Allie Williams will be the next president and CEO of the Greater Bethesda Chamber of Commerce.
Williams, 54, will succeed Ginanne Italiano, who is retiring at the end of the year after nearly 20 years.
A Bethesda native, Williams was the director of membership for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. from 1996 to 2004.
Most recently, Williams was the executive director and chief operating officer of the Title VII Administrators Association in Berwyn, Pa. He said the organization works on issues related to employment discrimination.
Williams said he has known Italiano since the beginning of her time as CEO of the Bethesda chamber. He was her class adviser at the Institute for Organization Management, a nonprofit management program that is part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“We’ve had a great longstanding relationship,” he said.
Williams said he has long hoped to lead a local chamber of commerce and everything seemed to “line up” for him in terms of the timing of the Bethesda job.
“When I read that Ginanne was retiring, I thought this would be a terrific opportunity for me to put my name in and try to find my way back to Bethesda,” he said.
Williams said his goal is to make the Bethesda chamber the “most relevant organization for businesses in and around the area.” He acknowledges that the job will be challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In this pandemic year, businesses that were once thriving are considering lots of different options. My goal is to provide services and programs to navigate this difficult climate,” he said.
Williams said he will focus on membership development and finding new streams of revenue for membership and sponsorship.
“We need to find what’s making these companies react to staying involved and staying engaged with the chamber,” he said.
Montgomery County recently decreased the number of customers allowed in restaurants and other business to 25% of capacity because of a spike in COVID-19 cases.
When asked about the additional restrictions placed on businesses, Williams said it’s important to listen to the health guidance of the local officials.
“But we need to find a balance and a way for businesses to thrive during this time,” he said. “We need to have a conversation with other chambers in the area. Businesses want to stay open. …. We need to keep things open, but we have to figure out how to reduce the spread of the virus to find a happy medium.”
Williams has experienced other financial crises, such as a recession after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the Great Recession in 2008. But he said he has not seen a more challenging crisis in his professional life than the pandemic.
“Nothing like this has ever happened because we don’t know what tomorrow brings,” he said.
Williams’ first day at the Bethesda chamber will be Dec. 7.
Italiano worked at the Greater Washington Board of Trade for nearly 24 years before she became the head of the Bethesda chamber in 2001.
She told Bethesda Beat on Thursday morning that in more than two decades she has known Williams she thinks he “has the best expertise as far as chambers of commerce and chamber management.”
“He’s also so well-connect throughout the country with chambers of commerce and nonprofits. But more important, he’s connected through Bethesda, and Montgomery County because he’s a native son. So to that extent, I can’t be happier,” she said.
Italiano said one of Williams’ strengths is his ability to work with others.
“He loves to collaborate, whether it’s with other chambers of commerce or with the community and other community organizations. And he understands that that is so important,” she said.
Italiano said that she will oversee the transition after Williams takes over the role on Dec. 7, and will leave the chamber at the end of the year. During retirement, she hopes to take courses at the University of Maryland and eventually travel, among other things.
Italiano said she feels positive about the future of the chamber.
“I’m excited. I was never worried, because I know our leadership really has the best interest for the chamber, so I knew they were gonna pick somebody good. But this is one of those situations where I just feel really great leaving it in such good hands,” she said.
Dan Schere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org