Portland chamber CEO to retire at year-end

Posted Dec. 06, 2012, at 12:46 p.m.
Godfrey Wood
Godfrey Wood

PORTLAND, Maine — Godfrey Wood announced Thursday that he will step down as president and CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce after 15 years at the organization’s helm.

Wood broke the news in an email to chamber members. He plans to step down on Dec. 31.

“I believe change is good for any organization, and it will be good for me, as well,” he wrote. “The time is right for me and for the organization to step down, and I do so with wonderful memories, profound thanks to you, and gratitude to the many remarkable, supportive leaders in this community.”

Reached in his office on Thursday morning, Wood said there is no back story to his decision to step down at the end of the year. It’s just time, he said.

“I’ve been here a long time. We’ve accomplished a lot,” he told the Bangor Daily News. “I think it’s time to move on and find a new opportunity in this region.”

Wood said it’s hard to quantify his and the chamber’s accomplishments during the past 15 years since so much of what the chamber does accomplish is driven by membership. One program he’s especially proud of is the Portland Veterans Network, which provides free chamber membership to unemployed veterans. “There’s not a lot of numbers, but that’s starting to pay off for them,” he said.

The chamber and its role within the community have evolved, Wood said. While a primary function for the chamber is to provide networking opportunities for its members, Wood said the advocacy part of its mission also has grown.

“Businesses want us to be their voice on policy issues,” he said. “An example is we’ve been working recently with Portland on the homelessness task force. We have communications from several members saying, ‘I wanted to speak up on this, but I think it’s better for the chamber to be my voice and the voice of other businesses.’”

Demonstrating the chamber’s value to members has been a subject of discussion recently. In August, the chamber lost two of its largest dues-paying members — Unum and Hannaford — when they decided to not renew their memberships.

That likely represented a small percent of the chamber’s total revenue — neither the chamber nor the companies would disclose what they were paying in membership dues — but it does fit with a downward trend in revenue. For the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2011, the Portland Regional Chamber collected $615,339 from membership dues, according to its IRS filing. That is a 7.2 percent decrease from the $663,415 in dues it collected during the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2009.

At the time, Wood said the loss of the companies would spur the organization to take a closer look at how effective it is at demonstrating value to its members. “I think we’re always looking at that,” he said at the time. “But this probably brings it into sharper focus. Absolutely.”

The Portland Regional Chamber consists of five community chambers in Scarborough, Westbrook/Gorham, Portland, South Portland/Cape Elizabeth and Falmouth/Cumberland.

The chamber has 1,400 member companies representing more than 64,000 employees, according to its website.

As for what’s next for Wood, he said he’s definitely not ready to retire. “I don’t want to sit around and look at the Internet all day and play golf all the time,” he said.

Wood is the managing owner of an entity that owns six restaurants in southern Maine: the Amato’s, Johnny Rockets and Dickey’s Barbeque & Chicken locations at the Maine Mall in South Portland; Amato’s locations in Augusta and Freeport; and the Johnny Rockets in Freeport.

However, Wood said he wouldn’t be pouring more time into the restaurant business next year.

Instead, he’d like to pursue a full-time or consultant position in the financial services, health care or higher education fields. He’d like to be “recognized by somebody as an individual that can help an organization achieve its mission,” he said, adding that he’s already had conversations with one organization about consulting opportunities.

James Cohen, president of the regional chamber’s board, thanked Wood in a prepared statement. “The Portland Regional Chamber is a better organization, and our business community is stronger as a result of Godfrey’s tenure,” Cohen said.

The chamber will begin the search for Wood’s successor immediately, Cohen said. Wood said he would work with the chamber’s board and staff to make sure it’s a smooth transition.

In his email to members, Wood said he is leaving the chamber in a better position than when he found it and is looking forward to the chamber’s next chapter, and his own.

“Those of us who are fortunate to be chosen to lead an organization like this realize that we are merely stewards of an institutional trust, in this case 158 years old, that we strive to sustain, and hope to leave better when it is time to leave,” he said. “I believe it is better, and it is time.”

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