It was 7:30 P.M. on September 22, 2006, and Leon Lassiter, Vice President of Marketing with the Midsouth Chamber of Commerce (MSCC), was still in his office, reflecting on the day’s frustrations. Lassiter had met with four territory managers, his marketing support supervisor, and a number of other members of his staff. All were upset about their lack of access to the new computer system and the problems they were having using their old systems. Lassiter had assured them that the problems were being addressed. He stressed that patience was needed during the ongoing conversion to the new system.
Now, during his private moment, Lassiter was beginning to recognize the problems and complexities he faced with the system conversion. The work of his marketing staff, who were unable to access the new computer system to handle their accounts, had ground to a halt. Even worse, something had happened to the data in most of the workstations, which meant that conference registrations and other functions had to be done manually. These inconveniences, however, were minor compared to Lassiter’s uneasy feeling that there were problems with Midsouth’s whole approach to the management of information technology. Lassiter knew that time was of the essence and that he might have to step in and manage the conversion, even though he had no information technology background. He wondered what he should do next.
Background of the MSCC
In the early 1900s, economic development in the Midsouth area was highly dependent on transportation systems. As a result of legislative decisions, many communities in the Midsouth area could not gain access to reasonable transportation services, thus retarding business and economic development. With no one to represent their concerns to the state government, a group of powerful businesspeople formed the MSCC to lobby the legislature on the issue of transportation access.
The MSCC dealt with this single issue until the 1930s, when its charter was changed to include a broader range of issues affecting the business community, including state banking laws, transportation, industrial development, and business taxes. By the mid-1990s, the MSCC, under the new leadership of President Jack Wallingford, became an aggressive advocacy organization for the business community.
The broadening of MSCC’s role brought substantial change to the organization. In 1988 the MSCC had a staff of 14, a membership of 3,000 businesses and individuals, and an annual budget of $1,720,000. Over the years, the MSCC had been able to develop a reserve account of just over $1.5 million.
By 2000, the staff had grown to 24, the $1.5 million cash reserve had been drawn down to $250,000, and membership had dropped to 2,300, largely because of the loss of some major manufacturers in the region, the bursting of the Internet bubble, and the resulting economic slowdown. The reserve reduction, supported by the Board of Directors, had fueled considerable internal growth in terms of staff and capabilities. During this time, the MSCC also moved into larger offices and upgraded their workstations.
In the early 2000s the MSCC was considered the most powerful business advocacy organization in the Midsouth area and one of the most innovative chambers of commerce in terms of its approaches and techniques in dealing with problems facing the business community. The greatest problem facing the management of the MSCC at the time was the growing concern that its aggressive growth might have to be curtailed because it could no longer fund its annual operating budget.
In mid-2000, Wallingford was faced with a serious dilemma. The MSCC was projecting a $330,000 deficit for the 2001 fiscal year. Wallingford realized he was going to have to reduce both the number of staff and the number of programs or find some way to grow revenue more aggressively in the organization. Wallingford asked his Vice President of Public Affairs and Operations,...
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