Karen Daniel shrugs off being the first black woman to serve as chair of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. She has had “firsts” before.
The chief financial officer of Black & Veatch is more concerned about what she can do to help her hometown civic and business executives be more inclusive in their planning and leadership.
From her corner office at the Overland Park-based engineering firm, Daniel has great views of Johnson County growth to the south and west. What she can’t see but holds dear is growth elsewhere in the metro area, especially in parts of the city that haven’t been helped by new development.
“My long-term goal is to help the region grow — more jobs, more visitors, better education, better transportation — and in the coming year I want the chamber to work on our vision and our strategy to be inclusive as we work toward this goal,” Daniel said.
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A Kansas City native, Daniel attended Kumpf, Hale Cook and Chick elementary schools and Southeast High School before earning a bachelor’s degree at Northwest Missouri State and a graduate business degree at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
She worked for 11 years at the KPMG accounting firm before joining Black & Veatch 24 years ago. These days, she’s often in Africa or wherever the global engineering firm is doing business. For the coming 12 months, though, she expects to curtail some traveling to spend more time on chamber business.
As with most chamber chairs in the last few years, she inherits a to-do list based on the Big 5 initiatives established in 2011. One of them already has been declared done, a new one has replaced it, and yet another priority is under consideration.
Daniel admits to special interest in the newest Big 5 endeavor: to make every child kindergarten-ready. And she also cares deeply about the ongoing urban neighborhood initiative that focuses redevelopment in a specific east Kansas City area.
“Education is the game-changer,” Daniel said. “The chamber is not just about business issues. It’s about the greater community. And that means focusing on inclusiveness and things like community safety. Yes, we need business and travel growth, and lots of good things are going on now, but we need to articulate why that kind of community (education) growth is important.”
When encountering naysayers, she said, her practice is to listen first and try to empathize. But once the input is received, the challenge is for civic leadership to “convey the vision that draws people in.”
Given her business background, Daniel believes in developing a five-year road map, a “master plan that brings together basic issues like infrastructure, the airport and other priorities” to arrive at solutions after community discussion.
She hopes her role isn’t all talk. She emphasized that making strategic plans is useless without action and discipline to stay the course.
Daniel gave a shoutout to her company for “being flexible to allow me the opportunity to grow our business and to do things differently in the coming year, to allow me to be appropriately engaged at the chamber. I can’t be at every single event, but I’ll work on the most important issues … and go to Africa in the least disruptive way for the chamber.”
The new chairwoman has Nov. 22 circled to stay in Kansas City. That’s the night of the chamber’s annual dinner, when she’ll give her first big chamber speech. The event will be in the Grand Ballroom of the Kansas City Convention Center under the theme “What’s Next, KC?”