The Glendale Star
By CAROLYN DRYER, Editor
It’s been a challenging, but fun ride. And, it has been extended.
Robert Heidt celebrated his fourth anniversary Oct. 14 as president and CEO of Glendale Chamber of Commerce. He got a nice gift; the chamber board of directors gave him an offer he could not refuse: a new 10-year extension on his contract. Terms were not disclosed.
But from the smile on Heidt’s face, it appears he is satisfied and content where he is. Besides, he is not finished with the work he set out to do when he landed here.
In October 2013, he came through the door, and brought in his box to start work.
“The phone didn’t ring and nobody came in the door,” he said. “I thought, ‘What have I done?’”
He came to the conclusion after a short time, “We’re existing, doing things, but not moving the needle, not cultivating innovative ways of doing things.”
He and staff reviewed everything they were doing.
Dec. 31, 2013 arrived.
“Then, we buckled down, talking and working with the business community,” Heidt said.
Starting out with 475 members in 2013, every year since, they have welcomed more than 200 new members a year. The chamber is now 1,200 members strong, which makes it one of the largest in the state.
“We need the business community now more than ever. We make an impact, and we have influence,” Heidt said. “We’ve become that voice for what the pulse of the business community is. Organizations call us daily to weigh in. We’re shaping the future, having an impact on what the future has for us.”
Internally, Heidt said as the chamber team grows, they soon learn it is a member-first approach. When a member calls or walks through the door, the team pauses and asks, ‘How do we help that member?”
They now do the member testimonials that answer the question, “Why I am a Glendale Chamber of Commerce member.”
“Over and over, we have heard what impact we have,” Heidt said.
Size? No problem.
“Several people in a crowd of 100-plus, we go up to them, know their name and business,” Heidt said. “That lets me know we’re embedded in the community, have heart.”
Attitude is great, but what about the financial stability?
“Our financial house is in order,” Heidt said. “We run the chamber like any other small business. We balance the budget, net neutral budgeting. That’s important for businesses to know. We’re a sound organization and committed to making this investment and putting into the community as a whole.”
There was a time when the chamber did not have the best relationship with city leaders, Heidt said.
That has changed and is now strong, he added.
“We agree to disagree, but figure out the best solution for our business community,” Heidt said. “What happens is, you continue to get recognized for your achievements.”
Heidt serves on a number of boards statewide, regionally and at the national level. In the chamber industry, there are a lot of openings, and Heidt has been approached by other chambers. But Glendale is where he wants to be.
“It’s about personal fit,” Heidt said. “I feel just as passionate now about Glendale as I did four years ago. There’s so much more to do – to leave the chamber in a better state.”
Heidt was on a five-year contract, and the chamber’s executive board sat down with him and told him what they wanted to do. They wanted the community to know they had the right person.
“And it lets me know they want me,” Heidt said, “and it shows the community how committed I am to them. Hopefully, what that does is allow our strategic plan to go forward, we think more broadly and strategically and take our investment to what is best for the organization, hitting on all cylinders. We have four years of sold performance leadership – and a decade more.
“This is not just a job for me. This is my career. We’re an organization that gets things done. We’re like a clock; we just keep on going. We’re making a difference, that’s what we’re doing. For me, it’s an honor.
“Ten more years; we’re in it to win it.”
Chamber Board Chair Jean Higginbotham said, “Ever since inception, his commitment has been extraordinary. Last year, we hit a milestone of 1,000 members. We’re on our way to 1,300.
“His knowledge; he’s a legend in chamber management.”
Higginbotham said Heidt’s “profound leadership” has him highly sought after. She said neighboring cities in and out of the state have expressed interest in acquiring Heidt.
“He’s so well-known,” Higginbotham said.
She said she and the chamber board created a thorough process to assess Heidt and she had an eye-opening experience. She noted his commitment to the city and chamber members, and the record numbers attending chamber events.
“Robert is all in with Glendale,” Higginbotham said. “We felt we should reward and honor Robert to make sure he’s in a posititon to stay. He just works tirelessly at success of chambers.”
Heidt and Higginbotham are excited about the next 10 years, and they are gearing up for the Nov. 3 annual auction and fundraiser at the Glendale Renaissance. Last week, Heidt and his staff were busy organizing more than 400 items that will either be part of the silent auction or the live auction presented by E.J.’s Auction and Consignment. The auction items are valued at more than $230,000. To learn more, call the chamber at 623-937-4754, or go online to glendaleazchamber.org.