STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — The number of local businesses the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce has impacted in its over 125-year existence is immeasurable. The same can be said for Linda Baran, who has been with the non-profit organization for more than a quarter of that time.
“There was a job posting for a bookkeeper, and I applied for the job after seeing the ad in the Staten Island Advance,” recalled Baran.
That was back in 1986.
Over time, Baran moved through a number of different roles, including overseeing membership development, community relations, special events, and government and legislative affairs.
“I was the constant that really paid attention to everything, especially the finance and operations of the Chamber, so I learned a lot during that period. I learned what you should do and what you shouldn’t do,” she said.
It was while serving as the vice president of finance and resources in 2003 that she was selected to serve as interim president at the Chamber.
“I really had no intention of being the president of the Chamber. They asked me to step in as the interim president as they looked for somebody. As I was doing it, though, I became very confident in that role. I was beginning to feel more comfortable and felt I could execute the duties that came along with the position, so I threw my hat in the ring,” she explained.
The search committee agreed. The Chamber’s board of directors elected Baran as the first woman president and chief executive officer (CEO) in May 2004.
During her almost 18 years in this role, Baran has maintained the Chamber’s focus on supporting and assisting all businesses in the borough. She is continually studying, developing and implementing the best ways to continue achieving that goal.
“One of the best parts about working for the Chamber is meeting so many people. They have experience in many fields, and you can learn from them,” she said. “We always welcome new people coming into the Chamber with fresh ideas. And we’ve really made an effort to involve young people. We’ve been able to integrate more youth into our board of directors and measure efforts from their perspective.”
Baran has been a tireless advocate for local causes and issues, especially providing a strong voice on transportation, including fighting for commercial toll equity and pushing to reactivate the North Shore rail line with Bus Rapid Transit. These days she’s been vocal about the new NYC fast ferry to Midtown and expanding that service to include a Brooklyn route.
“The area I take the most pride in is directly helping local businesses,” Baran added. “Sometimes, it can be a very specific request, like when someone calls up and says they’re having an issue with a city agency and we’re able to assist them.”
That speaks to the core mission of the Chamber — serving as a resource to support small businesses when things are beyond their scope or too complex for them to handle alone. Featured prominently on the Chamber website are the words, “We do what you can’t do for yourself.”
Her leadership was on display when large-scale events had devastating consequences for the business community. She was deeply involved in keeping businesses afloat after the attacks on Sept. 11, and led the Chamber’s efforts through the Great Recession from 2007-09, and in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
When the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic began, Baran quickly helped to establish a citywide alliance, making the Chamber part of the NYC Small Business Resource Network, to provide guidance and assistance to businesses of all sizes on things like grants and loans, digital marketing and navigating swiftly changing regulations. In the last few months alone, the Chamber has helped small businesses secure tens of thousands of dollars in grants.
Baran is quick to share credit for the Chamber’s successes.
“It’s not just me. It’s the team at the Chamber. It’s the wonderful staff we have, and it’s the whole network of members. It’s a true support system. I couldn’t help half as many people without having that network,” she said.
In 2001, the Chamber established a charitable foundation that enables the organization to receive grant funding to expand what it can do and extend its reach. Through the foundation, Baran started the Chamber’s Young Entrepreneurs Academy in 2013, an after-school program that helps high school students turn their ideas into functioning businesses. Baran is also committed to career and workforce readiness and developing talent pipelines on Staten Island, with the goal of creating a local talent pool from which employers can reliably recruit.
The foundation also allows the Chamber to do special programming in neighborhoods, such as Chamber On-the-Go, which brings services to underserved communities, and the work maintaining the East Shore Local Development Corp. that aims to attract the right business mix to the beachfront communities there. A special focus in recent years has been the Chamber’s work revitalizing the commercial district in Downtown Staten Island, where a steering committee has been formed and is working toward establishing a Business Improvement District.
Baran’s work hasn’t gone unnoticed. In addition to serving as past president of the Chamber Alliance of New York State (CANYS), she plays an active role in the 5 Borough Chamber Alliance. In the last few months, the president and CEO was named to the transition teams for Mayor Eric Adams and Borough President Vito Fossella.
“Of course, you always feel honored when you’re asked to be a part of something like that. For me, I have a seat at the table and have the opportunity to relay what I’m hearing on the ground from the local businesses here. I think those opportunities are things we absolutely want to be a part of,” said Baran.
For her accomplishments, Baran is being honored with a Louis R. Miller Business Leadership Award, which she will receive in the Not-For-Profit Businessperson category. The awards — which are presented by the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce and the Staten Island Advance — honor the memory of Louis R. Miller, a businessman and West Brighton resident who was also a community leader.
While leading an organization that looks out for the interests of every business on Staten Island keeps Baran plenty busy, she still volunteers her free time to the community.
She serves as an advisory board member for the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at the College of Staten Island, and recently served on the board of Notre Dame Academy. She is also past president of the Rotary Club of Staten Island.
“Another objective of mine is connecting some of the larger corporates with the local non-profits to help them get some resources,” she said.
Those who have been impacted by Baran’s 36 years at the Chamber know that she’s always had their interests on her mind.
“Throughout my entire career, I’ve had to balance life between family and work. Managing it all was always a big concern of mine,” she said. “It was certainly challenging at times, in terms of being a working mom and working at the Chamber. Thankfully, I made it this far and figured out what I needed to do to keep everyone happy.”
And it seems the entire business community on Staten Island has reaped the benefits of that balancing act.
Recipients of the Louis R. Miller Awards are recognized as effective business leaders and for their outstanding contributions to the local community. Awards are given out in four categories: Emerging, Established, Master, and Not-For-Profit. The honorees will be recognized during the annual Louis R. Miller Business Leadership Awards Breakfast on Wednesday, Feb. 16. For tickets, visit www.sichamber.com or call the Chamber at 718-727-1900.
Current occupation and title: President and CEO of the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce
Hometown: I grew up in Midland Beach and currently reside in Great Kills
Community involvement: Past President of the Chamber Alliance of New York State (CANYS); active role in the 5 Borough Chamber Alliance; member of the transition teams for Mayor Eric Adams and Borough President Vito Fossella; advisory board member for the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at the College of Staten Island; former board member at Notre Dame Academy; past president of the Rotary Club of Staten Island.
Some of my life goals include: Spending more time doing things that make me happy — finding my happy ever after!
The best part of my job: Meeting different people and connecting with so many small businesses.
The most difficult part of my job: Being diplomatic when representing a large constituency with different opinions.
My life philosophy: Treat everyone fairly, and give people the benefit of the doubt.
I am most proud of: My three children and my beautiful grandchildren.
The quality I like best about myself: I am genuine and a lot like my mom.
Personal interests and hobbies: Traveling to new places and spending time with family.
I laugh at: Good jokes, conversations with my three sisters, and whatever strikes me as funny. I have a distinct “giggle.”
I am really good at: Connecting people to help them with whatever they may need.
I admire: When people take the time and care to go out of their way to be helpful.
An important thing I would like you to know about me: I take great pride in leading the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce!