Millennial Mojo: Young Chamber of Commerce CEO Share Tips for Success

Natalie Cofield talks young professional advancement & corporate turnaround

Natalie Cofield, President and CEO, Capital City Chamber of Commerce

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Natalie Cofield has had a play-to-win mindset that has led to an early rise to the top. The power millennial has had management roles in major global markets, at companies and organizations including JPMorgan Chase and the Washington D.C. Economic Partnership and had her own business consultancy that worked with clients including the National Urban League and Howard University. Add to that sparking a professional women’s networking and advocacy movement, Walker’s Legacy—all before the age of 40.

BlackEnterprise.com caught up with the enterprising Howard University alum to talk advice for aspiring women leaders and lessons learned in her role as CEO of one of Texas’ leading chambers of commerce.

What excites you about your role as president and CEO of Capital City Chamber of Commerce?

I came to Austin as a turnaround CEO, recruited from D.C … and I went on to become the youngest chamber president in the black chamber network for a Top 15 city. It really needed complete overhaul to demonstrate its relevancy and value to the community.

What’s excited me most is that we’ve done just that. We’ve had events where people left in tears and were inspired by what they got from a chamber program. The black community in Austin is only 8% of the total population, so to know we have one of the nation’s leading black chambers—putting Austin on the map—and just being in the room for progressive conversations and discussions and serving as a voice for our community is phenomenal.

What tips would you have for other female executives who might be facing similar challenges?

Do your due diligence. I knew I had a big task on my hands, but if I hadn’t done due diligence— looking at the finances, previous reports etc— I would have been more blindsided.

Pace yourself. It’s easy for people who are invigorated by challenges to want to make broad, sweeping changes immediately, but there’s a value to pacing. It gives you the opportunity to earn buy-in, helps you understand what works and what wasn’t working and how you got there in the first place. It also helps you to understand what teammate from your previous team, if any, you can carry over to move forward.

Make sure you take care of yourself, physically and mentally. It’s a big task if you are a CEO. You’re alone, and they say its lonely at the top because it is. When you’re new, everyone is not always your friend—even though they may seem like they are. People may want you to fail, and you won’t always know who those people are. Take the time out every day for yourself.

What were the key things that helped motivate you, at such a young age, in terms of advancement?

Reading biographies of people I wanted to be like. I still do it today. I read about [former U.S. Secretary of Labor] Alexis Herman… power women … I read about their lives and it helps me to understand what they did and what worked for them.

Creating a great network is also important. You can never underestimate the importance of vertical and horizontal networking. The people you are in the room with, that you sit right next to, they’re at some point going to move with you within your industry. To think that the only people you should pay attention to are the ones who have senior titles is not the way to approach success.

Switching gears, what advice would you have for young professionals to position themselves for leadership?

When it comes to business, dressing the part is important. In this atmosphere of casual, its always best to err on side of more formal than not.

Don’t be so focused on the company you work for that you miss the industry you’re working within. It’s your job not to just to be head-down at work, but you should really have your eyes on the transformations and trends in your industry. It will add to your ability to bring best practices and value to the table.

Play to win. If you really want something, create it. Be an innovator, and don’t be afraid to take those risks for what you want.

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