After 11 years, Tom Mahaffey is resigning from the Sandy Springs Perimeter Chamber.
Mahaffey will stay with the chamber long enough to help train and prepare the next president and CEO. A search committee has formed and begun looking for his replacement, but he doesn’t expect the position to be filled until after the end of the year.
Mahaffey was a commercial banker by trade before he accepted the leadership role with the chamber.
“I started this job in January of 2010 and did not know anything about the chamber, or what a chamber was. However, the chamber was struggling at that time. So they needed somebody that had a sales background and could call on the major companies around here, to CEOs, and bring in new members and sponsorships,” he said.
With the help of a part-time employee, he worked for about two years to grow the chamber’s membership, adding new events along the way. The chamber grew to more than 450 members and another five or six staff members.
Coming out of the pandemic, the chamber lost approximately 150 members. Salaries were reduced, but no one was laid off, he said.
“We’ve grown that back now over the last nine months. But it’s been a tough struggle because people are not back in the office,” Mahaffey said.
Time for a new vision
Today’s hybrid workforce signals it’s time for a new vision for the chamber, Mahaffey said.
“It’s better for me to go to the next phase of my life and let the younger folks come in with [a new] vision to create a new chamber,” he said.
The chamber president and CEO must have leadership, management and financial skills, he said.
Mahaffey also sees the potential in merging with other chambers.
“I think the central Perimeter market needs to be one chamber, the Greater Perimeter Chamber, and then have Dunwoody, Sandy Springs and Brookhaven – and maybe even Chamblee – under one umbrella,” he said.
Many businesses are members of other chambers, paying dues and fees to multiple organizations. If the chambers merged, the Perimeter market could have one large organization like what North Fulton does, he said.
“Geographically, it doesn’t make sense for us to be part of the North Fulton Chamber, nor does it make sense for them because you can’t get there from here in a reasonable amount of time,” Mahaffey said.
The Sandy Springs Perimeter Chamber needs to hire a new president and CEO to bring it into the new generation and work with the three or four other cities, he said. That person must stay in touch with the CEOs of the Fortune 500 corporations and smaller businesses located in Sandy Springs.
Mahaffey accomplished much in 11 years with the chamber, including the formation of the Sandy Springs Restaurant Council when Mayor Rusty Paul was chairman of the board. The Restaurant Council works to market and promote local eateries.
“Prior to that, they almost didn’t even know who each other were as far as owners go. Now they do. They socialize and they support each other,” he said.
An executive roundtable was formed to help small businesses to provide them with the benefits of having their own board of directors. The 12 executives help small businesses learn to run their operations successfully.
A fashion show was created to support The Drake House in Roswell, with $75,000 to $80,000 donated in the last couple of years.
The chamber also developed its signature luncheon program, normally held on the second Tuesday of each month. It brings a high-level CEO or other speaker before 150 to 300 chamber members. The CEOs of Mercedes-Benz, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Chick-fil-A and other corporations have been guest speakers. The luncheon went virtual during the pandemic but has returned to in-person events.
Mahaffey also counts an ambassador program and the chamber’s strong relationship with Sandy Springs as successes. The chamber helped the city with a $2.5 million grant program to support small businesses struggling during the pandemic.
The chamber also created a scholarship fund, giving six scholarships a year to high school seniors in Sandy Springs that need financial help. The $2,500 scholarships are used at in-state colleges and universities.
Active retirement to include volunteer work
While Mahaffey announced his retirement plans from the chamber, he doesn’t have specific plans for what’s next.
“One of the things I didn’t do a lot of in my work career was do a lot of volunteer work. So I’ll probably do more volunteer work,” he said.
He has a house in Blue Ridge where he’ll probably spend most of his time.
“I’ll find something to do. I’m still too young to not work. Besides that, I’d get bored,” Mahaffey said.