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On the Job with Deborah Bowie

Deborah Bowie is the senior director of Public Policy Communications for the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce.

Deborah Bowie is the senior director of Public Policy Communications for the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce.

Among her many skills, time management has to be near the top of the list for Deborah Bowie, senior director of public policy and communications for the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce.

In addition to her work schedule which is filled with meetings and assignments, Bowie returns home each evening to care for 4-year-old triplets — Ryanne, Rain and Raymond.

Bowie had a varied career in Birmingham, Ala., before relocating to Albany to accept the Chamber of Commerce position. She recently participated in a question-and-answer session with Reporter Jim West.

Q. What was your first job?

A. Working at an upscale clothing store in Bayside in Miami, Fla., my hometown. It was a really cool job. My sister and I worked there together and we modeled the clothes up and down Bayside, which was a pretty unique concept at the time. It was an outlet. We would take a stack of business cards with us and we would be stopped by a lot of the tourists and a lot of the entertainers who worked on the cruise lines. They would come in and purchase the dress, so we got to model and sell clothes. It was very glamorous for a 17-year-old.

Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first ever paycheck?

A. Probably clothes. Back in those days when I was a typical teenager, it was always clothes or shoes.

Q. What’s the single most effective technique you found over the past two years for keeping employees motivated?

A. I think that the best technique that’s worked well for me, even when I lived in Alabama, is that I include the employees in their professional improvement and development goals. I have a two-part evaluation tool that I use and they’re asked to evaluate themselves and to list all their goals for the year and how I might help them to accomplish those goals. That’s worked out really well. It makes the employee part of their own success.

Q. What led you to your current position?

A. I’ve had sort of a meandering route into Chamber work. I started as a newspaper reporter and later a television reporter. But I was recruited into the Chamber industry by someone who is now a good friend of mine. At that time I had been working for city government. I worked for the city council and was recruited because I had a unique history of communications, public relations and working for the city council advocacy. It was a good, natural next step for me. That was in late 2003 and I’ve been in Chamber work pretty much every since.

Q. Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?

A. I have several, actually. It would be really difficult for me to name one more than the other. I always look for an opportunity to learn from people I’m around and I really believe that role models can be anyone you come into contact with. They don’t necessarily have to be someone in your immediate work environment. They don’t even have to be older than you. So I’ve looked for opportunities to build relationships with people because I think you learn something from everybody.

Q. What is the biggest lesson you as a business leader learned from the recent recession?

A. In my household, we’ve cut back on a lot of things you do so frequently you think they’re necessary expenses. They’re not. So I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that, really it’s just stuff. I’ve learned to do a lot more with less. I think a lot of Americans have. The thing that I want to keep from that experience is that that even if and when the economy turns around, a lot of the things you accumulate are not necessary things. I think the people who lived through the Great Depression really understood that.

Q. If you could turn the clock back on one aspect of technology – examples email, automated phone systems, cellphones, PDAs, etc. – what would you most like to see go away?

A. I have to say I’m a huge fan of technology. I think that technology really does exist to make our lives easier, more efficient, to make us better at what we do. I have a personal peeve about technology — this is where maturity and professional experience comes into play — you just have to learn when to disengage. I have been guilty of not knowing where to draw that line and have that seamless integration of technology. So when I’m home I’m still working. I’ve learned that when I’m home, I’m home. My family deserves that time.

Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?

A. I would have to say I’m a new fan of the iPhone. I was definitely one of those Blackberry people that had to be forced into the migration, into touch technology because we upgraded our server and it was no longer compatible with Blackberry. I panicked because I do a lot of texting and emailing out of the office. I have to say, the iPhone is an amazing piece of technology, so I’m a big fan.

Q. What is your favorite tradition?

A. My family has always exchanged one gift at midnight, heading into Christmas morning. That’s something I’ve continued with my children.

Q. What was the last book you read? Do you have things you read daily or regularly?

A. I used to read daily, but I have triplets who are 4 years old. I just read when I can. The last book I did read was a fantastic business book by Yum! Brands CEO, David Novak, who wrote a book called “Taking People With You.” It was interesting to have a CEO write about how he used his day to day business management to turn that company into one of the most successful fast food chains in America.

Q. I’m up and going by? And what is your morning routine?

A. It’s chaotic. I’d like to be up and going every morning by 5, and I do set my alarm every morning for 5, although I never get up then. I hit that snooze button until I absolute have to get up. I am not a morning person. Luckily my husband is, but because we have triplets we have get them off to school and I have to get to work. My goal is to be up at least by 6 if I can make it.

