Matt McQueen, Peraton’s chief communications and engagement officer, began his year as chairman of the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce in June. The Business Voice spoke to him about his vision for the chamber, its biggest challenges and opportunities, and how working at a funeral home during his high school and college years helped build a specific set of empathy and human interaction skills that he still has starts today.
How did your background in national defense prepare you for this role?
I have the privilege of serving in the national security business community for more than 20 years. During this time, both the threats and the technological complexity within our customer group have increased exponentially. We have learned that problem solving is rarely linear and that it takes diverse mindsets, experiences, approaches and partnerships to successfully meet these challenges. I think this is very similar to how the Chamber is tackling the issues it is tackling in support of its members. By bringing together some of the best and brightest leaders in our region, coupled with world-class people, we are able to focus our agenda on what matters most and drive the right business outcomes.
I am very much looking forward to bringing my experience and connections to bear in my role as Chair. By focusing on results and inviting the right people to participate in the discussion, the Chamber will continue to play a central role in addressing some of the most complex challenges in our region.
What is your vision for the Chamber and what are some of the goals you would like to achieve during your tenure?
I am incredibly proud of the many achievements of our Chamber, its members and staff, including their clear focus on regional leadership, workforce, DE&I and advocacy in our region. Increasingly, our members want to belong to an organization that helps foster constructive, civil discourse throughout the business community, whatever the issue. Through our partnership with organizations like the Sorensen Institute, we will continue to advance this paradigm.
It is also critical that we continue to implement and execute our revised governance model. By expanding the ability of members, board members and board alumni to further their engagement in the chamber’s efforts, we are able to draw upon a truly unrivaled expertise that drives our business agenda. I intend to work with senior management, the Board and leadership to strengthen our standing in the region and ensure that we are widely recognized as the regional authority of go-to place for matters that matter most to the business community.
And just as important, we will continue to listen to the business community. The Chamber prioritizes what matters most to our members to ensure a positive business climate in Northern Virginia and beyond. During my tenure, we will continue to actively listen to and work with members and other key stakeholders to best position ourselves to respond to current and future business needs across the region. Our business-focused policy and advocacy efforts, led by Clayton Medford, are second to none and will continue to reflect our members’ priorities.
In your opinion, how has the chamber developed over the past year?
Over the past few months, the Chamber has proactively revised and simplified its membership fee structure. For this reason we are constantly expanding our list of members. The numbers alone are impressive, but what strikes me most is that even against the backdrop of the pandemic, the chamber continues to thrive in ways we could not have imagined just a few years ago. The engagement, driven by a combination of strong programmatic in-person, hybrid and virtual events, has been significant and has resulted in a significant member retention rate. It tells me that despite tremendous obstacles, the Chamber’s value continues to resonate with our members. And I can’t underestimate the resilience and, frankly, creativity of the Chamber’s staff. As other organizations struggled to survive, Julie Coons and the entire Chamber team looked for ways to continue creating value through thought leadership and engagement for our members, both virtually and in person.
From a philosophical perspective, I would be remiss if I didn’t highlight the growth we’ve seen in DE&I. Our DE&I Advisory Board, expertly co-led by our immediate past Chairs Luanne Gutermuth of LSG Solutions and John Allen of Wells Fargo, has made tremendous strides over the past year by connecting the diversity within our business community in very meaningful ways. As the Council continues its work, I very much look forward to making the best practices we have gathered from it available to all regional business stakeholders. This advice has been a compass in our work to advocate for policies that create a just future for all in our region.
What would you say to a company considering joining the Chamber?
If you and your company are committed to being part of something transforming our region, the Chamber is the place for you. The access, inclusivity, advocacy and outcomes provided by the Chamber are based on a forward-looking strategic plan that reflects our region’s prioritized business needs. We would be honored if you would consider adding your voice to ours.
What do you currently see as the biggest challenge or opportunity for the Chamber?
The past two years have shown that while our region is resilient, we still suffer from labor shortages. This is a problem area that keeps many of us up at night. However, building on an already strong foundation, I see so many opportunities for the Chamber to continue its role in advocating policies and programs that support the talent pipeline needs of our members and other regional stakeholders. The Chamber’s efforts to preserve Virginia’s right to work is one of the key elements of our advocacy platform and legislative agenda, which is reinforced by our Policy Committee and Political Action Committee. Through our long-standing role in promoting Northern Virginia as the ideal place for business to locate and grow, we are able to take advantage of this period of ill-defined “normality” to redouble our efforts in fostering a positively differentiated business climate in the region.
Tell us about Peraton’s commitment to veterans.
The best way for me to answer this is to reflect on our core value of honoring those we serve. None of us at Peraton take this responsibility lightly given our role in supporting national security around the world. As I said, our armed forces have the courage to show themselves; They are leaving their families for something bigger than themselves. We owe them a debt of gratitude today and every day.
Peraton employs more than 3,000 veterans across the country and has a number of initiatives, including our employee resource group VALOR, to support them. I welcome you to learn more here: careers.peraton.com/military-veterans
Which local committees or non-profit organizations are you involved in and why?
I currently serve on the Advisory Board of Honors College at George Mason University. This Board is comprised of a fantastic group of business and community leaders who are committed to being a force multiplier for the college’s mission. We are focused on highlighting to key stakeholders the work and impact of Honors College students and alumni on our world and the value it and the entire university represent to our region.
I also serve on the board of directors of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and look forward to working with Fred Thompson, Barry DuVal and the board and staff of the Virginia Chamber on matters of regional importance to both organizations.
What is your life “off the clock” like? What hobbies or passions do you have outside of work?
I am passionate about travel. Before the pandemic, it wasn’t uncommon for me to hop on a plane just to earn miles (aka “mile running”). It gave me a chance to catch up on all the shows and personal emails I missed during the work week.
And of course the time with my children is sacred to me. Whether it’s playing soccer or building a LEGO set, I try to spend as much time with them as I can (or that they’re willing to take!).
What would surprise most people if they found out about you?
I spent five summer and winter breaks (through high school and college) working at a funeral home in my hometown. This experience reinforced the value of family and friends for me and developed a specific set of empathy and human interaction skills that I still use today.
Tell us about a favorite book you’ve read and why it resonated with you.
I’m a big Bill Bryson fan. His communication style makes all of his easy reading for me – he brings the complexities of life, society, culture and even the human body down to something that is always insightful and humorous. Although he hasn’t written in a few years, his One Summer: America 1927 was the last book I read.