Daudon said.  The Chamber is now helping to lead a small group that is looking at “launching something that markets existing festivals.”  Eventually a new one?  “Maybe,” Daudon said with a smile.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Stephen H. Dunphy

Stephen H. Dunphy

Stephen H. Dunphy writes on business and economic issues for Crosscut. He was a business editor and columnist for a number of years at The Seattle Times.