Women CEOs Who Connect Businesses to Baltimore
A shared vision, a common passion and a collaborative attitude – these are the driving forces behind three women who direct three of the region’s most influential business groups. They are positioning their organizations as catalysts for a region that offers a robust, competitive business environment and is recognized globally as a world-class market and leading entrepreneurship destination. They are Christine Ross, CEO of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, Shannon Landwehr, President/CEO of the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore, and Jen Meyer, CEO of Betamore. While each group has its own mission and culture, each leader knows that the vision can only become a reality by collaboration and connection.
All relatively new to their positions, these women have a passion for helping people to succeed and a knack for relationship building. Landwehr has returned to the non-profit sector from private enterprise and Meyer and Ross have brought experience from other councils and Chambers. They are now managing teams that are “small but mighty” as they guide area businesses toward a common goal.
“We need to find ways to continually develop partnerships and be a connector in the region,” Landwehr says of the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore.
“We strive to facilitate communications, bring the right people to the table, get at the very issues and provide continuous support by working together.”
Ross acknowledges that the Maryland Chamber wants to move the state forward to be more competitive in getting businesses to locate here. “We are making sure we are doing what has to be done to connect the business community with the workforce. We should be able to flex and bend with the changes in the economy and changes in business climate,” she says. “Everyone is so busy making their company run that they don’t always manage to make the right connections. The Chamber wants to bring people together and convene to celebrate Maryland employers.”
Meyer underscores Betamore’s mission statement. “I have seen the growth of technology companies here, and I feel like we’re climbing up a mountain together. We’re part of a larger ecosystem and our goal is to highlight what the technology businesses are doing and help companies succeed,” she explains.
Collaboration is important to their success. “So many people are doing great work. If we break down the silos, we can help the business community leverage efforts, improve the employment pipeline and end up with more robust growth,” Ross says.
Most recently the head of the Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce in Florida, Ross cites her proudest career moment as the collaboration of businesses in that state following the 2009 real estate collapse. “I had to help retool our systems and help the members find a new way to create business,” she relates. “People didn’t have to listen to me, but they came and listened, agreed to collaborate, and were willing to make fundamental changes to the way they were doing business.”
Her work with the Chamber there resulted in the ultimate five-star accreditation from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for effectiveness and impact. Ross was also voted Chamber Executive of the Year by the Florida Association of Chambers of Commerce Executives, and her Chamber was recognized as Florida’s Chamber of the Year in 2014. In addition, she earned her Certified Chamber Executive (CCE) status in 2014, a designation bestowed on only 500 people in the United States. She holds an MBA and a master’s degree in marketing from the University of Maryland-University College, and an undergraduate degree in music education from James Madison University.
Ross explains that her music background is partly responsible for her business success. “Musicians are creative by nature and they are good problem-solvers,” she says. She worked in public relations and marketing and re-entered the workforce after 10 years at home with her children. She says her PR experience helped her in understanding and developing crisis communications plans, implementing two-way communications and writing compelling messages.
Ross says her biggest challenge as the leader of the Maryland Chamber will be to make sure she’s re-establishing relevance and that people are witnessing the Chamber’s responsiveness. She has already done 12 listening tours, visited with 12 department heads, and met with representatives from the Departments of Labor, Commerce, Higher Education and Environment. “If you forget to ask questions and listen, you can be full steam ahead on a completely wrong track,” she comments. “We want to make sure the Chamber is responsive and accessible to our members and the state’s leaders.”
Her team will be initiating a weekly e-newsletter that will establish direct communication with members and stakeholders. “Our members will see a philosophical shift to spending more time telling about the good work the Chamber’s employers do,” she notes. Ross says the Chamber will engage the younger population and look to the future of the organization so it can continue to serve and grow.
