A Gathering of Whos

  • By: Fresno Chamber President/CEO, Al Smith 

A fair warning to those who are language purists: you might find portions of this article painful, annoying, distressing or dolorous. That last word is what those of us down south use to call a “five dollar word.”

Since I ran across a redefined platitude that so many of us have used throughout our lives, I am at a loss on how to spell who I think Chamber members are.

I have checked Webster’s Dictionary, but I received no assistance there. I thought about trying to track down my high school English teacher, Miss Bell Singletary, but she was my teacher more than fifty years ago and was pushing the top of the age spectrum back then. So, I am thinking that she is probably not a practical source.

The platitude I am talking about states, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.”

A recent writer, whose name I don’t remember, rephrased it. His take on it was “It’s what you know, who you know and what you know about who you know – and what, who you know, knows, too. Not to mention knowing what else and who else you ought to know.”  He then tagged it with “Is that clear?”

I have read those words over and over and guess what, “No, it is not clear.” Cute, but not clear. Way too cerebral for me.

But it did give me a thought. If there is some truth to the phrase “it’s not what you know but who you know” then that defines the Fresno Chamber of Commerce and its members.

After 49 years in another line of business, one of the most surprising things I learned since entering my second career in the Chamber business was how involved the organization was in so many areas of our community and state. Its tentacles reach into small business and large. It interacts with government. It influences politics. It is an integral part of the fabric of the community’s social, civic and educational activities.

As I have told many people in the past few years, I feel like my job is that of a policeman directing traffic on a busy intersection. People come by, members call in and emails inquire – “Where do I go to get this?” “Who do I talk to, to accomplish that”  “How do I go about learning about the other.” This – that – the other. On the heels of who, what, where, when, why and how.

Sure, the Chamber has its core objectives: developing a strong economy, building relationships, helping businesses grow, advocating in front of government and community stewardship. But, equally as important is knowing “who.”

Our membership is far ranging and our activities are far reaching. If there is a connection to be made, a question to be answered or a source to be uncovered, odds are the dynamics of Chamber members combined with Chamber activities provides a vehicle. We epitomize the “who” in “who you know.”

The problem is that I just haven’t been able to spell it. Is the Chamber a gathering of “Whos” or “Who’s” or “Whose?”

“Miss Singletary, while I didn’t pay much attention to you back then, where are you now when I need you?”

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