October 2003

Colleen Di Pirro -
Unique Leader of a Unique Organization

by Joseph Radder

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The Amherst Chamber of Commerce, the fifth largest chamber in New York State, is unique because it is a suburban chamber in a town which is big enough to qualify as a city, both in terms of population and square miles.

When Colleen DiPirro joined the Amherst Chamber in 1983, they had 180 members and a budget under $20,000. Today they have over 2000 members with a budget over $2 million. Many business and government people in Amherst would tell you that the growth of the Amherst Chamber is largely due to the dynamic leadership of Colleen DiPirro, president and CEO.

“We’re a suburban chamber with a regional vision,” she says. And that comes through when Colleen talks about the problems, potential, and opportunities of the greater Buffalo region as a whole.

Over 30 percent of Amherst Chamber of Commerce members are not based in the town. This is because over 70 percent of the area’s net job growth in recent years has been in Amherst. Companies outside the town, therefore, want to be part of that success by developing relationships with Amherst businesses.

“We have two categories of members,” DiPirro says, “our customers and our investors. Our customers, generally smaller businesses, are looking for products and services that will make them more profitable. Our investors are looking more for us to develop, maintain, and nurture a market base to make them more successful.”

Unlike other suburban chambers around the country, where membership is very small and largely parochial, and large city chambers which are very global, the Amherst Chamber of Commerce has been able to build a wide diversity of members, “from Mom and Pop sole proprietors to CEOs of major companies. Both types are in and out of our offices on a regular basis.”

Colleen Campbell was born in Buffalo in 1952. Her father, Roy Campbell, who died last year of Alzheimer’s disease, was an automobile dealership executive. Her mother, (NAME PLEASE) is still living and is thoroughly enjoying her new role as a great grandmother. The Campbells had six children. Colleen’s four brothers all live in Florida and her sister lives in Orchard Park.

Colleen married her high school sweetheart. They had two sons, Keith who is now 28, and a pharmaceutical company representative, and Kevin, a confidential investigator for New York State. She was tragically widowed at age 35. “My salvation,” she said, “were my sons and remaining involved with their lives and sports, and, of course, my job.”

Colleen attended elementary school in the Kenmmore-Tonawanda school district and then went to high school at Williamsville South. After graduation from high school, she attended Alfred University, where she earned a degree in Marketing and Retailing.

Awards and honors fill the long windowsill in DiPirro’s office and we don’t have the space to list them all. She is most proud, however of the Governor’s Award for Business Achievment which she received from Governor Pataki in 1998.

In addition to a full business life, Colleen DiPirro is an avid reader, a gardener, an interior decorator and an enthusiastic sports fan. She is particularly supportive of the Buffalo Bills and Baby Joe Mesi, agreeing with the many sports fans who believe he will soon be the heavyweight champion of the world.

What is her take on the Buffalo area in general and Amherst in particular? She is very optimistic, and looks for a lot of good things to come out of the Control Board for the City of Buffalo, recently appointed by the governor. She feels strongly that the area needs more strong leaders and that we need to nurture new and emerging leadership, that delivery of government services must be cost effective, and that municipalities should start each year with a 0 based budget.

As far as Amherst is concerned she says, “We need to be pro-active, to rehabilitate our more dilapidated areas (“and we do have some”) and to provide a leadership model for the entire region.”

Above all she believes governments must be accountable to the taxpayer, delivering needed services but at an affordable cost that the taxpayer is willing to pay.

When we asked Colleen DiPirro about her philosophy of life, she said, “Over the years the focus of my philosophy has changed while the basic tenet remained consistent. My basic philosophy that has been my beacon is that family and loved ones will always come first, but to provide for them I needed to develop a professional life that would offer me opportunity.”

Indeed, Colleen DiPirro is a unique leader of a unique organization. We could use more people like her.

Joseph H. Radder, a regular contributor to Living Prime Time, is author of a new book, Young Jesus, the Missing Years. More information is available from the publisher at 1-888-280-7715 or www.1stbooks.com


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