When Liz Catucci got the call, it didn’t seem real to her.
She was leaving the country with her family to go visit her husband’s native Italy for a few days when she picked up to hear about her prospects for the president and CEO position at the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce.
“My husband was sitting next to me in the car and he’s looking at my facial gestures and he’s saying, ‘Oh, it’s good! It’s a good thing.’ I was thrilled,” Catucci said during an interview with the Sun Rise at her Chamber office on Oct. 8. “I couldn’t have been more excited, and then I got to celebrate with family over the week. Then it was time to get to work.”
She certainly has gotten to work, too. Catucci is now just a couple of weeks into her stint as the Chamber’s new leader following the retirement of John Gregory, who helmed the organization for 27 years.
He’s still on board through the end of the year to soften the transition, but Catucci already has the necessary connections and experience to make it seamless.
“You walk in and there’s 50 gazillion things that you want to do,” Catucci said. “[Gregory and I] spent a lot of time just in the past week and this week spending time with the members, our corporate sponsors, we were at the State House last week, which was great. It’s nice to have that, nice to have somebody to kind of do that official pass-off and build those relationships that will be important in the future.”
She recalled a conversation with Gregory from two years ago that foreshadowed her current position at the Chamber. She said Gregory has served a mentor in her life for “quite a while,” and he was a valuable sounding board for any career discussions Catucci wanted to have.
“It was almost two years ago, when he hadn't decided to retire at that point, and he said, ‘Well, what do you want to do? What’s the next step for you.’ ‘I want to do what you do,’” Catucci said, with a laugh. “It looks pretty cool, right?”
Her background is in the hospitality industry, working her way up from her first job at Mill’s Tavern to Legal Sea Foods and the Capital Grille. However, she also serves on boards at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Rhode Island and Women & Infants Hospital and has logged significant time in the financial world over the course of her career.
She said her work on the Chamber’s board and executive committee was “critical,” as it allowed her to cultivate relationships around the state and take a look at the Chamber’s bigger picture.
“It’s really going to come down to, this is servant leadership,” Catucci said. “It’s going to come down to what people need and what people want with a small business community in northern Rhode Island, what they need and the value they find in the Chamber. I think this is a really interesting time where I cannot necessarily reinvent it, but have my own spin. I’m really excited about that.”
As far as what spin she would like to put on the Chamber, she reserved her comments until after she’s had more conversations with members and sponsors. She said spending time with them could yield helpful feedback to show which issues are affecting a majority of businesses.
“What would you do differently? What are your needs?” Catucci said of what she wants to learn through meetings with Chamber members. “I know we provide a certain amount of value, but where else can we help you? What else can we do? And I think the first starting point is to sit down and put together a strategic plan, but that’s going to come with a lot of analysis and it’s going to take a little bit of time.”
Catucci said she attended the popular AppleFest, which is co-sponsored by the Chamber, for the first time this year. She took her three daughters and said they all had a great time, enjoying the games, bouncy houses and pony rides the yearly staple had to offer.
“I ended up getting a new wreath for my door, I was all excited to do that,” Catucci said. “I didn’t realize how big it was. I have to say, they did a great job in regards to managing it, because there’s not a ton of parking and to be able to service all those people over that span of time, it was extremely well organized. People could not have been friendlier. It was fun. It was a great experience.”
She referenced an experience from AppleFest to capture the surreal feeling of becoming president and CEO of the Chamber. One of her daughters in particular was able to take home a fish, amid the several other fun activities, and expressed a joy similar to that which Catucci felt after getting the call.
“She said to me, ‘Mom, this is so cool. I almost have to pinch myself, because it doesn't seem real,’” Catucci said. “That’s kind of what it felt like.”