Setting the Bar

  • By: Al Smith – President and CEO of the Fresno Chamber of Commerce

As most of you know, the Chamber conducts an annual Valley Business Awards Luncheon.  Following this year’s event, one of the attendees came up to me and stated something that really got me thinking.  He said, “Rewarding business leaders like this is nice.  But even more so, it is extremely important.

He went on to mention how it sets an example for others in our community to be challenged to duplicate this same type of contribution.  He went on to say, “Setting a high bar for others to follow results in a healthier, more prosperous and more livable Fresno”.

I had never thought that deeply about it. .

The Chamber does a lot of these “nice” recognition events each year.  We honor the Agriculturalist of the Year and the Ag Business of the Year.  We salute four levels of entrepreneurship ranging from high school and college to newly formed companies and those that are the most seasoned.

And of course, our highest honor each year is announcing the recipient of the prestigious Leon S. Peters award. It is an award given to an individual who not only has displayed success in business, but has used that success to invest goodwill and resources back into the community.

In three decades, thirty-one Fresno citizens have been recognized for emulating the standards set by Leon S. Peters, a small man in stature that made a giant impact on the Fresno area.  From the early 1930s until his death in 1983 he symbolized high values, character and ethics combined with being a respected businessman, a civic leader and a philanthropist.  He loved his community and considered its welfare his personal responsibility.

The great Chinese philosopher and poet, Lao Tzu wrote, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

That attitude was exemplified by Leon Peters.  It was also exemplified by this year’s winner, Ray Steele, Jr. – the retired publisher of the Fresno Bee.  I like to think of Ray Steele as long on action, short on glory, deep with accomplishment.  He has a quiet strength whose muscle generates an enormous benefit to this community.

The Chamber’s published mission is to enhance our economy; provide a forum for businesses to do business with each other; to represent free enterprise before our elected officials and to participate in getting pro-business individuals elected to public office.

I am wondering if we shouldn’t amend that mission to add “Encouraging Excellence in Leadership”.

Imagine the foundation we would be building on if everyone endeavored to reach the level of commitment we have enjoyed from Leon S. Peters and the thirty-one award recipients that followed.

“Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”  The words of former President, Harry S. Truman.

So the Chamber pledges to continue showcasing the great leadership of yesterday, today and tomorrow in the hopes not only of appreciation, but hopefully as inspiration for generations to come.


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