"If you strive to be a hardworker and make a contribution to your community then you will have a good life,” says Guam Chamber of Commerce President Catherine Castro. “That is the mindset that I believe in and the work ethic that was instilled in me.”
In the 20 years that Castro has been with the organization, she has watched the world around her grow tremendously. She has seen it with development of the island, in the business community, the collective desires of the people, and within her own life. Early on, Castro left what she considered a “sleeping island” to attend college. She returned four years later in the midst of a boom. “I came back and saw all this development. I was just enamored with the hustle and bustle and the change in my island,” explains Castro.
She saw how entrepreneurship was very instrumental in growing the island’s economy. Watching people and businesses strive for success and development inspired Castro and piqued her interest. As an employee of a business she began attending chamber meetings, and eventually became involved in some of its committees. Her true inception into the Guam Chamber of Commerce was when she was hired as a staff assistant. Little did she know that she would later prove to be an integral piece in the success story of a small business owner and, eventually, of the business community.
Castro recalled the story of a woman who was struggling to keep her business afloat, and was considering closing and resigning from the Chamber. “I felt she had so much to offer and asked her to reconsider. Focusing on bringing attention to her expertise, we set up a seminar,” explains Castro. “From then on she’s been a very sought after speaker and consultant. She talks about that when she gives testimony about her membership here at the organization.”
It was a classic example of how the Guam Chamber is an untiring advocate of success for businesses on island. They offer educational opportunities, such as seminars, workshops, and training in numerous subjects. They emphasize and promote the importance of networking through mixers, events, and round tables.
Castro is proud of growth in every business that is a member of the chamber. “I see the blood, sweat, and tears that everybody goes through. Taking advantage of all the opportunities that a chamber organization offers is so helpful with growing your business,” she says. “You build relationships. You rely on each other, and you help each other. It's reciprocity.”
Being very intimately involved in the workings of the Chamber and pushing its agenda forward, Castro managed to climb from staff assistant to president in a manner that can only be summed up as a natural progression. She previously worked as vice president and chief operations officer alongside the late Chamber president and close friend Reina Leddy for many years. After Leddy’s sudden death, her husband David took over as president, and when he resigned six years later, the board was confident in their appointment of Castro to take his place.
Castro has seen the Chamber’s membership grow from 250 to over 400. It now has a young professionals group, an armed forces committee, and a businesswomen’s network. Their programs and activities have evolved with the needs of the business community, as well as their member benefits, which include a health insurance program. “The key is to grow with what is happening. We’re always exploring ways to help our membership. Help them be successful,” says Castro.
The organization also has a workforce development and educational committee that is looking for options to build a much needed, stronger vocational workforce on Guam. They have a group that is working with the Guam Community College and the University of Guam to explore information technology and build on that industry.
As 2016 comes to a close, Castro and the Chamber are already thinking ahead. They’re exploring new industries to improve the quality of life on Guam and the workforce readiness of the island. In 18 months they will be moving into a new building with a bigger space and looking forward to offering more to their members with new opportunities to grow.
The Chamber held the "Guam Economic Outlook for 2017" seminar at the Outrigger Hotel in November.
“I never envisioned myself as president of the Chamber. I think that whatever talent I have, God willing, that I would love to be able to share it and to contribute to my community, and I hope it would always be for the greater good,” says Castro. “The people that run these businesses and the visionaries help keep me motivated. To see that excitement and progress is what makes you continue to move forward.
The Guamanian is the premier business-lifestyle magazine in the region.
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