Kate Roche

Position: President and chief executive of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce.

Kate Roche came from a small town in Illinois, Danville, to attend George Washington University. Her love of public policy led her to a variety of internships. After graduation, she soon realized how much she missed working at the local level. She joined the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, and seven years later, they appointed her to the top job.

You worked for a national organization right out of college. What led you to take a job with the chamber?

At Women in Government, my role was both policy focused and also event-planning focused. They do regional conferences for women state legislators. It’s a bipartisan organization, and they work typically on the issues that affect the committees that women legislators typically serve on, so a lot of health care and higher education. In looking for opportunities, Women in Government was a national organization. But I really liked, when I saw the posting for the Arlington Chamber, the idea of having everything here in your community. I was already living in Arlington, so it made a better commute than Metro-ing into D.C.

What attracted you to political science and government affairs?

I think it was just about being able to do good and help people. That was really the focus always. Work for me was never about making money, or viewing that as success. It was really about being able to do good and make a difference.

You’re 29 years old. How do you address your youth and what some people may perceive as inexperience in your new role?

First I think reminding people that I’ve worked for the organization for seven years, and no one knows the day-to-day of what happens at the organization like staff does. It was not a surprise to people on staff when this announcement was made. They said, “This is great. You’ve already been doing so much of this. This will be a smooth transition for us.” So I think reminding people that I was doing these responsibilities to some degree before. But also I really think that time will tell. That’s where I’m not as worried about questions at this point. Give me a couple years and see where the chamber is. I think that will speak for itself.

What are your goals for the organization?

I plan to increase member engagement. We’re reaching out to any members who haven’t been to an event or committee meeting in six months, realizing that just because somebody’s not coming to our breakfast networking event doesn’t mean they’re not getting value, but we’re putting plans in place where we’re at least reaching out to everyone. If you haven’t been to an event or program, we’re giving you a call and just asking you how things have been.

Another major initiative that we’re launching at the end of this year is shop chamber, where we will be focusing, starting at the beginning of next year, on really promoting the idea of our members doing business with each other, which they’re already doing but making it more structured. And also trying to incentivize and encourage people to track that.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given?

I got together with [former Arlington Chamber President] Rich [Doud] for lunch and asked him for his advice, and he said, “You already know everything.” [laughs] But what I learned from Rich over the years was really at the end of the day, it’s all about the members and always put them first and their interests first. That culture that he’s created at the organization I want to maintain and [I] will work to maintain that.

— Interview with Kathy Orton