Executive Profile: Diane Keller, Executive Director, Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber
“Any time you bring two organizations together, it’s a challenge,” she said. “But it’s not drudgery. It’s about fun, competition, bringing the best of both together. Two great organizations are now combined into one bigger organization to serve the membership even better than before.”
Keller was president of the Ypsilanti Chamber of Commerce since 2007 and had been involved in the chamber for several years before that in a variety of roles, including as director of education. Before that, she was the manager of the Ypsilanti Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, and she owned her own public relations firm for about seven years.
She originally came to Ypsilanti to attend Eastern Michigan University and said, “I liked it here and never left.”
In 2010, her challenge is to “iron out the details” of combining the two chambers. She said the four main areas she and the membership must iron out are the organizational structure, the financial picture, the legal aspects and the membership benefits and dues structure.
In addition to working on the details, Keller also has to keep an eye on the big picture.
She said the two cities have differences, but also “a lot more similarity than you’d think.” The shared strengths of two cities, she said, include arts and culture, high-quality hospitals, universities, and research and development.
“We need to think about what are the best things we can celebrate in both cities, the best member benefits for both, cultural events both hold and whether some things should be combined into one bigger event.”
Keller said the combined chambers will also have increased clout and can help the community on a larger scale by thinking more regionally.
“We don’t want to sell Ypsilanti or Ann Arbor, but sell Washtenaw County,” she said. “We have the opportunity on a much larger scale in terms of marketing, larger buying power and benefits that we can secure for all our members.” She said the chamber also must continue to work on connecting with partner organizations in Lansing and in west Michigan for an even broader sense of regionalism.
Another challenge the chamber faces today, Keller said, is the changing nature of businesses belonging to the chamber. She said that while many chambers are made up of primarily small businesses with 10 or fewer employees, the large auto companies and banks have traditionally been the “backbone” of many chambers. Those large companies are still members, but they have fewer employees to send to the chamber as volunteers and board members.
“They don’t have extra staff on board— they’re down to bare bones,” Keller said. “Every person they have they need in the office. Corporate leadership is changing, and the challenge is how do we identify individuals and companies that will make a mark on tomorrow.”
Keller said the combined chamber is in a great position to move both communities forward on all those issues.
“Now, we have twice as many opportunities for networking, and exposure, as well as forming one Web site, one combined database and a backend structure to form one seamless organization,” she said. “It is better for the community as a whole.”
Education: Bachelor’s degree from Eastern Michigan University
Family: Husband Dave, (We’ll be married for 25 years on Feb. 8th) three kids: Joey (13), Mickey and Jake (twins who are 10)
Residence: Washtenaw County
Best business decision: Becoming entrenched in my community to further not just the chamber’s goals, but the community's goals too.
Worst business decision: Working with an unethical client.
Best way to keep a competitive edge: Work with peers/mentors you admire and maintain the highest level of ethics.
How do you motivate people? Respect the person’s thoughts and ideas and provide positive feedback whenever possible.
What advice would you give to yourself in college? Follow your passions - that way you’ll have a career that you love, not just a job.
Word that best describes you: Optimistic.
First Web site you check in the morning: Annarbor.com.
What keeps you up at night? My kids.
Pet peeve: People who are rude.
Guilty pleasure: Dark chocolate and a glass of red wine.
First job: Switchboard operator for Kelly Services.
First choice for a new career: Entrepreneur.
Favorite cause: Ypsilanti Area Community Fund/Ann Arbor Area Community Fund.
Favorite book: "Entering your Castle" by Caroline Myss.
Favorite movie: "The Wizard of Oz."
Favorite hobby: Reading, watching baseball, playing with my boys.
Favorite restaurant: Can’t decide - too many good restaurants from which to choose.
LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter? LinkedIn for work, Facebook for family.
Typical Saturday: Watching my kids play basketball and baseball and a quiet family dinner.
What team do you root for? EMU, U-M and the Detroit Tigers.
Wheels: Chrysler Town and Country van.
Who would play you in a movie? Anne Hathaway.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to AnnArbor.com.