Barbara Kauffman had never been to Newark when she arrived on a train in 1988 to interview for a position with a business group that was then called Renaissance Newark Inc.
Soon after she got the job — a position tied to a two-year grant connected to promoting Newark as the spot for what would become the New Jersey Performing Arts Center — she quickly realized the potential of the city. It reminded her of her childhood home in New York City. She saw the possibilities.
“Growing up in the Bronx, I knew what a city could be like,” she said. “I remember the experience of going to the Loew’s Paradise Theater or shopping on Fordham Road. The experiences that I remembered from the Bronx were so alike to the remembrances that people had of coming to downtown Newark.
“So, I knew what this city once was and could be — and I always had optimism and belief of what this city could become again.”
In the ensuing decades, she helped Newark become all that and more.
The two-year gig became a full-time post, Newark Renaissance merged with the Metro Newark Chamber to become the Newark Regional Business Partnership and Kauffman had a new hometown. One she says she’ll never leave.
That’s why, when Kauffman announced Tuesday that she is stepping down from her full-time role as executive vice president and chief operating officer at NRBP, she made it clear that she’s not retiring and that she intends to continue doing whatever she can to continue help Newark — led by a soaring business and arts community — continue on its upward trajectory.
“Newark is in one of the best spots that we’ve ever experienced,” she said. “The city is vibrant and exciting. I think that the tide has turned here, that the momentum is so great and that there is no going back.”
Kauffman gives credit to longtime colleague Chip Hallock, the CEO of the NRBP, for helping the organization reach beyond the city, enabling it to grow to such great heights.
“The organization’s continued to evolve into really what it is today,” she said. “The happiest part of my career has been focusing on the member and on making connections — and telling the story of what’s happening in Newark, really focusing on this city and all the potential and resources that are here.
“By sharing that with our members, we’ve been helping them be able to gain benefit in their own businesses and to be able to work with each other.”
Kauffman has been more than just a proponent for the city and its business community. She has been an active member — and a past president — of Executive Women of New Jersey, another organization she said she will continue to serve.
Kauffman lauded by NRBP leaders
Barbara Kauffman was praised for her more than three decades of service at what is now the Newark Regional Business Partnership.
Board Chair Monica Slater Stokes: “We are grateful to Barbara for her many years of service and dedication to our members. Barbara has made countless connections across industry sectors and established long-lasting partnerships that created many opportunities to grow and expand business.”
CEO Chip Hallock: “Barbara has an extraordinary combination of intelligence, passion and work ethic that has served our members well. She has been a statewide resource for countless business acquaintances in helping to build their networks and careers — we can’t applaud Barbara enough and wish her well as she continues her civic engagement.”
Kauffman said the pandemic and recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings have been difficult for women, but she said she remains optimistic about women in the workforce.
“I think that it’s not as bleak as one might see on the surface,” she said. “I think that we have made significant inroads in terms of policies. For example, there are more institutional investors that are demanding that there be metrics connected to the diversity of the organization and women.
“Yes, we’ve had some setbacks, but I think that the overall direction is positive. I am an optimist and a believer that we will right the ship and that we will be able to continue to progress on a positive trajectory for women in leadership and women in the workplace.”
Kauffman said the pandemic — and the shift to hybrid and work-from-home policies — could be a boost for women.
“With a pandemic came new ways of doing business, ones that will adapt and will enable women to find ways to play the meaningful and significant roles in whatever way, shape or form emerges,” she said.
Kauffman, 66, said she intends to pursue a more hybrid approach and a different work-life balance.
“I do want more time to myself to do a variety of things, but I do want to stay connected,” she said.
Kauffman said she will begin doing more work with the business schools at both New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rutgers University-Newark and continuing to serve on boards such as the University Hospital Foundation and the Newark Museum of Art Business and Community Council.
“I think I can continue to use my connections but do it on a reduced time schedule, without having a full-time job,” she said. “I’ll continue at NRBP, helping out in whatever way is most helpful to the organization and to Chip for whatever time makes sense.”
One thing is certain: She’s not leaving Newark.
“I have loved being here,” she said. “Newark is very special to me. So, I intend to continue to work on behalf of the city and to help it become better and stronger.
“I’m just thrilled to see that and to have played a part in making that happen.”