Chamber of Commerce bids goodbye to outgoing president

Friday, December 21, 2012 | 9:48 a.m. CST; updated 6:57 p.m. CST, Saturday, December 22, 2012
Members of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce honored Don Laird during a reception Thursday evening. Laird officially leaves his post on Jan. 15.

COLUMBIA — The Chamber of Commerce has a new president, Matt McCormick, but Thursday night the organization recognized the work of Don Laird, who has served as president of the chamber since 1998. He retires Jan. 15.

Kat Cunningham, president of Moresource Inc., has worked with Laird in the Chamber for more than 20 years. "Don is incredible," she said. "Businesses in this community are thriving from his influence. He cares for their success. And it feels like he knows everything about business and government and the economy."

Hundreds of friends and colleagues helped Laird celebrate at a reception in his honor Thursday night in Kimball Ballroom at Stephens College.

"He gave the chamber a very credible voice in the business community in Columbia and was key to making Columbia a welcoming city for people wanting to do business," Bob Roper, a retired banking and investment executive who served as chamber chair in 1980 and 1981, said. "That had a big impact on quality economic development."

Kee Groshong, a former MU vice chancellor who served as chamber chair in 1998 and 1999, said Laird was unique in the chamber world for many reasons, but one of them is the 24 years he served the organization's board.

"He's been president longer than most chamber presidents choose to stay, and he has an unusual management style that is very personal and allows him to work well with a variety of folk," Groshong said. "He is universally liked, and respected and we've certainly been fortunate to have him."

Laird announced his retirement in May but stayed in his position so the chamber could find a new president.

"It's time for me to try different things, but serving the chamber was wonderful, a great opportunity, and I'm just glad I was never asked to leave," Laird said. "I think Matt McCormick will do very well and will lead the chamber through new challenges."

Cunningham said she also felt encouraged about the new president.

"There was an excellent selection committee with the chamber's best interests at heart," she said. "I believe they chose a leader who will help transition us to some positive new changes."

Groshong, who was part of the selection committee, said McCormick is "young, enthusiastic, and well-thought-of. He is an excellent candidate to look to a new era and take us to the next level."

McCormick, departing chamber president of Lewisville, Texas, will start as president in late January or early February.

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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