Karen Tercek's career in the chamber world has been rewarding, she says

Jan. 7—After being in the chamber world for the last 15 years, Karen Tercek plans to retire from the Willoughby Western Lake County Chamber of Commerce at the end of the month.

Her last day as the president and CEO of the nonprofit will be Jan. 31.

"It's been rewarding," Tercek said. "It's definitely servant leadership. You're working for a nonprofit, so you're not in it for the money. You're in it to really help people and make a difference, and that's what I really enjoy about the job."

Tercek said she never went to work dreading work as every day was different and had the opportunity to create programs that would assist, and support small businesses that are trying to grow.

"I know people don't like to reflect on (the coronavirus) that much, but I was particularly proud of the direction that we took," she said. "A lot of organizations were paralyzed initially and I felt that we, as a chamber leader, could not be. We immediately started setting up the Zoom calls, calling our members, getting programs out there to assist them in terms of protocol and contacting our elected officials, and seeing how they could help us. The PPP loans and the forgiveness loans — we did a lot of work in that area and I'm proud of that."

Tercek credits the board of directors and staff members for the things the chamber has been able to do during her tenure.

"I've had a number of people come through the chamber as employees,"she said. "Donna Swan has been here the full time I have been and has done a tremendous job, and of course Dana Wolfe, our marketing manager who will be taking my place, has done a tremendous job. She has a background similar to myself in business."

When operating a nonprofit, Tercek believes it's beneficial to have a background in business because bringing in a strong, revenue stream can lead to success.

"I'm very pleased because she (Wolfe) has a great background in business, great educational experience and she also has that servant leader mentality of really wanting to help businesses to grow," Tercek said.

During her time with the chamber, something that stands out to Tercek was the merger of the two chambers. After being the Western Lake County Chamber of Commerce for five years, the chamber took on their mission as the Willoughby Area Chamber of Commerce.

"Ten years ago, we did merge the two together with amazing support," Tercek said. "It was a tremendous amount of work, but we knew that was something that was going to serve our members better. I think we have done well because of that."

Annually, the chamber rely's on a survey from members to tell the chamber what they're looking for, which is how the nonprofit addresses what it's going to do every year.

"We want the pulse of our members," Tercek said. "We want to know how we can serve them best. I think that's why we've been fairly successful. It's not what we want to do. It's what they need and what their wants are."

Tercek's first career out of graduate school was a job as a career counselor for the University of Georgia, counseling students in terms of their career path. To her, Tercek has always felt that her career was a journey.

"Anyone's career is a journey," she said. "You can take the skills that you have and use them in a number of different ways."

After she left higher education, Tercek went into the corporate world, selling pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and then worked for a small, startup company doing marketing, sales and business development.

"I did that for about 15 years and worked for another nonprofit," she said. "At that point, I was raising three kids. Once everybody was more independent, I'm like this is time to look for something where I can really commit even more time. I saw an ad online for the opening of the Western Lake County Chamber of Commerce. Back then, they asked for a PowerPoint of what I would do in leading that organization. I turned to my daughter, who I think was in eighth grade at the time. It was history from there. In me, it's always been I want to help people. There's more to a career than money."

In retirement, Tercek does not see herself sitting around. She may do consulting on the side for small nonprofits and businesses, and plans to workout more and volunteer more outside of the chamber world.

"I definitely need time to see what I want to do," she said. "There's a lot of things on my list. We do have two weddings next year. Our son and our daughter are getting married. It's bittersweet to leave because there's so many wonderful people I've worked with and it's been a very rewarding career in helping others."