As chief executive of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, Rob Wonderling, now in his fifth year in that role, sees himself as an advocate for business, and for business engagement in the civic affairs of the region.

He also sees himself as running a business, albeit a nonprofit one.

"Even though we are a not-for-profit association, the only thing I would suggest is not for profit is our IRS designation," said Wondering, 52, who, before leading the chamber, was a Republican state senator.

"We are a prototypical small business with about 100 employees," he said. "We are driven and passionate and we love our members. We have about one year to demonstrate value or they won't renew. That's very entrepreneurial and I love that."

Question: You were a politician. Now you deal with politicians. What's the best way to work with them?

Answer: We're in a free republic and we elect these folks. It's too easy for a citizen to say, 'Throw the bums out.' Anyone that is going to be in contact with a public servant, whether appointed or elected, ought to understand that everybody has personal sacrifices in their vocation. Theirs doesn't deserve a medal, but it's different and there ought to be a level of respect that's granted those who are chosen to serve.

Q: Any other tips?

A: The second thing is that - this is going to sound like psychobabble and it's not intended to be - but if you are interacting with elected official, always look them in the eye.

Q: Why?

A: Their brains are so full of things. So much is coming at them. Their minds are wandering.

Q: So you hold their attention in that way?

A: It's a tactic, not an obnoxious tactic.

Q: The chamber launched an initiative called Roadmap for Growth. Explain?

A: There are election cycles upon us for mayor and City Council. So let's build some baseline information [about the economy and demographics]. Where are our big growth opportunities? How does that align into job opportunities and what would be the strategies and tactics and public policy agendas to get there?

Q: Then what?

A: Let us create a road map where we'll listen, working with City Council and grassroots organizations. We'll take back what we heard and have public-issue forums. Hopefully [we'll] build a strong collection of ideas, and passionate people and organizations around these ideas that will inform the candidates and have some currency to be part of the next administration.

Q: What's the chamber's current top priority?

A: Our mission is to attract, grow and retain jobs and opportunities for individuals and companies in our region. From that, our highest priority is to put [the city school system] on a fiscally sound, stable financial footing.

Q: What are the pluses and minuses of doing business in Philadelphia?

A: Pluses - we are a very connected community. We are a large metropolitan area but we have a small-town feel to our business community. Minuses - we have much more work to do on tax reform.

Q: How does the chamber stay relevant, particularly to the younger generation, which seems to connect in different ways?

A: We have to adapt. We have to be willing to take risks. It's exhilarating.

Q: You have such a social job. What do you do when you want to be alone?

A: I usually go running on the Perkiomen Trail.


Title: President, chief executive, since 2009.

Home: Lower Salford. 

Family: Wife, Kristin; sons, Sam, 23, Mark, 21, Ben, 18.

Diplomas: Allegheny College, history, political science; University of Pennsylvania, master's in government.

Resume: Started at the chamber as "go-fer" out of college, then moved up. Later worked at Air Products, Bentley Systems. State senator, 2002 to 2009.

Met his wife: At a junior-high dance.

What caught his eye: Tall, attractive, good basketball player.

Weekend cook: Specialty is marinades.



Office: Center City

Initiatives: Public education funding, creating an energy hub, tax policy changes.

Board chair: Daniel K. Fitzpatrick, Citizens Bank, regional CEO.

Members: 4,000 firms, employing 500,000.

Who: 80 percent small businesses, fewer than 100 employees.

Revenues: $15 million.



Rob Wonderling on lessons from chamber's leaders.


Interview questions and answers have been edited for space.
215-854-2769 @JaneVonBergen