When Kerry O’Brien taught in the classroom overseeing 30 sixth-graders, she never imagined the experience would help her years later as manager of member relations for the .
“I’ve been a teacher,” O’Brien laughed. “Not much scares me!”
O’Brien was a volunteer when she applied for an open position at the Chamber. She was hired on the spot.
“My job is to stay in touch with members and provide value for their membership, recruit new members, coordinate committees and help them accomplish their projects,” Kerry said. “I really act as a facilitator.”
O’Brien’s 20 years as a teacher gave her a solid background for helping members move toward their objectives. Her former role as athletic director at St. James the Apostle School gave her plenty of experience as a negotiator and diplomat. By O’Brien’s own admission, she loves her work.
“I’m surprised how each day goes, filled with committee meetings, membership inquiries, maybe a visit to City Hall, an interview like this one,” she said. “One minute I’m meeting with the Mayor and the next minute, I’m picking up the kids from school.”
A mother of three, ages 18, 17 and 15, O’Brien said she never pictured herself in the business world. But thanks to the mentoring of Joe Zahour, assistant vice president and branch manager of the Wheaton and Glen Ellyn branches of Suburban Bank & Trust —where O'Brien previously worked in the marketing department—she was introduced to the Chamber as a volunteer. Zahour later recommended her for a position at the Chamber.
“I’ve known Kerry for years and she’s someone who truly enjoys meeting new people and learning about their business. She’s the first person I thought of” when the Chamber was scouting for talent, Zahour said.
Working as the lead employee at the Chamber has given her new insights into the business world.
“It’s cool to see people come together and accomplish something they wouldn’t have done separately,” O’Brien said. “I grew up in Wheaton but I’ve discovered a whole new side [of the town]. Members are special people. I see how they run their own businesses, how they ‘walk their walk.’ They do what they say they’re going to do.”
And even in a tough economy, O’Brien said, “There was no stopping them—no excuses. That’s pretty unusual.”
Chamber board member Bill Keffer also gave Kerry a ringing endorsement. “She’s brought an abundance of enthusiasm and energy to the job,” he said, adding, “She sincerely cares about the community and the Chamber’s role in Wheaton.” A certified financial planner and owner of Keffer Financial Planning, Bill has been on the Chamber board as treasurer, secretary and now board member-at-large during a time of change. He described Kerry as “talented … someone who has been able to provide a steady, positive force for moving the Chamber forward.”
For now, Kerry is happy in a job that she describes as highly creative, one that allows her to use her experience in teaching, marketing at the bank and even her work as an athletic director. The Chamber’s board of directors is investing in her continuing education by sending her this summer to Chamber Institute, an association that assists in the professional development of chamber executives. She’s thrilled about the opportunity and eager to bring back to the Chamber all that she learns.
And if the position of executive director at the Wheaton Chamber of Commerce opens up? Kerry smiled. “I’d love to throw my hat in the ring.”