The conference room at Albany’s Hilton Garden Inn was packed Thursday night as hundreds of Albany’s community and business leaders flocked to the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce’s 106th annual dinner, which featured the presentation of three prestigious awards and an inspirational speech from author and business leader Sam A. Williams.
Albany Area Chamber of Commerce interim President and CEO Barbara Rivera Holmes set the stage for the night by sharing some of the successes seen in the community during the past year, while honing in on the night’s recurring themes of servant leadership and collaboration affecting change in the community.
“I know what servant leadership looks like because I saw it in my grandfather,” said Holmes. “I can say wholeheartedly that the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce is an organization whose volunteers are committed to changing the community.”
Holmes then lauded the collaborative efforts of area servant leaders by drawing attention to the recent announcement to have the Georgia National Guard Armory placed at Marine Corps Logistics Base (MCLB) Albany, and the approval from the Technical College System of Georgia and the State Board of Education for the proposed college and career academy.
Holmes also pointed out that collaboration was the driving force behind 2015 achievements like the Albany Dougherty Economic Development Commission realizing $225 million in new investment, the creation of nearly 400 jobs in the community and the $221 million in economic impact realized by the efforts of the Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB).
“Those things don’t happen without collaborative partnerships,” said Holmes. “We’re very thankful that our community and our leadership noticed that that’s a priority, that we won’t move forward as a community if we don’t partner. Now that we’re actually collaborating, we’ve seen results.”
Holmes then turned the podium over to outgoing chamber executive board chairman Tommy Clark, who in addition to thanking the community in general for the support he’d been given during his term, also passed the chairman’s gavel to incoming board chairman Ed Newsome, owner of Albany Air Conditioning and Heating, who immediately praised the community he grew up in and the chamber of commerce.
“I was born and raised in Albany,” said Newsome. “Albany’s the right place for me and the right place for my company. The chamber has allowed me to get involved with the community.”
Newsome remained at the podium after his remarks in order to announce the three major awards the chamber presents each year at the annual meeting, starting with the Ambassador of the Year Award which was given to Peggy Haire.
“The ambassador of the year is throughout the year showing up at events, greeting new members, working with staff, and representing the chamber throughout the community,” Newsome said when recognizing Haire.
Newsome then moved on to the night’s second award, The Non Profit of the Year Award. Before naming the winner, Newsome took time to acknowledge all of the finalists of the award including, Boys & Girls Club of Albany, Cancer Coalition of South GA, Cancer Ties, Easter Seals, Flint River Habitat for Humanity, Graceway Residence, Lily Pad, Lifelink of Georgia, Mission Change, Open Arms, Salvation Army of Albany, GA, Sowega Council on Aging, Strive 2 Thrive, and The Albany Area YMCA.
Newsome then announced that the second runner up for the award was the Albany Area YMCA, and the first runner up was Sowega Council on Aging, before announcing that Mission Change would be taking home the top honor of Non Profit of the Year.
“It’s truly an honor to be able to stand up here today,” said Mission Change’s LaDonna Urick, who shared that she had recently lost her grandfather. “He taught us to work hard, to play hard, to enjoy life and to do what you love. I can honestly say he taught me well because I love what I do. I work really hard and I know that he would be very proud of me tonight.
“But it takes everybody in this community to be able to serve and to love people where they are to reach out to people that probably don’t feel love at all. That’s what Mission Change is. We build relationships with so many people from all walks of life and to be able to have this is an honor.”
Newsome then moved on to the night’s most prestigious honor, the presentation of the Lifetime Service Award, which this year went to Leland Burkhart, the long-time chairman of the chamber’s Military Affairs Committee.
“This year’s Lifetime Service Award recipient has served his country, and his community,” said Newsome. “He is a man whose character, work ethic and generosity cannot be questioned. And he really needs no introduction.”
Upon accepting the award, Burkart, also alluded to the night’s theme of collaboration by deflecting attention from himself and toward others in the community that have showed their support for the military affairs committee.
“Let me thank you for this recognition, this award,” said Burkart. “I’m in shock, shock and awe, but also very appreciative. I accept this on behalf of the committee on which I serve and its all the workers that we have that make everything we do as individuals and as a community a successful effort.”
Burkart’s comments about working together also effectively set the stage for Williams, the night’s keynote speaker, who shared his thoughts about how communities can ultimately achieve change through partnerships between different groups.
Williams began by pointing to conversations he had with community leaders, who shared with him the many challenges and successes the community has had in the past several months.
“I had the great pleasure of talking to more than a dozen key leaders in thinking about what to talk about tonight and also understanding who you are as a city,” said Williams. “I want to tell you I enjoyed those conversations with each and every one of them. Having the city and county working together with the business community, the military base, you have a lot of moving parts here and they work very well together so I really want to salute you.”
Williams then shifted into his feelings about business leaders needing to take an active role in the community in order to affect change.”
“I also want to say that the servant leader is the secret to everything you do,” said Williams. “The servant leader is giving back, not because they had to, but because they felt a debt to the community. That’s the key to making a city be what it is.”
Williams further explained that servant leadership was the crux of his 2014 book “The CEO as Urban Statesmen,” which effectively told the story of five cities in the United States that saw considerable change for the good once the business community took the reins of dealing with the issues that were impacting those cities.
“I’ll tell you that the CEO as Urban Statesman is really all about business leaders stepping out of their comfort zone and getting engaged in audacious challenges to help cities grow,” said Williams. “It’s really also a story about what I call, ‘pain, gain, and a call to action.’ All of us know that pain is a motivation. Crisis is also a motivation. Crisis to me is an opportunity because you can get people to sit at a table when there’s a crisis.”
Williams elaborated on his thoughts about crisis being the catalyst by telling the audience that he believes the communities in his book only saw change after a critical issues had come to the forefront.
He told of Atlanta’s struggles with Grady Memorial Hospital, and Columbus’ struggle to attract a young, educated workforce, and Oklahoma City’s efforts to distance itself from the wreckage of back to back events of the Oklahoma City bombing and the closure of an American Airlines factory.
In each of those examples Williams explained how a crisis got the wheels of change moving, and how business leaders answered a call to action.
“That’s the key, to getting complex problems (solved) is tap these business leaders,” said Williams. “And it’s best also when you find a problem that is what I call a tipping point problem, something that’s so bad, we can’t sweep it under the rug. It’s so bad that if we don’t address it, it’s going to bring about catastrophic consequences.
“It also is about the collaboration of business and government and private sector and academic leaders, military leaders, all of the parts of your economy, you have five, six sectors that are very powerful, not many cities have that many pieces, and then economic development is driven by all of this. So what is a the call to action? The call to action is to find that tipping point issue, tap that business leader who fits in, knows how to work with different people, get them around a table.”
Article courtesy of The Albany Herald
By Brad McEwen