Chesterfield chamber’s new president to focus on regionalism

Louis Llovio | Richmond Times-Dispatch

Danna Geisler started her new job a week ago today.
While that in itself isn’t big news – people start jobs every day after all – the job she took makes her first day at work something of an event.
The 29-year-old took a step into a world that most people think is dominated by mostly older men: She’s running a local chamber of commerce.
Geisler is the new president of the Chesterfield County Chamber of Commerce.
As such, she is charged with leading a business organization with ties in the community and where many of the businesses have been around longer than she has been alive.
“It is very unusual to have someone as young as Danna at the helm of a chamber, but I applaud the Chesterfield Chamber for recognizing her potential and putting her in that position,” said Kim Scheeler, president and CEO of the Greater Richmond Chamber and Geisler’s former boss.
“It says a lot about their desire to do things differently. … Some people might see it as a risk. I see it as a wise move.”
Taking on the job at such a young age doesn’t intimidate her, Geisler said.
She thinks she can give the chamber – and, by extension, Chesterfield’s business community – a shot in the arm by bringing in younger members, generating ideas and improving its visibility.
“It’s not about age. It’s about ability. It’s about having the willingness and passion to go and do it,” she said.
One of her major priorities is making Chesterfield more of a regional player than it has been.
Starting in 2009, Geisler was the program manager overseeing the various business councils for the Greater Richmond Chamber, which is not affiliated with the Chesterfield chamber. In her role, she worked closely with the Chesterfield and Richmond business councils.
“I’m not going to feel bound by the jurisdiction’s boundaries,” she said. “We are reliant on each other as jurisdictions, and without working together we won’t be as great.”
Regional cooperation is one of the main priorities laid out in a strategic plan the Chesterfield chamber adopted last year.
Geisler’s new ideas and her perspective are among the reasons the chamber’s board of directors chose her.
“I think Danna Geisler brings the right balance of energy, leadership and vision that we need to take the Chesterfield chamber from being a small-business organization to a regional catalyst for business and advocacy,” said David Saunders, president of the Richmond ad agency Madison + Main.
Saunders, a chamber board member, lives in Chesterfield, and 25 percent of his clients are based there.
Naming Geisler, he said, means that the chamber “is about to take a leading role in regional cooperation.”
“I am a member of many groups, and there are a lot of people in this market, and the only foes I have seen in regional cooperation lay in government, not in business, business chambers or regional groups.”
Geisler understands her approach is likely to rankle some of the membership and some members of the community. She’s fine with that.
“There are going to be some people who don’t like it at first,” Geisler said. “And I’m sure there’s going to be people who never like it. But I think that there are people who understand that if the Chesterfield chamber wants to grow, an open mind is needed.”
Geisler’s age was not an issue for the people tasked with hiring her.
“Candidly, Danna’s age was never a topic of discussion,” said D. Brennen Keene, chairman of the Chesterfield chamber and an attorney with McGuireWoods.
Keene said the chamber’s board was impressed by Geisler’s creativity and her ideas on how to implement the group’s strategic plan.
“She had the skill set to really do what we wanted,” he said. “It was clear that she was a creative thinker.”
That ability came through as the chamber narrowed down the number of candidates for the job.
Geisler replaced Lenita Gilreath, who was president of the chamber for eight years. She left in late June.
Keene said the board was prepared to change Gilreath’s job descriptions to better reflect the strategic plan but she moved to Salt Lake City, where her husband has taken a job.
Toward the end of interviewing candidates for the chamber president position, the finalists were given a copy of the strategic plan and told to come up with a presentation on how they would implement it.
“She came in with things that none of us had thought of before,” Keene said about Geisler.
One person who is not surprised by how she handled herself is her former boss, Scheeler.
“Danna has a tremendous amount of energy and a drive to excel, and that made her an important part of our team,” he said.
Geisler’s road to the chamber presidency has been a circuitous one.
The Delaware native said her first inspiration came from her mother, Louise, who opened a travel agency when Geisler was 2.
Geisler remembers watching her mom work and was impressed with the way she dealt with her clientele.
The agency, Centreville Travel, catered to business professionals who demanded a high level of service.
Watching her mother work taught her how to deal with people and how to run a business.
Geisler graduated from Syracuse University in 2006 and soon married her college sweetheart.
The marriage set off a series of moves that eventually led her to Chesterfield.
Her husband, Peter, was in the Army, and they lived for about a year in Alaska, where she worked as a television news reporter in Fairbanks for the ABC affiliate in Anchorage.
The couple also spent several months here while he was assigned to Fort Lee. That’s when she fell in love with this area and decided it was where they should eventually settle down.
“I didn’t live in one place for more than 15 months” since graduating from college, Geisler said.
While her husband served tours in Iraq, Geisler went home to Delaware, where she worked with groups that helped support wives whose husbands were in combat.
Because of that work, she found employment with another person who had influenced her: Vice President Joe Biden, then a senator from Delaware.
She worked as a deputy press secretary for Biden and then for Sen. Edward E. Kaufman, also from Delaware, for about a year each in their Delaware offices.
Her husband is now a civilian employee for the Department of Defense working at Fort Lee.
Now that she’s settling in one place, Geisler said she’s ready to leave her mark.
Among her accomplishments at the Greater Richmond Chamber was the creation of Politics 101.
The nonpartisan program “is designed for young professionals who demonstrate a desire to learn more about the political process and show an interest in pursuing a track toward public service but have no background to get there,” according to the chamber.
Geisler said the goal of the program is to help nurture the next generation of leaders and to attract talented people into public service who might otherwise go elsewhere.
That effort is extending to the Chesterfield chamber where she hopes to get younger professionals involved and engaged.
“I see a major opportunity in the Chesterfield chamber to evolve and grow,” she said.
“I see more potential … engaging younger professionals, uncovering the younger professionals working in Chesterfield County that nobody hears about right now. They’re there. They just need to have someone tap them on the shoulder and say get involved, and get ready to become a community leader and a business leader.”

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