Executive edge: Jeff Campos
Growing up in a blue-collar neighborhood on Chicago’s Southside, most kids saw only three options for their future: work for the city, become a cop or firefighter, or end up getting into crime.
“I chose the fourth option,” said Jeff Campos, 52, president and CEO of the Denver Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “I wound up being a hockey player.”
From pickup games in the neighborhood to playing in high school, Campos would go on to play center for Loyola University.
“Not a lot of people in the neighborhood went to college or even thought about going to college so playing hockey was life changing,” said Campos, whose parents immigrated from Mexico, his father working in construction.
Reserved and somewhat shy as a child, playing hockey would make all the difference.
“Sports was my personality, and I was always the captain,” said Campos, who in 1994 was named to head Colorado’s second largest chamber, growing its membership from 500 to more than 2,100. “I wasn’t the rah-rah kind of guy. I led more by example. I rationalize that sports gave me the discipline that you need in life to be able to succeed.”
Campos came to the chamber from American Family Insurance, which moved his wife and two daughters to Denver in 1997 so he could start its emerging-markets division, overseeing a six-state mountain region.
“I was going to go into criminal justice, which I studied in college, and go on to law school, but I got into a career path with American Family that started with a summer job processing claims and have never looked back,” Campos said. “I enjoyed helping nonprofits, sponsoring events, scholarships.”
His work became a family affair, as his daughters, Nicole, now 20, and Alicia, 17, would go with their father to ride in parade floats, give out gifts and help the community’s underserved.
“Now I’m on the other side. I’m the one asking for the checks,” Campos said with a laugh. “But being at the chamber is really like running my own business, and I still get to do something that helps the community.”
He came to the chamber’s helm at a time when its credibility and financial standing were being challenged. Hispanic businesses were the fastest-growing segment of the national economy, yet chamber membership was flat. He made staff changes, which he says “was very difficult,” now oversees a staff of 11 and has grown the chamber board to 40 active members.
“Our mission is to support the growth of Hispanic businesses, and we wanted to make sure that we ourselves were mature and able to give guidance,” Campos said. “Now we mentor up-and-coming businesses, which has really taken off. People want to join now because they see that we have a lot to offer.”
The chamber also put traction into its public policy committee – taking stands on controversial issues. And during tough economic times for nonprofits, the chamber last month launched a nonprofit committee to brainstorm and offer solutions.
The chamber also took a lead bringing the three-day U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce national convention to Denver, which is expected to draw up to 5,000 visitors Sept. 16-19.
“We did not stand pat and operate the way we always have but made adjustments that have allowed us to be successful,” Campos said. “We now have the ability to adjust according to the times and the challenges that come along.”