Todd Sanders: Embracing Change and Diversifying Fuels Growth

by Todd Sanders 

As a leader, I don’t fear change. Since assuming the role of president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Chamber in 2009, at the height of a recession, I have spent the last 13 years helping thousands of companies across Arizona anticipate, prepare for and, ultimately, thrive through change. 

The recession in 2008 was a wakeup for me that the Chamber had to become more dynamic. I was vice president of public affairs at that time, and we knew we needed to make some collective changes to help drive the economy, embrace change and help members through challenging times. Those changes have helped the Chamber become more relevant and more inclusive. 

In 2015, I led a capital campaign to launch Phoenix Forward, an economic development initiative focused on business retention and expansion. As the team and I connected with different businesses throughout the Greater Phoenix region, it became clear that the Chamber needed to focus on ways to improve the talent pipeline for the state. 

Valley business leaders were worried about a workforce shortage and were starting to talk about sending jobs to other states. Financial companies were having a hard time getting individuals to pass the requirements to be licensed and we didn’t have enough highly trained nurses or healthcare professionals. I knew we had Arizonans who could do the work, we just needed to give them an opportunity to obtain the skills they were lacking. This led to the launch of the Greater Phoenix Chamber Foundation in 2016. 

I assembled a diverse team of business leaders to help us land on our four pillars of focus: education, workforce development, wellness and research. As these collaboratives evolved, it became clear that we needed to partner with high schools and community colleges to educate local students about high-demand careers in our state, such as construction, IT, cybersecurity, advanced manufacturing, healthcare and financial services. It also became clear that we needed to start educating K-12 students about college pathways, internship opportunities, and professions in the trades. I also led a team that approached local businesses to set up apprenticeship and internship opportunities for our students. 

My leadership style has always been to facilitate teamwork. I truly believe we can accomplish more together than as an individual. So, when two board members approached me after civil unrest in another state, the idea was born to create a diversity, equity and inclusion program. I initiated our program and recognized early on that a variety of voices and ideas at the table would only expand the Chamber’s reach. After starting its own program close to five years ago, the Chamber has since expanded its efforts to an online toolkit that helps businesses and members create their own DEI initiatives. More than 120 businesses have implemented the toolkit and Chambers across the country call me to share best practices and discuss ways they can start similar programs. Our DEI efforts have been extremely helpful to small and midsized businesses that don’t have the tools or resources to start programs on their own. I also created an internal DEI committee with four employees, and it has grown to more than 20 within a few years! 

Perhaps the largest wave of change came in 2020, as companies across Arizona struggled to stay afloat due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I was committed to providing valuable programming to our members and keeping our staff employed. I scrambled teams and reassigned employees to different areas, and the outcomes were amazing. Productivity remained high, employee turnover was low, and we weathered the storm without layoffs or staff reductions. 

I knew members were going to be most concerned with the economy, so I started an economic dashboard on our website. It provided local businesses with a snapshot of how Arizona consumers view the health of the state’s economy. My previous work for the Arizona House of Representatives also helped grow the Chamber’s government relations arm during the pandemic. Those partnerships were instrumental in passing COVID relief bills and other pieces of legislation that seriously impacted the business community. 

Under my leadership, the Greater Phoenix Chamber is now the largest chamber of commerce in Arizona, with more than 2,400 members. It has also managed to retain 90% of its members, despite the peaks and valleys of the last decade. This, I believe, is the only time staying static is a good thing.  

Snapshot Sanders

  • Todd Sanders assumed the roles of president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Chamber in 2009.
  • Sanders is a native of Bogotá, Colombia. 
  • Before assuming his current role, Sanders represented the interests of the business community at the Arizona State Legislature and Phoenix City Hall as the Chamber’s vice president of public affairs.
  • The Greater Phoenix Chamber supports the growth and development of business in the region through municipal, state and federal advocacy, data-driven economic development, talent recruitment, workforce development and wellness.

Did You Know: After starting its own DEI program close to five years ago, the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce has since expanded its efforts to an online toolkit that helps businesses and members create their own DEI initiatives. To date, more than 120 businesses have implemented the toolkit.

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