Wendi M. Williams, chief executive of the Prince George's County Chamber of Commerce, said last week that she will step down next year to spend more time with her family.
Williams, who took over the chamber 41/2 years ago, said it has been difficult to manage the 900-member organization and raise her son, 11, and daughter, 8.
"It's been time for a while," Williams said. "It's just personal circumstances. I set certain goals for my tenure at the chamber. I think I've done what I came here to do."
Williams said that when she was hired by the chamber in 1999, it was losing members and was $137,000 in debt. Her primary goals were to increase membership and return the chamber to financial solvency.
During Williams's tenure, the chamber added about 300 members. The increased dues the growth generated and a run of profitable dinners and luncheons helped pay down the debt, Williams said. Membership dues range from $275 for a sole proprietorship to $5,000 for a business with more than 500 employees.
Williams also raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from local companies, which was used in part to redesign the chamber's Web site and increase member services.
"It is a great time for the chamber. The organization is in great hands," she said. "My hope is that I will continue to be involved in the chamber and in the county in a different capacity."
Williams said she wants to continue working in the county but has not made specific commitments. She has worked in nonprofit management for 20 years. Part of that time was spent at the DC Chamber of Commerce, the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington and the National Association of Broadcasters.
She told chamber board members that she would be willing to stay on until June 2005 in a lesser capacity, said Ralph B. Bazilio, chairman of the chamber and an accountant.
"As much as we would like her to remain, we certainly understand," Bazilio said. "She's not the kind of person who would leave the chamber at a time when things weren't going well."
Bazilio said he has selected chamber members who will conduct a national search for Williams's successor.
Williams said the challenges facing her successor include "remaining diligent in our advocacy efforts to promote a healthy and friendly business climate and providing quality services and programs that are relevant to the membership."
During Williams's tenure some owners of small businesses complained that the county's largest and oldest chamber focused too much on serving big businesses. A Latino and black chamber started in the county to target the issues of small and minority businesses.
"I think that it was just something that has happened over a number of years. Big business took over the chamber," said Hubert "Petey" Green, a founder of the Prince George's Black Chamber of Commerce. "I hate to see Wendi go because I thought she was doing a great job of developing small-business interests. They started a small-business committee. If she leaves, I'm not sure what direction they'll take."