Welcome to our second installment of “Girl Crush,” our take on some of the most amazing women in and around the community.
This week we’re crushing on Elizabeth Cromwell, the President and CEO of the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce. Elizabeth is something special. Her soft-spoken style of leadership is an inspiration to all who come in contact with her. A world traveller, free spirit and self-proclaimed book nerd, is it any wonder why Elizabeth’s our latest crush?
Tell us a little about your life and career…
I come to Frederick by way of San Francisco, Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Hartford, Connecticut where I grew up. I am blessed with a great family including my husband Peter and 15-year-old daughter, Annabel, who most people know as Annie. We are the typical busy family.
I am the President and CEO of the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, where I oversee a terrific staff who work tirelessly to promote business in Frederick County. My position there provides me with the opportunity to interact with nearly 1,000 member organizations representing big business, small business, and everything in-between.
Over the past 30 years, I have worked in the private and public sectors, for nonprofits, and in the media. People are often interested to know that I spent many years in professional sports marketing , event management and corporate sponsorship across the US in tennis, skiing, and mostly, running events such as the San Francisco Marathon (where I currently serve as Vice President of the Board of Directors.)
In your life, who have been your biggest role models? Why?
I have had a few role models. On the professional side, two of my former bosses taught me about creativity, leadership, shifting priorities, and how to be both ethical and profitable in business. Cindy Myers (San Francisco Examiner) and Tony Levitan (co-founder of Egreetings.com) provided me with a lot of tools for success.
On the personal side, I wouldn’t call them role models as much as unsung heroes, but there are so many people I know working to make the world a better place. I have friends who are working for peace and security in dangerous places. I have friends who are working to introduce children to the arts, culture, history and science. I have friends who counsel people who are in crisis or despair. These are the role models I look to for inspiration every day.
Finally, I consider my parents role models for instilling in me the sense that I could become whatever I wanted to be. I never had a doubt about it, which in my adult years I learned is not always the case for kids growing up.
What do you love about your job or life?
I am incredibly fortunate. I live comfortably and credit my good luck more than anything else. Despite our country’s problems (which I am not trying to minimize in any way), we are living in a moment in time where most of us are able to sleep a roof over our head, bathe indoors, send our children to good schools, and read this blog from our computers.
Trips to Kosovo and India particularly have helped shape my view of my own community, and how our squabbles are insignificant when juxtaposed against the large number of people whose lives will always be simply day-to-day survival.
We live in a gorgeous, prosperous place. The streak of entrepreneurialism and ingenuity runs deep throughout the county, and I love the sense of teamwork as the county evolves into an even brighter future.
What has brought or given you the greatest satisfaction or fulfillment?
I guess I’d have to say becoming a mom. I waited until I was 35, which was the right decision for me. Parenting is such a huge responsibility, and I don’t think I was ready in my younger adult years.
One thing most people don’t know about you?
Not too many people in Frederick know that for many years I had a phobia of public speaking. It was so paralyzing that I had trouble even introducing myself in small meetings. (In retrospect, I actually think I traced my problem back to an oral presentation I made in high school about Central American politics and war. It was a challenging topic for which I had spent weeks preparing, and I thought I nailed the report; the teacher expressed otherwise in front of my classmates and gave me a poor grade.)
As I began to gain prominence for my work, it became more and more difficult to hide my phobia. I even once threatened to quit my job if I was forced to emcee a banquet. I knew that turning down media interviews, keynote and panel speaker invitations, etc. was taking a toll on my career, and I needed to do something about it. So I did.
I went to a few support group meetings, where we practiced public speaking, which did not help very much. More helpfully, not-yet-husband Pete provided tremendous encouragement and full faith that I could re-train my brain. He predicted that one day I would be able to address an audience without the room spinning, my palms sweating and my stomach turning. At the time, I thought he was crazy – but he was right!
Over the past 15 years, I have done so much public speaking, it’s remarkable to look back and see how properly conquering one fear has made all the difference in my professional life. If sharing my story can inspire anyone else to think positively about self improvement, then I am happy to do so.
Name one thing on your bucket list…
I want to visit Patagonia.
When/where do you get your best ideas?
Many of my best ideas have come in the aftermath of something gone awry. I can think of many times professionally when a serious setback (sudden loss of a significant revenue stream, for example) has forced me to think in new ways, to break the mold of the past and to create a better outcome than was previously possible. In those moments, it is truly darkest before the dawn.
Major stumbling blocks provide an opportunity to clarify your assumptions, goals and tactics. And fortunately, I have found the outcomes far better as a result.
Name three things thing you cannot live without?
Coffee (any kind). Wine (the good kind). Chocolate (the dark kind). Preferably all at once after a great dinner.
Oddest thing in your purse right now?
Inside my purse is a silver corkscrew emblazoned with the logo from one of my previous employers, Foofoo.com, purveyers of fine luxury products and travel. There’s nothing left of that short-lived phenomenon except for this corkscrew, which gets regular use (see question above). That gig had a lot of perks, not the least of which was my completely undeserved attendance at “The Status of Luxury” conference at the Broadmoor Resort in Phoenix. At dinner one night, my tablemates were the CEO’s of Calvin Klein, Viking Range, the Four Seasons Hotels, Jaguar, American Express, Barbara Corcoran from Corcoran Realty/Shark Tank fame, and me (filling in for our CEO). And all I can recall is the same sentence repeating itself in my head: “They all know my dress is from Marshall’s.”
Current fashion/beauty obsession?
I keep almond oil in a spray bottle and use it as a body moisturizer, a skincare tip from my doctor. I recently started wearing Bobbi Brown makeup, which I tried years ago and thought it looked too “old lady-ish.” Well guess what? This old lady likes it now!
Fav thing to do in Frederick County?
Peter, Annie and I love to hike on the weekends, especially at Monocacy National Battlefield, where one can get exercise, enjoy nature, and gain a richer understanding of how that point in history affected Frederick County. It’s a treasure right in our back yard.
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