With sights set on the area’s business growth goals, the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore (EAGB) brings partners from regional businesses, elected government officials and higher education together to focus on business retention, new business development, jobs, workforce development and new investment throughout the region. President/CEO Landwehr says the organization is the only regional Alliance in the state, set apart by its coverage area and its members. “We are the only regional organization that has government at the table to talk about issues, with Greater Baltimore’s elected officials on our board,” she says.
Landwehr, who was COO of the Alliance in 2011, took a four-year hiatus from non-profit work to make her mark in the finance industry at Morgan Stanley. “I came back (to the Alliance) just after the 2015 unrest in Baltimore,” she says. “They asked me post-unrest, ‘Are you sure you want this job?’ A bit surprised, I couldn’t think of a more important time for the EAGB’s work than at that time. This organization can have a big impact on the region.”
That impact includes outreach to strengthen and deepen relationships, a focus on education and on strategic alliances that result in jobs and partnerships. “The challenge is that it is not traditional economic development,” she explains. Her background in urban economics and finance has helped her to develop solutions.
In this, the Alliance’s 20th anniversary year, Landwehr says the organization is focusing on four pillars of educational outreach that highlight the region’s historical growth, projected growth, partnerships and goals for economic development in the region. She is confident that education will continue to aid the evolution of the economy. “When we talk about Baltimore being a great place to live and work, we still get answers like, ‘Yes, but …’”
Despite the “buts,” she continues to forge ahead in efforts to bring businesses and jobs to the region. She is most proud of the 800 additional jobs from Morgan Stanley, because she has worked on both sides of the company’s regional job growth – in its earlier phases while at Morgan Stanley and back at the Alliance for the recently announced expansion efforts.
Landwehr attributes her determination to the biggest influencer in her life – Steve Schramm, her boss in her first job out of college. “He taught me what it meant to be a leader. He was young himself, a great manager, and he taught me to manage clients and work collaboratively with people.”
Landwehr likes to spend any free time she may have enjoying the outdoors, running, kayaking or simply experiencing nature. She is an avid reader, as well as an animal advocate.
Betamore’s Meyer also demonstrates great tenacity. She says a position like hers needs a person who has a lot of grit. “You have to have a thick skin – you cannot take anything personally. You must persevere through the highs and lows and take the time to get to know people and what drives them,” she says.
“This position has been incredibly rewarding – both in the friendships and the professional relationships. It’s not all about the short-term wins, it’s focusing on the long-term gains.”
Betamore recently experienced a long-term gain as it scored space at Sagamore Ventures’ City Garage for expansion of its incubator site. Meyer envisions an 8,000-square-foot campus with incubator, private office and education space available to working technology companies that Betamore can help to grow and thrive. Betamore strives to align businesses, not-for-profit entities and education centers with entrepreneurs. It boasts a solid track record of over 180 academy graduates (when incubator companies graduate and move out into their own space in the world) and currently supports more than 170 companies in the region.
These are the moments that make Meyer proud. “I love watching someone succeed beyond what they thought they could do,” she says. “I am a collector of good humans. Identifying that special skill or talent in a colleague, partner or friend and helping them to reach their long-term goals is the most rewarding part of this job.”
She said she surrounds herself with great people and it makes a big difference. In her “collection of good humans,” she has had the pleasure of having many mentors throughout her career and she has learned from former mentees. “I am always open to feedback,” she notes. Meyer was delighted to be recognized by her peers when nominated – and later named – to the list of the region’s Top 100 Women. She has also been listed as one of 50 Women to Watch and is on the VIP List of people “Successful by 40.”
In addition to taking the helm at Betamore, Meyer served as a professor at Loyola University for eight years. “I learn from my students as well as my colleagues. They help me gain new perspectives and challenge my personal status quo,” she explains. She also said she’s a big believer in taking care of oneself. “Know yourself and recharge when you need it.” She recharges by coaching CrossFit, spending time with her husband and three-year-old daughter, and she is excited to welcome her second child, due in February.
Over and above their shared vision and passion, these three influential women are rejuvenating the business of doing business in the Baltimore region. I95