PORTLAND – The Portland Regional Chamber’s top executive will step down at the end of this year.
Godfrey Wood of Falmouth will retire Dec. 31 after 15 years as CEO, the business organization announced Thursday.
“I believe change is good for any organization, and it will be good for me as well,” Wood said in a written statement. “The time is right for me, and for my family, for me to step down.”
The Portland Regional Chamber advocates and provides networking opportunities for businesses in and around Portland. It is a partnership of separate community chambers: Portland, South Portland/Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth/Cumberland and Westbrook/Gorham.
It is the largest business membership organization in Maine, representing 1,400 members with more than 64,000 employees.
Wood said in an interview Thursday that when he joined the chamber in 1997, it had an annual budget of $600,000, the office carpets were duct-taped to the floor, and there was no database of the group’s members.
“I was told there were 600 members, but there was no way of figuring out if that was true — I don’t think it was true — and the chamber was hemorrhaging money,” Wood said. ” I just tried to run it as a business.”
The chamber has since doubled its budget, he said, and moved from Middle Street to a newly renovated facility on Congress Street.
The city, especially the Old Port, Bayside and Congress Street areas, have changed dramatically over the last 15 years. Wood said the chamber cannot take credit for the increasingly vibrant business climate but it has played a role advocating for business-friendly policies at the state and local levels.
The chamber’s role of connecting and educating business leaders produced the most value for its members, he said.
In the spring, the chamber created the Portland Veterans Network, allowing veterans to join the chamber at no charge. Veterans can attend events, receive business cards and be paired with mentors to help them transition back to the workplace.
The chamber also hosts the “Eggs and Issues” series of forums that brings in community leaders and policy makers to meet with the business community.
Networking also can be personal, Wood said.
“I met my wife at a chamber networking event,” he said of Karen Wood, publisher of The Forecaster weekly newspapers.
Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said Wood’s announcement surprised him and he will miss working with him.
Connors, who has held his position for 18 years, said Wood was a great steward and ambassador for business interests in Greater Portland.
While the two chambers agree on most policy issues, Connors said they occasionally have been at odds, on issues such as efforts to cap municipal spending. “He has not shied away from issues that can be controversial or divisive,” Connors said of Wood.
The Portland Regional Chamber supported two versions of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights — an initiative to limit tax increases — while the state chamber opposed them. Portland’s was the first chamber group in the country to support such a bill, Wood said. “We’ve lost some members because of the positions we’ve taken,” he said.
Wood said his successor must continue to find ways to reduce costs and increase revenue. Chambers typically lose 10 percent to 20 percent of their membership annually, so finding new members will be key, he said.
James Cohen, chairman of the chamber’s board of directors, said the board will meet soon to choose an interim CEO and establish a process for choosing a replacement.
Cohen said that within an hour of Wood’s announcement, he had heard from a handful of people who are interested in the position. “Hopefully, we will have a lot of strong candidates to select from.”
Wood said 15 years is the longest he has ever held a job. He worked on Wall Street, and was a cab driver in Boston, a sports coach, a real estate developer and a professional sports executive — including an initial co-owner of the Portland Pirates.
Wood, who has three children and three grandchildren, said he is exploring his options for a new full-time job.
When asked his age, Wood bristled.
“I’m young enough to keep working,” he said.
Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: