5Qs: The Detroit Economic Club’s Beth Chappell on Advancing Young Professionals

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DBusiness Daily News spoke with Beth Chappell, president and CEO of the Detroit Economic Club, about the organization’s mission and goals as well as working to educate young professionals about attaining more business and leadership opportunities.

1. DDN: How did you come to be the president and CEO of the Detroit Economic Club?

I’m a Michigan native and a Michigan State University graduate. My first career was with AT&T, which I loved. It took me all over the country, so I was gone for 12 years. I came back in a very senior position in the Midwest and that was for a two-year assignment. In those two years, I met my husband and had a bunch of kids. At my AT&T job, I was vice president of global services, and I had a big responsibility and was living in airplanes. And then once my kids came along, it was hard to live on airplanes and raise children. That meant a career change for me. I figured if I was going to have these kids, I was going to raise them. I did a few things in the interim and then wound up at the Detroit Economic Club 13 years ago. I said I would do this for three years and (now) it’s been 13 years. It’s been a terrific opportunity for me.

2. DDN: What is the mission of the Detroit Economic Club?

The mission of the Detroit Economic Club is to engage our members in the great business, government, and social issues of our day. We’re about 3,500 members strong, and mostly comprised of the business community (and) we have strong representation from government, academia, and others. We are a nonprofit, non-partisan business organization that is totally supported by our sponsors. Our product, if you will, is our luncheon meetings where we bring in prominent (people) from all of those sectors, be it government, business, social.

3. DDN: What are your goals for the organization?

Every organization goes through ups and downs for a whole bunch of reasons. (When I came in) we were in a down cycle. If you look at economic clubs, we’re always in the top five, and there are 600 in the country. I’m very proud to be the steward of that — I didn’t create that. We’ve had a great reputation forever, and it’s just really a privilege to be a steward. When I came in, I guess the goal was to reinvigorate the club. And if I sit here right now, I guess the goals are still the same but a broader net. The club’s new mission is that we really want to engage the next generation of leaders earlier in the process.

4. DDN: Why is it important to get young people engaged with business organizations early on?

I’ll use my own experience. When I came back to Michigan 25 years ago, I was a young leader in the Detroit Economic Club. And I wasn’t really clear how it could benefit me other than I met a lot of really cool people, who, by the way 25 years later, are (now) CEOs. It’s kind of a good investment. But the thing that gets me going crazy these days (in a nice way) is our student program. Our student program has been a part of our DNA forever, and because of the generosity of our members and our sponsors who make it possible for us to exist, we host about 80 high school and/or college students at our 35 plus meetings a year. We do that at no cost to the schools. We have relationships with almost 200 high schools and colleges. Our members make it possible for students to attend every one of our meetings. Not only do they get to have a nice lunch and listen to the program, but (they get to) spend 30 minutes with our speakers.

5. DDN: How do you involve young professionals?

We started the (Young Leader) program three years ago, and we started very simply by hosting special meetings for our young leaders. Three years ago, we said we would host small meetings for up to 50 young leaders. We had 220 leaders three years ago. We thought, “Why not let these young leaders help us figure out where we go with this project?” The first idea on how to take the program to the next level is the young leader conference. It’s a conference for young leaders, so you have to be a young leader, under 40, and in the Detroit Economic Club. It’s (also) designed by people under 40 years of age. (This year) we have speakers such as Rodrick Miller, president and CEO of Detroit Economic Growth Corp.; William Clay Ford Jr., executive chairman of Ford Motor Co.; and Andrea Rush, founder and president of The Rush Group. This group is really focused on Detroit. The three goals (of the event) are to educate, inspire, and connect.

The Detroit Economic Club will host its Young Leader Conference: “Excellence in Motion” Tuesday at Cobo Center in Detroit. To learn more about the conference, visit decylconference.org and for more information on the Detroit Economic Club, visit EconClub.org.

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