June 17--When Amy Jackson was 12, her father put her in charge of the all-male hay crew on their Wamego, Kan., farm.
"I attribute a lot of my work ethic to my parents. I had a lot of responsibility early on," Jackson said last week from her office in the Commerce Building.
Jackson is the new president and CEO of the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce.
The former vice president for marketing and insurance services at Farm Credit Services of Mid-America was singled out from a national pool of 40 candidates that included some from East, West and Gulf coasts, Board Chairman Mike Beckwith said.
"She is a true professional with high integrity and has the experience to lead our organization," Beckwith said. "Of the people we interviewed from that national pool, she stood out as very polished. Her barometer for decision-making is well-calibrated."
In introducing her to the monthly Rooster Booster Breakfast business crowd last week, Beckwith said it "just so happened that our top candidate ended up being right here."
Jackson and husband Chris and 4-year-old daughter, Audrey, live in Hancock County. In her previous job, she left home about 4:30 a.m. each workday to drive 100 miles to her Farm Credit Services office in Louisville. The job also involved a lot of additional travel since she had employees in the four states FCS of Mid-America covers -- Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee.
Her husband is from Whitesville. He's a plumber and pipefitter with Local 663 and currently is working on the new Cannelton Hydroelectric Plant at Hawesville.
"Chris and I made the decision to stay here to be close to some of our family," Jackson said.
All of Jackson's family remains in Kansas. She is the oldest of three sisters and two brothers "and aunt to many nieces and nephews." She owns property there with her father, who used to be a vocational ag teacher and FFA adviser.
The timing was right in 2012 -- with their daughter growing up quickly -- to make a change, Jackson said.
"I looked at all that was happening in Owensboro -- and it wasn't coming from outside -- it was the city and county and local people making it happen, and I wanted to be a part of that," she said. "I wanted to be involved. What better way to be connected to the business world of Owensboro than right here at the chamber?"
Beckwith said the chamber's selection committee agreed to focus on the person with great importance placed on that person's experience with broad-based membership.
Some candidates had either chamber or economic development experience, but Jackson's overall leadership and membership experience moved her to the top of the list as a potential leader for the nearly 1,000-member business organization, he said.
In general, the board expects Jackson to move the chamber forward and to help the business community have an economic impact, Beckwith said.
Career path led to Owensboro
Growing up on her family's farm, Jackson wanted to be on the radio. And eventually she was. As an agriculture student at Kansas State University, she developed three majors -- agriculture journalism, ag technology management and natural resources and environmental sciences. She completed a yearlong internship at the college's radio station that broadcast across all of Kansas and into Nebraska and Missouri.
"When I was on the air, I learned how to ask the right questions, to connect with people and learned time management," she said. "I learned to do things on a routine basis and find value."
She learned, however, that even though she wasn't a business major, the business side of work drove her. Her college advisers saw how she was moving quickly through her coursework, and that's what led to three majors. She was the first woman to go through the agriculture technology management program.
As she was winding down her college days, Jackson envisioned going to work for John Deere Equipment. But that changed when the statewide recruiter for FCS came to campus. He was a former state FFA advisor who knew her family and convinced her to go through FCS' recruitment questions.
"I started with Farm Credit Services as I was finishing my last semester of college," Jackson said. "It is a great company. Farm Credit raised me and prepared me for a lot of things. It was great that they saw me as a leader and trusted me to develop new programs and to do new things."
She considers one of her greatest achievements in her 13-year career at FCS as helping to grow the crop insurance division and setting it on its current path.
Jackson's first leadership post at FCS was in crop and life insurance. She had five employees selling crop insurance. Her team grew to 32, and it generated $6 million in revenue.
She's also proud that she developed four leaders to help in succession planning, she said.
Jackson also was part of the team that worked last year on rebranding FCS, which included focusing on customer needs and positioning the company in the marketplace.
"Doing the research behind that -- listening to our customers -- helped us to see what we need to be doing five years from now," she said. "That is translating so well to this job. Both companies are membership-driven. It's about figuring out how to provide value and about decision-making based on feedback from membership."
Next steps are 'getting to know Owensboro'
Jackson -- about two weeks into the job -- will be taking 90 days to do an organizational assessment. She's on her 'getting to know Owensboro tour' in which she will continue to study, listen and learn from members, influencers and other partners. That process will help her "guide our board this fall through the planning process so we can set our course and strategic goals."
She anticipates continuing to support some successful chamber programs such as Emerge Owensboro and Leadership Circle.
Jackson said she's excited that she gets to come into the chamber leadership role with a completely fresh perspective.
"I've learned from the projects that were assigned to me or that I raised my hand for that I'm much more of an innovator than an adapter," she said. "I would rather create something new or find a new way of doing something. And that takes strategy."
She expects to approach the chamber's work as a team with everyone taking ownership and responsibility. She praised the talent of the team in place which comprises Missy Gant, membership manager; Sydney Warren, membership services manager; Susan High, accounting manager; and Jamie Roby, administrative assistant.
Jackson expects to talk to a lot of members in the coming weeks. She also wants to hear from nonmembers -- especially about why they aren't members.
"I have an open door policy whether you are members or not," she said. "I want to have honest, candid and transparent conversations so we can make things better for everyone in the Owensboro community."
The chamber's offices are in the Commerce Building at 200 E. Third St. Jackson also can be reached by phone at 926-1860.
Joy Campbell, 691-7299, email@example.com
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