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Boston Chamber of Commerce gets new leaders

But Olympic bid gets nary a mention

Nav Singh (right), the chamber’s new chairman, shook hands with outgoing chairman John Fish.
Nav Singh (right), the chamber’s new chairman, shook hands with outgoing chairman John Fish.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

It was a night of transitions for the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

At its annual meeting on Wednesday, the chamber welcomed a new chief executive and a new chairman. Chamber officials also said they want a new direction for the century-old organization, one that embraces the city’s shifting economic base.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Suffolk Construction chief John Fish, who stepped down as chairman of the chamber’s board. “It is time for all of us to be thinking bigger and bolder than we ever have before.”

Arguably more interesting, though, was what went unsaid in the giant ballroom at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.


Not once did Fish specifically mention the Olympics in his speech — though many of his quotes could be construed as applying to his efforts to bring the 2024 Summer Games to Boston. He is stepping down a year early from his two-year term to focus on the Boston 2024 Partnership, which he also chairs. On Wednesday, he handed over the chamber chairmanship to Nav Singh, managing partner of McKinsey & Co.’s Boston office.

Jim Rooney, meanwhile, was in the unusual position of wearing two hats at once. He spoke as the chamber’s incoming chief executive, though he won’t officially replace Paul Guzzi until July.

Rooney, currently executive director of the authority that runs the South Boston convention center, didn’t mention his big public loss last week. That’s when Governor Charlie Baker put an indefinite pause on the $1 billion in bonds that Rooney needed to expand the convention center.

Nor did Rooney provide much detail about his goals as chamber CEO. Instead, he urged the crowd of roughly 1,900 people to think differently about addressing the needs of the chamber’s members and potential members and of the broader business community.

“We are living in a global economy where all businesses are being transformed by innovation and technology,” Rooney said. “The demographics of our community and our workforce are rapidly changing. We all . . . need to not just embrace but embody those changes.”


James E. Rooney, incoming president, spoke during the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting.
James E. Rooney, incoming president, spoke during the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Baker was in the room as well and gave a brief speech before leaving for another event. He, too, opted not to mention the halted convention center project.

The governor focused his time at the podium on pushing business leaders to support his recently filed legislative package to reform the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. A well-managed and maintained MBTA, Baker said, is crucial to the region’s economy.

“People talk about this choice between the roads and the T,” Baker said. “It’s all one transportation system, folks, and it’s all got to work together.”

Fish also identified transportation and infrastructure as a pressing issue for the business community, as well as the hollowing out of the state’s middle class and the rising costs of housing in Greater Boston.

He said the chamber needs to address the challenges facing the city’s health care and higher education industries and foster growth in newer sectors of the economy.

And he echoed a speech he gave a year ago, when he became chairman, by urging those in the room to pay attention to all regions of the state, not just Greater Boston.

And so it was left to Singh, the new guy, to comment about the sidelined convention center expansion — with just a touch of levity.


“We are all ready for the Rooney magic in the coming years,” Singh joked. “Our first challenge to him: We have 1,900 people in this room today — and we could have had more, but we ran out of space.”

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.