Chamber aging gracefully

Al Tauben­ber­ger (left) man­ages the Great­er North­east Phil­adelphia Cham­ber of Com­merce. Ken Lufkin is the new chair­man. Lufkin is also pres­id­ent of the 3rd Fed Bank. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

— Bank pres­id­ent takes helm of 90-year-old Great­er North­east Cham­ber of Com­merce; builds on suc­cess.


Age can be a fickle com­mod­ity in the busi­ness world. On an or­gan­iz­a­tion­al level, time of­ten be­gets mar­ket­able qual­it­ies like ex­per­i­ence and trust.

Yet, it can also breed com­pla­cency.

Kent Lufkin’s new job is to make sure the 90-year-old Great­er North­east Phil­adelphia Cham­ber of Com­merce has plenty of vi­brance and rel­ev­ance des­pite its ad­van­cing age. Lufkin, the 58-year-old pres­id­ent and CEO of 3rd Fed Bank, be­came the cham­ber’s chair­man of the board in Feb­ru­ary.

He now over­sees an or­gan­iz­a­tion with deep loc­al roots but which faces the linger­ing chal­lenges of a stag­nant eco­nomy and a res­ult­ing mem­ber­ship de­cline.

“We have a num­ber of ini­ti­at­ives and we are tak­ing the op­por­tun­ity to re­as­sess everything,” Lufkin said of the trans­ition. “This is our nineti­eth an­niversary, so we’re try­ing to weave that in­to everything we do. We’re try­ing to stim­u­late mem­ber­ship growth with a num­ber of new pro­grams.”

Lufkin was ap­poin­ted chair­man for a two-year term, re­pla­cing the pre­vi­ous chair­wo­man, Naz­areth Hos­pit­al CEO Christina FitzPatrick. The cham­ber’s bylaws re­quire that its board chairs step down every two years. In ac­cord­ance with the bylaws, Lufkin served a year as vice chair­man of the board lead­ing up to his latest ap­point­ment.

Lufkin will work closely with the cham­ber’s chief ex­ec­ut­ive, Al Tauben­ber­ger, who has been its pres­id­ent since 1992.

Away from the cham­ber, Tauben­ber­ger is run­ning as a Re­pub­lic­an for a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives, chal­len­ging in­cum­bent Demo­crat Kev­in Boyle in the 172nd dis­trict.

While Tauben­ber­ger’s full-time job makes him re­spons­ible for the day-to-day op­er­a­tion of the cham­ber, Lufkin plans to be a steady, hands-on in­flu­ence. With more than a quarter-cen­tury ex­per­i­ence as a bank ex­ec­ut­ive, Lufkin is fa­mil­i­ar with the give-and-take between a board of dir­ect­ors and ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“If things are meet­ing ex­pect­a­tions or ex­ceed­ing them, boards tend to stay away from the day-to-day op­er­a­tion,” Lufkin said. “(But) right now this is a chal­len­ging time for every cham­ber (of com­merce), so we’re all pulling on the oars. The board is tak­ing an act­ive role in help­ing Al eval­u­ate things.”

Lufkin joined 3rd Fed in 2000 as seni­or vice pres­id­ent and be­came its pres­id­ent in 2003. The bank’s hold­ing com­pany, TF Fin­an­cial Corp., is pub­licly traded on the NAS­DAQ ex­change. The bank has 14 branches in North­east Phil­adelphia, Bucks County and Mer­cer County, N.J.

It was foun­ded in 1921 in the North­east as the Pol­ish Amer­ic­an Sav­ings Build­ing and Loan As­so­ci­ation.

Lufkin com­pares the bank’s role in the com­munit­ies it serves to that of the cham­ber. It’s largely a mat­ter of scale.

The Great­er Phil­adelphia Cham­ber of Com­merce is a large or­gan­iz­a­tion with great re­sources and in­flu­ence, yet the North­east cham­ber of­fers mem­bers some things that the re­gion­al cham­ber can’t.

“It’s like 3rd Fed and the Bank of Amer­ica,” Lufkin said. “Bank of Amer­ica is huge, but some people like deal­ing with a smal­ler en­tity that they feel closer to the de­cision-makers and that spe­cial­izes in cer­tain things.

“I will chal­lenge any­body to find someone on the staff at the Great­er Phil­adelphia cham­ber who knows any­where near as much about North­east Philly as Al does, al­though the Great­er Phil­adelphia cham­ber is a great or­gan­iz­a­tion,” he said.

In any case, the cham­ber has been a tough sell dur­ing re­ces­sion­ary times. It has 800 mem­bers. In re­cent years, new ar­rivals have not kept pace with those de­part­ing the group.

“We’ve been high­er (in mem­ber­ship),” Tauben­ber­ger said. “Be­cause of the eco­nomy, some busi­nesses have closed up and some don’t re­new. (But) our re­ten­tion rate is very close to ninety per­cent.”

About 20 new mem­bers at­ten­ded a re­cent ori­ent­a­tion meet­ing at Sam’s Club in the Frank­lin Mills com­plex.

On the pro­gram­ming front, long­time mem­bers are very fa­mil­i­ar with the steady lineup of break­fast meet­ings and busi­ness card ex­changes, along with the an­nu­al golf out­ing and “Busi­ness is Bloom­ing” Expo. Lufkin and Tauben­ber­ger think it’s time for some new en­ergy and ideas.

“We’re work­ing throughout gov­ern­ment re­la­tions com­mit­tee to draw some loc­al, state and even fed­er­al politi­cians to come and speak (to mem­bers),” Lufkin said.

“We have star­ted a young pro­fes­sion­als group to try and tap in­to (a young­er) audi­ence. … We have made con­tact with a num­ber of dif­fer­ent eth­nic cham­bers and we fre­quently talk about do­ing joint events with them.”

Lufkin and Tauben­ber­ger both want to re-em­phas­ize to pro­spect­ive cham­ber mem­bers the value of net­work­ing with oth­ers in the loc­al busi­ness com­munity, par­tic­u­larly when con­di­tions are dif­fi­cult.

The cham­ber can be use­ful for busi­ness-to-busi­ness sales leads, in­form­a­tion shar­ing and pro­fes­sion­al con­sulta­tions.

“There are a lot of re­sources with­in the mem­ber­ship,” Lufkin said. “A cham­ber is what you make of it. If you ask for help when you need it, if you go to events, those are be­ne­fi­cial things. If you don’t, you’re really miss­ing out.” ••

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