A Change in Leadership
By Ettie Berneking
The Springfield Chamber has only had four women serve as the chair of the board. The fifth, Robin Robeson, stepped into that role in 2020, and in 2021, she’ll be followed by Logan Aguirre, president and associate publisher of 417 Magazine. To learn about the progress the Chamber has made when it comes to diversity Logan and Debra Shantz Hart, owner of Housing Plus LLC and the fourth woman to serve as chair of the board, met up to talk about the past, present and future.
Ettie Berneking: I know the two of you are not officially mentor and mentee, but Logan, you’ve turned to Debra to learn more about what to expect in your upcoming year as chair of the board. So how did the two of you meet in the first place?
Logan Aguirre: I feel like I’ve just always known you. Once you’re introduced to someone, you see them everywhere!
Debra Shantz Hart: I think we first met when we were introduced at a workout class at Dan Kinney. Then a few weeks after that, I saw you out, and you were gorgeous. You were dressed in real clothes, and I thought, “Wow that Logan has it going on.”
L.A.: That’s right! Then when the Chamber first asked me to consider the board chairmanship, I asked you to go to lunch so I could hear your perspective. She got me very excited.
Berneking: What were you nervous about with the role?
L.A.: I asked her if there was anything she didn’t know going into it that she wished she knew and what it was like to balance life, work and the Chamber. And because I’m perceived as younger, how did she think that would be received.
D.H.: Well, I’ll be honest. It’s easy to sell the Chamber. It’s a great organization. It helps identify the reasons Springfield is a great place to live, and it helps small businesses. It’s easy to be high on the Chamber, and it’s important to get good leaders who aren’t the stereotypical Chamber leaders. I think it’s a huge asset for the Chamber—and for you—to have someone perceived as younger. It changes the perception people have of the Chamber.
Berneking: Debra, is there anything you miss about being chair of the board?
D.H.: I will tell you selfishly as the chair, you’re in the know. Then you go cold turkey and you’re not the chair and you don’t know anything.
L.A.: I’ll toss you a bone or two.
D.H.: Thank you!
Berneking: What are you most proud of from your time as chair?
D.H.: We changed something my year. In the past, the Chamber had always done membership drives to increase membership, which helps with the budget. But we changed that and started the Reach Campaign. It allows business members to sponsor Chamber events where they want their business to be highlighted. In my mind, it’s more of a resource alignment. You pre-sell these sponsorships, so businesses can manage their budgets based on the asks that are coming in, and the Chamber can solidify its budget earlier. Also, people used to buy Chamber memberships because they were our friends, but they didn’t know what the Chamber was all about. This is a better way, and I think people really feel they’re getting value for their membership.
L.A.: The Reach Campaign has made such a positive impact in connecting members to opportunities, and the Chamber still does it every year. But you’re right, the events budget is locked in thanks to Reach. It is outstanding to see such commitment. There’s no more worrying because the fundraising is already done.
D.H.: That gives the Chamber the ability to focus on what it’s really meant to do, which is focus on advocacy and networking and connecting our community leaders. I think the Reach Campaign has been great so far.
Berneking: Logan, what are you excited about with your upcoming term in 2021?
L.A.: I’ll be giving that a lot of thought, and I will spend the next year listening and observing. But I do think it will be about diversity and inclusion. I think it’s the right time to have that conversation at the Chamber. MSU did a campus climate study in the spring. While there are still small gaps in the responses of majority and minority group students, we did better than most universities in the study. The one area of the study that scored below average was the experience underrepresented students had off campus. Students felt Springfield sometimes wasn’t welcoming. We need to improve this. I think the Chamber and the city can have a real role in changing this. Otherwise retention of talent will continue to be an issue in Springfield. I think having back-to-back women as chair shows we’re leaders in this conversation.
Berneking: Have the two of you seen changes at the Chamber when it comes to diversity?
D.H.: Oh yes. I’ve seen a lot of change at the Chamber, and I’ll tell you, a lot of that is thanks to past chairman Jeff Schrag. Jeff was all about diversity at the Chamber. Our membership and our board reflected Jeff’s focus on diversity. When I left the Chamber board, it was almost 50/50 women to men. I was first on the board in 1994. I will tell you, I was one of two women on the board, and there might be 30 members on the board. What a change!
L.A.: Well, it’s the first time we will have back-to-back women as Chairs, so that’s a big change! And it feels like the board has more of a progressive mindset than I would have expected looking in from the outside. I think a lot of that is because there’s been a focus on bringing in more women and younger voices to the board.
Berneking: Logan, how did you end up getting involved with the Chamber?
L.A.: Honestly, I didn’t get plugged into the Chamber until recently. I was part of The Network when it launched, but most of my energy has been focused on my involvement with Junior League, my young kids and my growing role at 417 Magazine. When the Chamber called to ask me to be on the board, I was honored and excited. My first meeting was like drinking from the fire hose. There’s so much to learn! To be honest, I’m nervous about moving into the role, but past chairs have been so supportive and encouraging. I’m going to pour my heart into it.
D.H.: Sure, but we all have a goal of making Springfield a better place to live, so I don’t think there’s going to be any second thoughts about you serving as chair.
L.A.: No one seems worried except me. But I am really excited because this aligns so well with my passion at the magazine. Our mission is to celebrate why Springfield is a great place to live, work and play. This will just be one more way I can broadcast why Springfield is so great.
D.H.: I think your job aligns beautifully with your upcoming role at the Chamber. You have a unique skill set and, frankly, I think you can carry the torch just as well or better than most people. This is what you do for a living.
Berneking: Debra, do you have any helpful advice for Logan about serving as chair of the board?
D.H.: My advice is this: The Chamber staff is wonderful, so rely on them as much as you want, but put your stamp on it. There’s opportunity to do things that can help move the needle for Springfield, and you have a unique perspective on that. Don’t be afraid to be an advocate for the things you’re passionate about, but you won’t run into roadblocks. We all have the same goals of making Springfield a great place.
L.A.: Thank you!