The longest-serving leader of Anne Arundel County’s chambers of commerce announced his retirement Wednesday, marking the fourth such departure in just two years.
Bob Burdon, who has been with the Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce since 1997, will leave his role as president and CEO on June 1. Burdon first served as the executive director of the Anne Arundel Trade Council, which two years later merged with the Greater Annapolis Chamber of Commerce to form the organization as it exists today. The newly formed Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce named Burdon president and CEO.
“This is kind of the ending of an era really because you are losing out of the six chambers of commerce, three seasoned chamber leaders,” said Fran Schmidt, former Northern Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce CEO. “Bob is certainly going to be missed — he was a fixture in the Annapolis area.”
Burdon’s retirement follows the departure of three of his counterparts in other county chambers.
Linda Zahn of the Greater Severna Park and Arnold Chamber and Schmidt left at the end of 2017. Claire Louder, executive director of former West County Chamber of Commerce, left her position in 2016.
Burdon began his tenure after a career in newspaper publishing. He worked for The Capital business department in the late ’70s and early ’80s before opening a daily newspaper in Pennsylvania.
He has worked during the past 21 years with “consensus building” in mind, he said, championing environmental responsibility and high-quality public education. He pointed to the chamber’s work securing support for Park Place, Arundel Mills and Annapolis Towne Center at Parole as examples of advocating on behalf of the business community.
Burdon also pioneered the Commerce Hall of Fame, an initiative that honors local business leaders, and the annual legislative breakfast, which brings together leaders from across Annapolis and Anne Arundel County.
As a new crop of leaders moves take over, Burdon believes in the continued value of chambers of commerce, he said.
“It’s where the business community works with the broader community to help solve problems and pursue opportunities for a better quality of life, for a stronger economy,” Burdon said. “If the concept of community is still valid, chambers of commerce are the instruments through which embody the concept of community.
The Anne Arundel Chamber of Commerce rebranded in 2016, dropping “Annapolis” from its name and inciting some opposition from the other county chambers, which found the implication — that Burdon’s chamber represented all of Anne Arundel County — inaccurate. There are five chambers of commerce in the county, as well as several other business groups.
Around the same time, Burdon’s chamber was fighting a legislative effort that would rotate a seat on the former School Board Nominating Commission among all the chambers.
Though the name change was controversial at the time, the situation “forged a stronger relationship among us,” said Schmidt.
Burdon and Schmidt testified before the Annapolis delegation to show their solidarity, she said.
“It’s kind of in the past ... in recent years he has worked well with the other Anne Arundel County chambers on an equal footing,” Schmidt said.
The chamber’s board of directors will form a committee to start searching for Burdon’s replacement “as soon as possible,” said board Chairman Dennis Murphy. Burdon will assist in the transition, Murphy said, and the committee will try to find someone to carry on the chamber’s mission.
“(Burdon’s) personal dedication to making sure the voice of the business community was clearly communicated,” Murphy said. “He left a very important legacy — he will be a difficult act to follow.”