By: Neil Heinen
Jennifer Alexander has been a teacher, high school principal, business owner and state cabinet secretary. But she says the job she’s enjoyed the most is the one she stepped down from in November, president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce.
No surprise. She was good at it.
When she was hired for the job in 2004, expectations were she would lead the Madison business community into the twenty-first century in new and innovative ways. And she has.
But more importantly, she has made the chamber a player. During the interview process, Alexander said she asked then-incoming board chair Gary Wolter how he and the board would measure, years down the road, if she had been the right choice for the job. She says he told her, “If the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce is thought to be brought to the table when there are issues that need to get addressed with the community, then it’s been a success.”
“I think the chamber has functioned as a voice for the business community,” says Alexander, “especially those small businesses that feel as if their single voice will be meaningless in a discussion—to understand those issues and then be able to have it be a significant voice in issues and problems that are being addressed in the greater Madison area.”
Under Alexander’s watch, the GMCC grew its membership, made the first candidate endorsements in the organization’s history, expanded the voice of small businesses in the organization and the community, and of course created the Collaboration Council and Thrive.
But Alexander says one of the things she’s most proud of is perhaps the least visible. And that’s moving from responding to policy changes to helping create those changes. “Now, we attend the meetings, we’re at the subcommittee meetings, we’re following the minutes and when something comes up we weigh in early and we help to shape it.”
The GMCC’s relationship with elected officials and city staff is the best it’s been in a long time. Its strategy for economic development is clear and focused. And Madison has exerted the right amount of leadership in the region. Jennifer Alexander has been at the helm for all of it. We honor her accomplishments by recognizing her as the Best of Madison Business for 2013.
Neil Heinen is editorial director of Madison Magazine
Portrait by Dan Bishop