August 11, 2018
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  • Linda Zahn retired from her role as CEO of the Greater Severna Park and Arnold Chamber of Commerce at the end of 2017. She is staying on in a part-time capacity to help train incoming CEO Liz League.
    Photo by Dylan Roche
    Linda Zahn retired from her role as CEO of the Greater Severna Park and Arnold Chamber of Commerce at the end of 2017. She is staying on in a part-time capacity to help train incoming CEO Liz League.
  • HEADSHOT, Liz League
    Photo Provided
    HEADSHOT, Liz League

Linda Zahn Retires From Longtime Leadership With GSPACC Liz League Steps In As New CEO

Dylan Roche
View Bio
January 10, 2018

It might come as a surprise to anyone who has been involved in the local business scene over the last two and a half decades, but Linda Zahn, CEO of the Greater Severna Park and Arnold Chamber of Commerce, did not particularly want the position when it first became available. Twenty-seven years later, as she prepares to retire from her leadership role, she is glad she accepted. “It turned out to be a great job and far more creative than I thought it would be,” she said.

Before stepping into the role of executive director — her title would later be promoted to CEO — Zahn had been staying at home to raise her kids. She had pursued an array of volunteer opportunities, and it was at the encouragement of her friend Meg Anderson, whom she knew through social activities in Shipley’s Choice, that she pursued it. “I brought Linda’s name to the game because I knew she had very good organizational skills, this West Virginia charm, and the ability to do community outreach, so she could do it all,” said Anderson, who served as president of the chamber in 1989, when Zahn was hired. The chamber had never before had an executive director, and Anderson saw that a leader like Zahn would bring “stability and growth” to help the chamber expand its presence.

When Zahn began to consider the position seriously, she realized the potential she had to make a difference. “I thought, ‘This could be so much more than it is,’” she said of the chamber. She even found the position was much more suited to her skills than she originally realized. “The creative parts, like the events, starting new things, was so much fun,” she said.

Under Zahn, the chamber has expanded from fewer than 100 members to more than 600 members, and it has even furthered its geographic reach by going from the Greater Severna Park Chamber to the Greater Severna Park and Arnold Chamber.

She also helped create many programs, most notably the Business Bites information lunches. “Providing affordable, quick programs to keep businesses up to speed is a benefit of membership,” she said. She also started the SUN (Support Unlimited Network) groups, which help members share ideas and tackle issues.

The chamber even started holding youth leadership conferences for students from public and independent schools. “The conferences were student-run and something I was very proud of,” Zahn explained. “I also started the business advisory board at Severna Park High School, and it’s going strong.”

Zahn was the originator of many events and activities, such as summer networking cookouts for chamber members, and holiday traditions for the greater community, such as the annual Christmas tree lighting and the Taste and Sip showcase of food and beverage merchants.

Her 27 years with the chamber were not without challenges, however. “One of the greatest challenges I’ve faced was the recession and the impact it had on business,” she said.

She has also had to help the chamber keep up with the times. “The major challenge has been the rapid growth of technology for communication and businesses,” she said. “It’s absolutely changed the world and continues to do so. Adapting is the key because it’s here to stay. I can't think of a business that hasn't been impacted either positively or negatively by technology.”

Zahn is proud to know that she is leaving the chamber in good shape, and she feels confident that her successor — Liz League, who was introduced to members of GSPACC at the general membership meeting in December — will take the organization to the next level. “Liz has so much enthusiasm and so much spirit, and in the all the years I’ve known Liz, she’s very buoyant and upbeat. She’s interested in new and exciting ideas. It’ll be interesting to see how she makes things better.”

In retirement, Zahn hopes that she and her husband, Steve, can find a little more time to volunteer. So far, she has committed to Opportunity Builders Inc. and Orphan Grain Train, and she’s looked at either the Anne Arundel County SPCA or Animal Control. “Steve and I both want to do more charitable work with our time,” she said. “One of the coolest things about retirement is you just stop setting your alarm clock. It will be nice to not have to be at work by 8:00am or earlier.”

League, who said she has “big high heels” to fill as she looks forward to continuing Zahn’s work, comes from an extensive volunteer background. “Many of the volunteer organizations of which I have served as president have been membership-based,” she explained. “The success of these groups depends on dues, meeting and convention fees, fundraising, and donor and sponsor programs. I have actively participated in all of these arenas, and the key to success is building strong relationships with the members and potential members.”

A longtime resident of Severna Park who has raised four children in the community, League recognizes that most of the businesses are small and cater to the immediate residents. “I know many business owners through patronage, kids going to school together, and having them as neighbors,” she said. “I have great admiration for those who have taken the risk to start and run a business. And it’s wonderful to see that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Severna Park.

Already, League has a clear goal in mind for her first year with the chamber. “From a tactical standpoint, I want to put together a big calendar with all the events and the stages of coordination for the year,” she said. “There are so many activities every month, and then there are large events that take months of work, like the Fourth of July parade. Every single day must be productive in driving the master plan. At the same time, I want to meet members and prospective members and continue to retain and build membership.” She also wants to work with the community college and local high schools to connect students with business leaders, and reach out to the county and state to address legislative issues that affect businesses.

League begins her new role this month, and she looks forward to jumping right in. “I am inspired daily by risk-takers, unique thinking, clever inventions, life-saving innovations and people seeing their dreams come true,” she concluded. “I love change, fast pace and stepping out of my comfort zone because that is the only way to thrive in life.”

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