Q. What famous person would you like to meet, and Why?

A. I’d have to say it would be Anne Frank. For someone to live through the atrocities she witnessed and still believe that people were fundamentally good at heart, I’d like to meet that person. It’s difficult in our own everyday existence when we have bad things happen that are hard for us to maintain that eternal optimism. I struggle with that.

Q. Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?

A. I (used to ) sing a lot. I don’t sing as much now. I was very active in my church choir and on my praise team. Now I don’t get a chance to do that very much because it’s very hectic with the kids. So, frankly, lately it’s been a lot of reading — a lot of it related to work. My goal is to read at least two business books a month.

Q. If you could take back one business decision you made in your career, what would it be?

A. Honestly, none. Like a lot of people, you can be in a really tough situation and when you’re in it you think you know this is not the best decision I could have made. I’ve learned now that if it weren’t for really tough situations that we were in, we wouldn’t be who we are. I’m always telling my myself, no matter what happens, you can lose a lot but don’t lose the lesson. We are the cumulative result of what we’ve been through.

Q. Best thing about your job?

A. Coming into contact with so many different kinds of people from so many walks of life. Elected officials, business owners, people in the nonprofit arena, human health services — there’s not another profession that lets you have your hands in so many pies. To be sort of in the epicenter of that and figuring out how you can make those connections and connect the right people. That’s the best part of the job.

Q. Worst thing about your job?

A. The meetings. Meetings are a necessary evil in this business and sometimes the only time that you really can get the needle moving on some of these issues, whether its economic development or job growth or stemming the rise of poverty in a community. You just can’t make that happen, you have to sit and meet, and sometimes the meetings can be really daunting.

Q. The most beneficial course I took in school was?

A. Typing. I remember when I took typing in high school I thought “why am I taking this class?” But if I had to think about something practical that I’ve used every single day, no matter how technology has changed, but the fact that I can type, I know I owe that to my eleventh grade typing class.

Q. What would be your dream job if you were able to pick a position outside your current career path?

A. I guess my dream job might be something in entertainment. That’s always been a strong interest of mine, whether it be singing or being active in plays. If there was a way I could make that into a legitimate job that was wage-earning, it would be a very cool thing to do.

Q. Finish this thought: On the first anniversary of my retirement, I see myself …

A. Probably never retiring, honestly, because I have triplets who are 4 years old. I have a daughter who’s a freshman in college who calls every other week because she needs something. The thought of all those triplets being in college at the same time keeps me up at night, because all of those plans I had before the kids, to retire and travel the world and do nothing and be at the beach — I’m not sure I’ll ever get there.

Q. What is the one trait a strong business leader cannot afford to be without?

A. Integrity. To me, integrity is just simply what you’re doing when nobody else is watching. Are you an honest person, do you do the right thing at all times, in every situation. That’s how I define integrity. It’s a character foundation and if you don’t have it, everything you put on top of that will crumble.

Q. Crystal ball time: What’s your call on when the economic recovery for our area will be in full swing?

A. I’ve heard a lot of the experts from UGA and other economists talk about where Georgia is and how long it will take (us) to restore the jobs lost. The best predictions last year they’ve pushed now to 2016. Just hearing that and reading the materials, it looks like at least another three or four years before we can see a turnaround in the economy.

Q. What kind of music might I find on your list of most played on your iPod?

A. You’d find a very eclectic mix of music. I love jazz, R&B. I love Gospel. I don’t know that I really like country. It depends on the mood I’m in.

Q. What do you think is the biggest change Albany will see in the next 10 years?

A. It concerns me that Albany is a huge exporter of the crucial 25 to 49-year-old workers, and if that out-migration continues it will have a tremendous negative impact on Albany.

Q. What was the best vacation you’ve ever taken? Why?

A. Jamaica with my sister. She was killed in a robbery in 1994 and so that trip is a treasure to me now.

Q. What are the biggest changes you have seen in your specific line of business over the past few years?

A. Companies, because of the economy, just really don’t have it in their budgets any more to allow their volunteers to be really engaged with Chambers of Commerce. Chambers’ life’s blood is the volunteers, and so it’s been a challenge for us to work through our staff having to do more because our volunteers are doing less. So it’s that constant struggle of wanting the volunteer to take a leadership position but respecting that they have a full-time job and they are volunteers.