Business Profile | Nicki Anderson

May 2014 View more

President and CEO,  Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce

Nicki Anderson, CEO of Naperville Chamber of Commerce, for Naperville Magazine

Photo by Mike Hudson

Leading the largest Chamber of Commerce in the state of Illinois is the perfect fit for long-time business owner Nicki Anderson. Anderson shares her goals, vision, and inspiration as she settles into her new role as president and CEO.

You are the first female president and CEO of the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce. Tell us how you landed your dream job?

I’m a big believer in serendipity. After 20 years of business ownership and frustration with the industry that I was in, I decided to move on. After I sold my business, I continued to write and do some business consulting. Last August, I was offered a position with a start-up company out of Austin, TX. It was a great opportunity. However, I promised myself that whatever I did in the next “phase” of my life, I had to be passionate about it and it had to serve a greater purpose. On the flight to Austin, where the company is located, I realized that this was not my calling. A bit frustrated, I came back home realizing this job was not a good fit for me right now. Four days later, I received a call about the Chamber CEO position. After many discussions with community leaders, friends, and family, I realized this was a perfect fit for me. A long-time Chamber advocate, small business owner, and passionate leader, it had all the markings of my dream job.

You have a solid background as a business owner in Naperville. How will this understanding of the local business community help you in your new role?

Considerably. I see through the eyes of a small business owner and I get it. I understand their challenges, dreams, and frustrations. During my time as a small business owner, I worked a lot with very large businesses and it became clear that the two have many things in common, just on different scales. But at the end of the day, all businesses have the same goals, to be efficient businesses that are profitable. Additionally, all businesses strive to create a loyal following, which in turn, becomes an advocate for that business.

As a former business owner, what advice do you have for others just starting out, especially women business owners?

Be very clear on what you want. Build relationships, network, and never lose sight of your mission. Very often I see business owners (men and women) that are all over the board just to try to get a customer. The less focused you are, the less focused your business becomes and you lose sight of your ideal market. Not knowing that is disastrous. As a woman owner, lose the “I can do it all” attitude. You can’t, that’s what employees and mentors are for. Lean on people, don’t be afraid to ask for help. And most importantly, do not undervalue yourself. Women are terribly guilty of that. Be proud of what you do and what you deliver. Never undersell your worth just to get a client, they’ll never value you completely.

There is a renewed sense of economic growth in the Naperville area with several new business and commercial projects under construction. What do you see as the biggest challenge for the chamber and business owners?

I’m not sure I’d use the word challenge. I’d use the word focus. What is the biggest area of focus for the Chamber and business owners? As I referenced above, focus is key to success. You’ve got to know what you want and if you’re clear on that, and you have a solid plan, it will be forthcoming. Again, if you have your hand in too many pots trying to drum up business, you lose focus and ultimately miss some opportunities. Speaking from the Chambers perspective, our focus this year is our members. We are dedicated to their success. The sky is the limit for them and it’s our job to facilitate that through quality member service. Helping our members understand how to use the chamber in a way that will benefit their business. Some people don’t know how to fully utilize the Chamber. It’s our job to make that happen. I’m very optimistic about not only the Chamber, but our community.

The Naperville Chamber is the largest chamber in Illinois. What are your goals for the Chamber?

To build trust and confidence. It’s important to remember that we are a business and that our members are our customers. In my previous life as a business owner, customer service was my number one priority. No customers, no business. It’s that simple. I want to continue to build the quality of our programs, and find new and innovative ways to engage our members. Attracting more diverse members and not forgetting about the start-ups that aren’t really sure how the Chamber can help them grow. We have some amazing success stories here at the Chamber. So building trust and confidence within our members and potential members allows us to better do our job which is helping them grow and maintain a successful business.  

What do you enjoy the most about living and raising a family in Naperville?

I love this community because I love the people. I’ve lived in a few different cities over my lifetime and there is no other community that gives back and steps up to the plate like Naperville residents. I could talk about the charm of the city and the amazing businesses that create a vibrant town, but it really comes down to the people, business owners, neighbors, community leaders. It’s a town of support and compassion, that’s very unique.