New leader for the Chamber

August 08, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

Maybe Brien Poffenberger's other jobs prepared him for the one that starts Monday: president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce.

Poffenberger believes his work experience - sales, then public relations, then government, then marketing, then small-business consulting - has been "a natural progression" into what he's about to do.

Poffenberger, 39, is replacing Fred Teeter Jr. as the head of the chamber, which has about 540 members. Teeter resigned April 30 after 14 years as president.


In May, Ed Lough, the chairman of the search committee, said the chamber plans to take more political stances on local and state issues.

Poffenberger knows that and is looking forward to it. He was the Western Maryland representative for U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., for two years and still knows many state and local politicians in Washington County.

During an interview in his 18th-century stone house in Sharpsburg, Poffenberger said he's glad to take a job in Washington County.

"You care more about the place you call home," he said, unable to fully describe the connection he feels.

The Poffenberger family first came to Washington County from Germany in the 1730s, Brien Poffenberger said.

His father's job with Potomac Edison, which now is Allegheny Energy, required that he frequently move his family, but not too far. Poffenberger said he lived in Frederick, Mount Airy, Sharpsburg and Boonsboro in Maryland and went to high school in Virginia.

Poffenberger, who is married and the father of two young girls, earned a bachelor's degree in government from the College of William & Mary and a master's degree in business administration from Georgetown University.

He also earned a master's degree in architectural history from the University of Virginia, and for a time, he thought that's where his career would go.

For about a year and a half, he worked for a company called Historic Restoration Specialists Inc.

Poffenberger remembers, as a sixth-grader, taking a class trip to Monticello, the Virginia home of Thomas Jefferson, and being enthralled.

"I've just always loved old buildings," he said. "Being in Williamsburg (Va.) for four years (for college) didn't hurt."

Poffenberger bought his current home on East Main Street in Sharpsburg in 1993. He said it was built in 1765 and occupied by the lawyer of the town's founder.

Out of college, Poffenberger took a job with Scott Paper. The company's corporate training program sent him to several states to look at printing operations.

But he didn't care for that job, so he went back for his architectural history master's degree. He spent part of that time working for the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, Italy. He turned that into a job with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

"The job was making photocopies and if you said no, there was a line of people out the door who wanted it," Poffenberger said.

His next job was with a small public relations firm. He called it "absolutely the worst job in the history of Western civilization."

At the same time, he picked up some business wisdom from it.

"Strip it all away and it was actually good experience because my job was quintessential marketing," he said.

One of the firm's clients was Lysol. Poffenberger said it was thrilling when he was able to get news about Resolve Carpet Cleaner, a Lysol product, into an article in Time magazine.

Another client was a company that made paper for secure documents, such as paychecks. Poffenberger said the firm made a splash by recruiting Frank Abagnale - the extraordinary scam artist featured in the movie "Catch Me If You Can" - to speak.

In each city, the goal was to generate six media "hits" from Abagnale's presentation - two TV stories, two radio stories and two print stories.

Poffenberger said he traveled with Abagnale and listened to his unbelievable tales of fraud.

Poffenberger then decided to come back to Sharpsburg. In 1993, he bought his house and went to work for Mikulski. His territory was from Carroll County west. As the "eyes and ears," he was expected to know the issues and contact people for each county, he said.

He left that job in 1995 to get his MBA. While attending school, he worked for Solarex, convincing people of the benefits of solar panels.

His next marketing job was with General Electric's business-to-business electronic commerce division.

He explained his work there with an example of one company selling merchandise to another. "Electronic data interchange" allows the first company to automatically monitor the inventory of the second company through a computer network instead of relying on manual counts.

Poffenberger said he liked the job, but he was laid off.

He moved on to Historic Preservation Specialists, then took a job as director of the Lord Fairfax Community College Small Business Development Center at Fauquier in Warrenton, Va.

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