BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — MARBLEHEAD — Deb Pesanti Payson, former director of development and communications at the nonprofit Essex National Heritage Commission, now has the task of representing 300 member businesses as the new executive director of the Marblehead Chamber of Commerce.
Payson took over last week from Ann Marie Casey, who left after six years to become executive director of the North of Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau.
After graduating from Colgate University, Payson spent six years in Washington, D.C., as a legislative aide to members of Congress, working on health care and environmental policy. She later moved to the Bay State and worked for the Massachusetts Hospital Association as director of grass-roots mobilization, then in community relations at Salem Hospital. She did some consulting while raising children and later took a job at the Essex National Heritage Commission.
She has lived in town about 14 years, has three children in the public schools and has also served on the Marblehead Conservation Commission.
She and Chamber President Cynthia Latham, who works in commercial lending at National Grand Bank, spoke about the challenges that await her.
You seem to have big shoes to fill. How do you feel about that?
I completely agree. I think one of the nicest things about the interview process, which took about two months, was all of the positive comments and remarks I got from all of the board members and community leaders about what a great job Ann Marie did here. So, I’m not walking into a mess; I’m actually walking into a fairly strong organization that financially is solvent and organized, and events have been planned. So, both Cindy and I would give huge kudos to Ann Marie’s six years here.
Tell me how you came across this opportunity.
Well, the first thing is I live in Marblehead. ... I wasn’t looking to leave my job. I actually had a wonderful job at the Essex National Heritage Commission. I did membership, and networking and events throughout the region, through all of Essex County — actually very similar to what Ann Marie will be doing now with the CVB.
How does that complement your new role at the chamber, as you go from working with nonprofits to working with businesses?
The first thing I would say is, it’s very similar. We have a mission here at the chamber to promote businesses but ultimately, to make sure the town of Marblehead is great for everyone who lives, who works and who visits here. And we do have members who are nonprofits, so I think it’s a very good fit.
(To Latham) What did you like about Deb?
Latham: The skill set that I was looking for are things you can’t learn; you are born with them. ... items like diplomacy, negotiation and ability to communicate with a variety of different folks on different levels, from town officials to members, to volunteers, to the children of volunteers. Those ... were the big things I was looking for. And that was apparent during the interview process ... I was surprised that one person actually had everything I was looking for. Trust me, I was psyched.
There’s a thriving business community in Marblehead, but what are the challenges moving forward?
Payson: I think one of the challenges I see just in my first week here is making sure that all of our members, who come from very unique and different industries, feel well attended to. I think we are going to ramp up a little bit our efforts to make many more personal connections, have them engage with each other in different ways and make sure everyone feels responded to, which is a large task, given that we have 300 members. And we are hoping to grow that.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.