South Jersey chamber’s new leader, Renna, believes in quality of action, not quantity — and she’s proving it

By Tom Bergeron
South Jersey | Mar 2, 2020 at 12:43 pm
From our print edition

Christina Renna took over as the head of the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey on Jan. 1. And, if you didn’t see a headline, that’s OK. In fact, she said, it’s actually preferred.

Renna, a veteran of all things business and politics from her time in Gov. Chris Christie’s administration to her time at the chamber, said she’s learned over the years that picking your spots to be influential and noteworthy — and making sure those spots are filled with substance — is the key to success.

“I think it is a net loss for you to, as a business organization, comment on every single issue every single day, because I think it dilutes the impact and it just makes you disappear into the crowd,” she told ROI-NJ. “Don’t get me wrong, we need to be better at utilizing our social media, but you’re not going to see me weigh in on everything. 

“I would rather it be Christina Renna from the South Jersey chamber is releasing a statement, and I’m paying attention because she doesn’t really comment on anything. So, if she’s commenting, it matters. That’s the kind of position I wanted to be in.”

Here’s the catch. Renna is doing a lot of things that matter for business and her region.

She’ll be the first to celebrate the fact that the chamber is in great shape — both financially and in membership — thanks to the efforts of her longtime predecessor, Debra DiLorenzo.

But she also knows all organizations need to be continually evolving. It’s why she introduced new councils on diversity and inclusion, women in business and small business — as well as retooling the chamber’s efforts in the nonprofit region. 

There wasn’t a big announcement about any of this. And, again, that was by design. Renna wants to make sure the chamber is doing it right before playing it up big.

On a recent night, Renna brought in Francis Blanco, the director in the office for women’s empowerment initiatives in the state’s Department of Women, a division of the Department of Children and Families, to discuss issues with female members of the chamber.

Francis Blanco, the director in the office for women’s empowerment initiatives in the state’s Department of Women, a division of the Department of Children and Families.

The working group talked about the obstacles they face in the workplace to the stereotypes, how women’s empowerment could be better utilized to how C-suite executives can do better at identifying female board members. Renna said the discussion will shape the chamber’s content on women in business for the rest of the year. She is planning three events.

“I don’t just want to get a headline and say we’re doing it and have it be fluff,” Renna said. “I want to be providing the right content that the women in business want. That’s why we made the first session as a working group session to really dive in the issues that I think are important. Maybe I’m off base, maybe I’m missing some things. We wanted to get a bunch of female voices together and have that conversation.”

The same holds true for her new diversity and inclusion council — which she says is in direct response to the greatest request from her members. And one of the biggest issues facing the chamber.

“And I don’t think it’s an issue specific to our chamber,” she said. “I think it’s a business organization problem across the board. But, you still walk into our events and it’s predominantly white men and that’s something that we need to change. We need to diversify our membership in age, race, ethnicity. That’s something that’s completely aligned in our new core values and strategic priorities.

“In creating this D&I council, I’m hoping it shows our members that we’re aligned with their priorities and their vision of having a more diverse and inclusive workplace. I’m also hoping that the chamber reaps the benefits as being seen as a more D&I-friendly organization. I don’t want to just sit back and complain about it. I want to do something about it, but I’m not an expert.”

Renna brought in someone who was, Monika Shealey, a senior vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion at Rowan University.

“She helped me create a survey, hitting the appropriate notes of what we are missing organizationally at the chamber and what they feel in their own organizations are missing,” Renna said. “The response was incredible.

“Now, we’re going to really sift through the survey results and we’re going to see what kinds of topics and content my members want to see. Again, I don’t want to miss the mark on this. It’s just too important.”

Monika Shealey is a senior vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion at Rowan University.

Renna understands the impact the chamber can have on South Jersey. It not only represents seven counties, it represents all sizes and types of organizations. Her executive council is more than 60 deep and includes top executives from hospital systems, casinos, large-scale manufacturers, institutions of higher education, utilities and others.

Renna, however, realizes the largest part of her membership (more than 80%) comes from small business (fewer than 50 employees). That’s why she’s making sure the chamber’s already-heavy load of events (more than 140) are different in delivery and location.

Some are for small businesses looking to network, some are looking for educational content and some are looking for access to policy makers, she said.

“We have a great handle on not just the members, but the big issues that are impacting our members in the region,” she said. “But, we want to look at what the member companies are doing organizationally, because corporate priorities are shifting and changing so much. We’re not doing our service as a chamber if we’re not reflecting the same kind of priorities of our members and our public partners. 

“The goal is to add to new programming that will really resonate with the trends we’re seeing in South Jersey’s business community — and refresh our programming that maybe has gotten a little stale. It’s been an exciting time, because we’re slowly rolling out the new programming. The response has been really positive. We had a record number of new members in January. So, I feel like there’s a good buzz out there about the organization.”

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