Yen hopes to 'bridge' chamber communication gaps

Cathy Yen hired as new OP-RF chamber of commerce executive director


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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

The economy is on the mend, but profit margins are still struggling. People are opening their pocketbooks more, but businesses still need help. Just keeping doors open is tough enough for local business owners.

That's where the newly hired Oak Park-River Forest Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cathy Yen plans to step in. The chamber announced March 13 that Yen will be the new interim director, stepping in this week as Jim Doss retires.

The chamber has fallen on hard times in recent years, in large part due to a membership dip and the bad economy, but Yen said she sees today as an opportunity to grow the organization and give it stronger ties in the community.

"I'm hoping to be able to build bridges between the chamber and the other myriad organizations around town, including the Village of Oak Park, the Village of River Forest," Yen said Monday, just an hour before starting her new post, "and really work on behalf of the members to make sure the communication channels are in place."

The chamber does an excellent job of encouraging networking, Yen said, but there's opportunities being missed in terms of reaching all the businesses in the two communities.

"The number one goal is to create a chamber that people want to join. We certainly have a chamber that some people want to join," Yen said. "With over 400 members, that's good. But with thousands of businesses here in the two villages, we're not reaching everyone."

To reach this goal, she said, the chamber's first item will be to develop a clear, succinct and executable message, or value proposition, so people have a better understanding of what benefits the chamber offers.

"That's where the membership strategy will begin," Yen continued.

"There's a value proposition now, but it could be larger to get the work spread out. …We'll work across channels to convince people there are things going on in the chamber."

Yen joins the chamber with a skillset that revolved around strategic communciation and operations management. She hopes the chamber can create connections between businesses and village entities.

"I'm hoping we can build those bridges and expand the region of the different business districts into each other," she said. This includes more communication with members about what's going on in all business districts. It also means encouraging collaborating and being an extra voice for businesses.

Yen was appointed to serve as interim director for one year. After a year, the board has the option to continue to employ her as a permanent director or to conduct a search.

As an independent business and nonprofit consultant, Yen has a background in both large corporate and small retail business, including four years as owner-operator of Great Harvest Bread Company in Oak Park. She holds degrees from Princeton University and the University of Chicago and recently completed the Community Leadership Program, an initiative co-sponsored by the Oak Park River Forest Community Foundation and Dominican University.

She and her husband Scott, a physician with Vanguard West Suburban Medical Center, have lived in Oak Park for 19 years. They have two children at Oak Park and River Forest High School, where Yen is the Booster Club president.

Doss retires Friday after 12 years in the job. Yen said this week will be spent listening, learning, calling and talking to members and the board about what should be next.

"This is a time to not stop, because things move very, very quickly, but maybe jump tracks a little bit. — keep what is strong and improve from the old ways of doing things," Yen said, and see where the villages can go when we're all on the same train, frankly, and going in the same direction."

Email: Twitter: @AnnaLothson

Reader Comments

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Glenn Russell from Oak Park  

Posted: March 19th, 2013 1:48 PM

What a great choice. Cathy is fire ball of creative energy.


Posted: March 14th, 2013 12:46 PM

hope she will take the job long term

Ray Johnson from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 14th, 2013 6:08 AM

Cathy Yen is a dynamic leader and inspiring business person. She will be a great addition to the Chamber! As well, a big Thank You to Jim Doss for his service.

Lyn from oak park  

Posted: March 14th, 2013 5:53 AM

I remember when suddenly Great Harvest Bread closed and I had 50.00 worth of gift certificates- Perfect Dinner did the same thing but luckily Groupon gave me a credit- I always supported local business and arts organizations, volunteered over 320 hours last year for local organizations but now I am very wary when I buy locally,

Carollina Song from Oak Park  

Posted: March 13th, 2013 9:39 PM

Congratulations to the Chamber of Commerce on such an excellent choice! Cathy will be terrific in the role.

Adam Salzman from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 13th, 2013 8:40 PM

Congratulations, Cathy. The Chamber is lucky to have you at the helm.

Gail Moran from Oak Park  

Posted: March 13th, 2013 8:24 PM

What an absolutely excellent choice! from Oak Park  

Posted: March 13th, 2013 7:05 PM

Agreed! Cathy is a great choice for this role. I'm really looking forward to the future of business in Oak Park. Congratulations Cathy.

tom mcmullen from oak park, il  

Posted: March 13th, 2013 6:06 PM

A great person for this role! Cathy's background in the corporate world, as an owner of a small business and her capabilities in dealing with people will serve the Oak Park business community very well.

Werner Huget from Oak Park  

Posted: March 13th, 2013 5:56 PM

Congratulations Cathy Yen. Yes, you have big shoes to fill. Jim set a new standard for the Chamber, but you seem up to the challenge. I wish you well. Regards, Werner Huget

Lori M  

Posted: March 13th, 2013 5:28 PM

Cathy needs to market her enthusiasm and energy - never met anyone like her - she's the best!

Matt Baron from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 13th, 2013 4:25 PM

Great hire! Cathy brings so many relevant business and interpersonal skills to the table that when I first heard the news, my immediate reaction was, "Of course." How fitting that at my first Chamber Business After Hours in 2005 (which I crashed with my toddlers-in-stroller), Cathy was there providing refreshments from the Great Harvest that she owned at the time. Jim Doss will be missed, but I am pleased to see the chamber is in such capable hands.

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