The Oak Park and River Forest Chamber of Commerce has announced its new executive director – and it’s someone already very familiar to the community. Darien Marion-Burton has stepped down as the chamber’s board president and will step into the executive director position July 31.
“Everything I’ve done in my career has been really focused on small businesses and I feel the need to continue that good work,” Marion-Burton told Wednesday Journal.
He is filling the vacancy left by the chamber’s former executive director Liz Holt, who left the chamber last month. The pair worked together closely throughout Marion-Burton’s term, which would have expired in December, and he is confident he can make the switch from a leadership advisory role to one that is responsible for leading the organization’s efforts to support the business community.
Marion-Burton was elected chamber board president in 2021 when he was only 28, becoming the self-professed “youngest, Blackest, gayest” person to ever assume that position.
Serving out the remainder of his presidential term is the chamber board’s vice president Rob Guenther, an attorney and co-founder of the Kettlestrings Restaurant Group. From there, the succession is as yet unclear, but will be determined by the chamber’s executive committee. Guenther does not believe it will be hard to find active chamber members to take on leadership positions within the organization. In the meantime, he is pleased to have Marion-Burton take over as executive director.
“Of the candidates we interviewed, he demonstrated the strongest passion for the mission of the chamber,” said Guenther.
That passion was “unmatched” by the other 26 candidates that applied, according to Guenther, but despite Marion-Burton’s history with the chamber, he was not necessarily a shoo-in for the executive director role. He had to go through the application and interview processes just like everyone else. Upon applying, Marion-Burton was not privy to internal conversations around resumes being reviewed and candidate selection, which was a little strange for him at first.
“It is very weird to sit in executive committee meetings, and they’d have to leave a meeting that’s in my own office, so they can go talk about me,” he said. “But those were things we had to do frequently over the last couple of months to make sure we were using integrity in the process.”
Being named executive director, Marion-Burton believes, is a testament to his love of the community, his understanding of it and his investment in it, both as a member of the chamber and a small business owner.
He will have to take a step back, however, from his marketing agency, D.M. Burton. The agency’s director of operations, Corey Thomas, will take over as CEO and president, while Marion-Burton will serve as chairman. D.M. Burton specializes in the marketing of small businesses, which is similar to what the chamber does. The difference is the chamber is a non-profit.
“I really do think I’m going to be doing a similar job just with a little different lens,” said Marion-Burton. “And doing it for good as opposed to for profit.”
(Publisher’s note: The Chamber of Commerce sublets its office space at 141 S. Oak Park Ave. from Growing Community Media, publisher of Wednesday Journal.)