Almost 800 people from the business community attended the Fort Worth Chamber’s 135th Annual Meeting on June 1 at the Omni Fort Worth Hotel. The event was sold out, with people coming to hear keynote speaker, entrepreneur and branding expert Johnny Earle, also known as Johnny Cupcakes, and see the recipients of the Spirit of Enterprise and Susan Halsey Executive Leadership awards.
“As we grow in population, geography and diversity, Fort Worth is on the cusp of some incredible opportunities and, yes, challenges, and we need [the business community] to be a part of navigating them,” outgoing Chamber Chairman Mark Nurdin told the crowd.
In order to be a part of the growth and opportunities, and based on community feedback, Nurdin said, the Chamber has put together a three-year, five-pillar strategic plan that outlines the Chamber’s value and the priorities it plans to work for. The pillars are: issues advocacy, talent development, existing business retention, entrepreneur and small business support, and business attraction.
With all the talk of business and the importance of business and entrepreneurship to the Fort Worth community, it was no surprise the Chamber invited Earle to be the keynote speaker.
Earle had embarked on 16 entrepreneurial enterprises before he was 16 and has created a successful business in the world’s first T-shirt bakery, Johnny Cupcakes. Over the past 16 years, as his business grew, Earle has engaged in different marketing strategies to increase interest and demand for his T-shirts. Cupcake-themed T-shirts are sold in shops that have been made to look, and smell, like bakeries. His shirts have been sold in over 400 pop-up shops around the world and the company releases a new shirt every Friday.
“It’s grown so much I was able to hire my mom, dad and sister full time to turn it into a family-run brand, and that’s my dream come true” Earle said.
He came to the Chamber’s event to share his story and ideas on building brand and customer loyalty as well as on how to reinvent a business in new and creative ways.
But for young entrepreneurs, he said, “It’s important to surround yourself with motivated and creative people, and managing your time and money is important.”
“Finding out what you’re passionate about” is also important, he said. He recommended that young entrepreneurs intern as much as possible, job-shadow, volunteer and more to find their passions in life.
“Do more of what makes you happy; life is short,” Earle said. “If there’s some things in your life that you’re not so happy about, it’s up to you to make those changes.”
Someone who works as a creative and motivating businessman himself is Rick Merrill, president and CEO of Cook Children’s Health Care System. Merrill received the second annual Susan Halsey Executive Leadership Award, which is given to a top company leader, such as president, principal or CEOs, who strengthens the company or organization he or she leads. Halsey was a Fort Worth attorney and businesswoman and the Chamber’s chairman in 2013-14. She died in 2014.
“Leading a group of pediatric physicians and staff members is one of the most satisfying aspects of my job,” Merrill said in a news release. “Their purpose mirrors my own: to make a profound difference in the lives of others just like Susan Halsey. She cared deeply for Fort Worth, was an inspirational leader and a dynamic role model for us all. Receiving this award affirms our hard work, passion and investment in the health of our community.”
According to the chamber, to be considered for the Susan Halsey Award, nominees must:
-Demonstrate the ability to actively support advancement;
-Create a vision and inspire others;
-Establish a positive image for their business while leading it to success;
-Encourage innovation and risk-taking among employees;
-Give back to the community and mentor.
Under Merrill, Cook Children’s has not only expanded to nearly double its size, but its workforce more than doubled as well. Cook Children’s Health Care System has begun providing children in homeless shelters with medical care and transportation between Neighborhood Clinics and shelters, and funded case managers to help the children address their health care and other needs. Merrill also serves on the boards of All Saints Episcopal School, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, the Solution for Patient Safety Network, Trinity University Alumni Association, Children’s Hospital Association of Texas and the National Children’s Hospital Association.
Another award winner was GM Financial, which received the Spirit of Enterprise Award, which is considered one of the Chamber’s highest honors. The award is given to a local company that has made notable contributions to the development of Fort Worth.
“On behalf of GM Financial, I am extremely proud to accept the 2017 Spirit of Enterprise Award, the highest honor given by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce,” said Dan Berce, president and CEO. “Receiving this award from one of our long-time community partners has special significance in the city that has become our world headquarters for the last 25 years. We owe a huge thank-you to the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce and the member businesses for helping drive success in such a great community – Fort Worth.”
At the event, incoming chamber leaders and board members were also announced. Allyson Baumeister is the new chairman, the third woman to chair the Fort Worth Chamber. Board members are Charlie Campbell, Richard Casarez, Joseph Faust, Robin Hamilton, Eddie Hartfield, William Jenkins, Andrew Lombardi, Elizabeth McCoy, Fred Maldonado, Joanne Massey, Ben Perryman, Andrea Puente, Nick Salomone and Terry Smith.