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    Paul Guzzi, longtime head of Greater Boston Chamber, to retire

    Paul Guzzi, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.
    Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
    Paul Guzzi, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

    Paul Guzzi, the president of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, said Thursday he would retire after leading one of the state’s largest and most influential business groups for nearly two decades.

    Guzzi, 72, cited the desire to devote more time to family and his activities on other corporate boards, saying he is leaving the chamber in a “strong position.” The chamber has 1,500 members, including some of the state’s biggest companies such as Fidelity Investments, State Street Corp., and the technology company EMC Corp.

    “There is some sadness, but I’m also optimistic about the organization,” Guzzi said. “Even though I haven’t thought out all of the next steps, I’m not going to disappear.”

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    Guzzi, who made the announcement at a meeting of the group’s board of directors, said he expects to remain at the chamber for another six to eight months during the search for a successor and subsequent transition period. A committee led by Suffolk Construction chief executive John Fish, chairman of the chamber’s board, and Karen Kaplan, chief executive of the advertising firm Hill Holliday, will lead the search for Guzzi’s successor.

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    Fish said Guzzi had discussed the possibility of his departure for several months. He said board members have “the highest level of respect for what Paul has accomplished.”

    Guzzi became president of the chamber in 1996, leading it through the administrations of five governors — four Republicans and one Democrat, Deval Patrick. Guzzi and the chamber played a key role in crafting and passing the state’s landmark universal health care law, which passed in 2006 under then-Governor Mitt Romney..

    Guzzi and the Chamber also led initiatives to recruit and retain well-educated, skilled workers, including women and young people, that drive the region’s innovation economy.

    The chamber’s regular breakfast meetings attract the state’s top political leaders as speakers. Many used them as forums to reveal economic and business-related policies.

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    Gloria Larson, the president of Bentley University in Waltham and former chairwoman of the chamber’s board, said Guzzi worked hard to bring more women into the upper ranks of the Boston business community.

    “He’s been a huge champion for progress for women in the workplace,” said Larson. “Paul leaves two big shoes to fill.”

    Guzzi served more than a decade in state government, including secretary of state from 1975 to 1979. He became an executive at Wang Laboratories, a leading technology company during the minicomputer era of the 1980s.

    Before becoming president of the chamber, Guzzi was the vice president for state and community affairs at Boston College.

    Jack Newsham can be reached at jack.newsham@globe.com.