By Nicole Aguiniga
In the spotlight this week is Nancy Bruns, the president of the Lee’s Summit Chamber of Commerce, located in the historic train depot in downtown. She has been in the chamber industry since 1986. Her chamber career started in Independence, Missouri, when she started out as an office manager, moving her way up to vice president.
“I was working for Lee Jeans in Kansas, looked in the local paper and saw an ad for an office manager for the Independence chamber,” Bruns said. “My first thought was, ‘How hard could that be? They hand out maps and tourist information to people," because that’s what I knew about chamber work at that time. It was definitely a learning curve; The chamber does so much more.”
After nine years working with the Independence Chamber, Bruns worked as the chamber’s director in Raytown for four years and then came to Lee’s Summit to be the chamber’s president in 2000. Bruns received her bachelor’s degree in business administration from Park University and in 2005 earned the title of certified chamber executive from the American Chamber of Commerce Executives.
Bruns is chiefly responsible for the program of work and financial operation of the Lee’s Summit chamber, plus many other responsibilities. “I work with our 22-member board of directors, and they set policy. We design the program of work each year after our planning retreat each fall to talk about new ideas and projects; then I make the budget work.” Bruns also serves on committees. “We have many committees but I staff our executive committee and the health care committee. The health care committee has always been of interest to me. Plus a lot of administrative work and working with staff to build our team and make sure they get proper direction.”
Before working in the chamber industry, Bruns worked for the Chicago & North Western Railroad in the 1970s, while living in Chicago for six years. “I worked in the sales and marketing department, starting out as a budget analyst and ending up as the assistant to the vice president of sales and marketing. I was the first woman management person in sales and marketing for the railroad.” Bruns said that was a big deal in the 70's with railroads being a male-dominated industry.
Bruns said one of the struggles in the chamber industry was recognizing what businesses needed. “Each community is unique, it’s not a ‘one size fits all.’ Not one chamber does the exact same thing as another chamber. It all depends on the community itself and what they are willing to do.”
Bruns said that the chamber has grown a lot in Lee’s Summit. “When I came here, there were three employees full-time and we had about 470 members. Now we have eight full-time, two part-time and over 1,000 members. It gives me pride that we have been able to accomplish that. Part of that was a natural progression, as the city has grown; part of it has been the great boards and volunteers we have had to take it to the next level.”
One of the challenges Bruns sees is building relationships and encouraging teamwork with volunteers and staff. “We have great employees here and I think we have the best staff,” she said. “I do get engaged in a lot of the community issues that are going on. I’ve been on the Truly 150 committee; I was on the Downtown Master Plan; I'm been involved with the 360 strategic planning process. I really have a connection to the community, not just the chamber, which is what I like to do most.”
“I wish everyone had the chance to give back to their community,” Bruns said. “Not all employees have the opportunity, through their work, to be exposed to it. It just seems natural to give back. When you give, you get."
Bruns gave advice to other women in business: “I think the softer side of women is what makes us able to compromise and accomplish things with a lot of different people. Sometimes we can step back and listen to both sides. I don’t like to be in people's faces; I like to maneuver around and talk directly to people and try to find that happy ground.” She added that patience is a virtue when starting a career: “It’s just a matter of setting your goals and you’ve got to start out with baby steps. Nothing happens overnight.”
Bruns said that her philosophy is to have fun. “Not only for our staff, but for our volunteers...we have to make it fun while we are accomplishing what we have set out to do.”
For more information about the Lee’s Summit Chamber take a look at their website, lschamber.com, or call 816-524-2424.
Look for this weekly column showcasing the successful women of Lee's Summit. To recognize women who have dug in their high heels and are making an impact contact firstname.lastname@example.org