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Q+A with Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Theresa Mintle


Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Theresa Mintle aims to foster economic development by connecting small, mid-sized and large businesses with one another. Since taking the helm of the chamber last August, Mintle has worked to serve as the mouthpiece for area businesses in interactions with government officials.

“Our storied history of being a city that has a great relationship between business, civic and government communities still continues today,” Mintle said while noting iconic Chicago achievements like the World Columbian Exposition and the Burnham Plan. “We have a great city … and a wide variety of leaders who continue to honor our civic engagement practices from the past.”

Before working for the CCC, Mintle served as Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s chief of staff. She held that position from May 2011 until last March. A distant relative of ex-Mayor Richard M. Daley, Mintle said she got her start in politics working on campaigns while growing up in Bridgeport. After college, she went to work for former U.S. Congressman Marty Russo and eventually landed a position in Daley’s office.

Mintle currently serves as a member of Emanuel’s Minimum Wage Task Force. The panel at Uptown’s Truman College on Thursday is scheduled to hold the third of its five public hearings on a proposal to raise the city’s minimum wage. It is expected to release a final report on the proposal early next month.

On June 24, the Chamber of Commerce will host its Annual Meeting of Membership. The event, which is open to the public, will take place at the Navy Pier Grand Ballroom and feature AT&T CEO and Chairman Randall Stephenson as a guest speaker.

The Daily Whale recently spoke with Mintle about her current undertakings. An edited version of that conversation is below.

DW: How would you describe your leadership style?

TM: I like to lead by example. By that I mean I have a very strong work ethic. I like to throw out ideas and questions; no question or idea is dumb. … I like to encourage my staff to work very hard but also be innovative and idealistic. … I like to … ask everybody’s opinion about things. I don’t like working in silos, I think the more collaboration the better.

DW: How do you believe small businesses fuel our area’s economy?

TM: Almost 99 percent of all registered businesses in the state of Illinois have 100 or fewer employees. Our membership here in the Chicagoland area, about 68 percent have 100 or fewer employees. So the small businesses are important not only because they are job creators in the state and in our region, but if I’m willing to listen to my members and give them what they want, then the small business [community] is definitely a group that has a large voice.

DW: Tell me about your experience working in the administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

TM: It was the two best years of my life in government. I was very honored to be tapped as his chief of staff. His passion and commitment to the people of Chicago is infectious, it’s real. He’s a tireless worker on behalf of the city. I learned a lot working with him and I’m very happy to now be on the other side to do what I can with the business community to ensure that Chicago maintains a highly-competitive advantage.

DW: Have you and the mayor stayed close since you left his administration?

TM: We chat periodically. … I talk to his staff once in a while. I’m working right now with his education policy director on an initiative for STEM education. It’s an appropriate amount of activity for a business community that cares about the direction the city’s going and for a city that cares about what business has to say.

DW: How do you believe an increased minimum wage would impact Chicago’s economy?

TM: I think we need to look at Chicago and our surrounding area, whether it’s the suburbs that immediately surround us here within the state or with the cities and counties that are right across the border.

We would certainly want to make sure that however this decision comes down, that we don’t lose sight of the fact that there’s real competition immediately around us and we don’t want to do anything that puts Chicago at a competitive disadvantage by way of job creation, new business startups [and] business expansions.  And anything that puts a marginal cost on some of these small- and- medium-sized enterprises certainly creates that disadvantaged environment for them to operate.

Our message throughout all of this is going to be, “Wherever this task force goes with the final recommendation, don’t leave Chicago in a position where it turns out to be disadvantageous, because over time, fewer and fewer jobs are created.”

DW: Talk to me about your experience working on Marty Russo's staff.

TM: Fresh out of [undergraduate school in 1986] I moved to Washington, D.C., where I worked for him. He represented the Southwest Side and Southwest Suburbs of Chicago. … I was the only Chicagoan on his staff, and so I dealt a lot with Illinois-related issues as well as things like ... the Family and Medical Leave Act.

I know Washington from a time when things were far more collaborative and a lot of really great things got done. I have a lot of friends who still work there now and they tell me it’s a very different place.

DW: In what ways do you believe working in government and in governmental relations are similar?

TM: I think government and business are two sides of the same coin. While there is occasionally an opportunity to disagree about how to get something done here in Illinois and certainly in Chicago, business and government are on the same page in terms of wanting to make sure that our city is well positioned to grow its tourism numbers to be perceived as a global destination for investment and global headquarters; to make sure that we continue to grow jobs; to make sure our workforce is educated and properly trained; [and] to ensure that our economy remains very diverse and that we don’t end up relying on just one particular sector that is susceptible to the whims of the economic cycle.

DW: Tell me about your involvement with World Business Chicago and the Chamber of Commerce’s recent Mexico City-business leaders summit.

TM: There were government leaders, business leaders and small business entrepreneurs who had an interest in food and hospitality technology and biotech that came to Chicago to learn a little bit about how we’re doing things up here. My office focused primarily on the tech track. Greg Stevens on my staff coordinated with WBC and others a really great day of tours starting over at 1871, then a luncheon and discussion at TechNexus, two more tours after that [and] some really nice field visits to some other destinations around town.

But we focused on making sure that young entrepreneurs in Mexico City knew that there were market opportunities here in Chicago and making sure that our small and medium sized businesses here in the Chicago region know that we are making connections with Mexico City so that there could be trade opportunities for them there as well. We not only had a very large group from Mexico City, but we also had a few of our own small and medium-sized members there with us, so it was definitely an equal exchange of ideas and access.

DW: How is the Mexico City tech scene, in your opinion?

TM: They would say themselves that they’ve got a ways to go before they catch up with Chicago, much less Silicon Valley. But I will tell you that I spent some time talking with a couple of the entrepreneurs who were here and they’ve got some pretty innovative ideas and products that they’re trying to monetize and internationalize.

While the leaders of the delegation may feel that they have a lot to learn from us before they can really be considered part of the eco system that is technology in North America, they definitely have some entrepreneurs who understand how all of this works and who are really ready to come up here and do some business.

DW: Does the CCC have a viewpoint on the city’s ride-share industry regulations that are proposed currently?

TM: The city’s proposed regulations, specifically, no. But, less regulation is better, we believe. But then when you get to an industry like that taxi industry which is heavily regulated, I think there needs to be some level of fairness out there so that there aren’t inadvertent advantages created for one industry over another.

DW: What do you like best about living in Chicago?

TM: I love the diversity that is Chicago – the cultural offerings; the diverse economy; the lake; the sand; the four seasons; the music scene. There’s nothing to dislike about Chicago. I think its’ really the best big city in the world. I really would not live anywhere else. And I think that we have been blessed with incredibly foresighted political leaders and some of the best corporate leaders ever to walk in corporate America.

DW: What are some of your hobbies and interests?

TM: In the limited free time that I have, I practice yoga. I’m a very happy yogi. I like to travel when I can. And I like to walk and bike ride all over the city, particularly through the neighborhoods.

DW: If you could sit down and have lunch with one person, living or dead, who would that be?

TM: Thomas Jefferson. … I think that he was a brilliant political mind. And like most of us, he was also very human. Some may think profoundly flawed, but nonetheless he was human. I think that he did our country a great service through the … drafting of the Declaration of Independence and then as our third president.