By Richard Campbell

A glittering evening brought 1,700 participants to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center this past Tuesday May 15th as business leaders of Boston met for the Annual Chamber of Commerce meeting entitled Now>Next. With a somewhat self-congratulatory emphasis upon the great business accomplishments of this past year, Boston’s global leadership, and a nod to the future of the city’s continued success in the international economy, the evening focus was what makes Boston a unique environment to do business, and Sweet Harmony an A cappella group sang the national anthem and popular ballads.  Before the event there was a brief cocktail meet and greet outside the main hall at the BCEC. After opening comments from Annual Meeting Co-chairs, Angus Leary and Kimberly Vaughn, Governor Charlie Baker spoke glowingly of the business people of the Commonwealth.

Outgoing chair Dr. Navjot Singh, Director and Managing Partner of the Boston office of McKinsey & Company gave a warm introduction to the life and accomplishments of the incoming Chairman, Paul Ayoub, Esq., a partner at Nutter. The Chamber of Commerce recognizes a group of exemplary business people with their induction into the Academy of Distinguished Bostonians.  The first honorees were Niraj and Jill Shah, CEO, Co chairman, Wayfair President, Shaw Family Foundation. Besides being known for their corporate leadership in Wayfair, and contributions to the Boston Foundation, the couple is recognized for giving greatly creating their own charities, plus their leadership in their Hub and Spoke Project, bringing better, fresher food to Boston Public Schools.

President and CEO of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, James E. Rooney gave thanks to the many members of the Chamber of Commerce for the great organizational work needed to create the event, paid tribute to the honorees and the major sponsors. He gave a preview of some of the speakers forthcoming with an emphasis on the diverse culture that supports the business community in Boston. As former director of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, Rooney also gave kudos to the BCEC staff for hosting the event.

Dr. Jeffrey Leiden, Chairman, President and CEO of Vertex Pharmaceuticals was inducted, and a biography of his life’s work was shown. With thirty years of business experience in the pharmaceutical business, from the scientific side to financials, he led his company from 2012 to the present in their new home in the Boston Seaport, is a trustee at the Museum of Science He started his career as a cardiologist and molecular biologist, teaching and practicing at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s. In 2017 Vertex announced a 500 million 10-year charitable gift through the Vertex Foundation for to provide patient and caregiver support including access to their medicines and make a serious commitment to STEM science, technology, engineering, arts and math programs for underserved students and women. Vertex also sponsors a major program to give students of Boston Public Schools access to their labs and technology in their learning lab on the Vertex campus.

After a rather elegant dinner serenaded by violinists, the next honoree was Dr. Joan Wallace Benjamin, former president and CEO of the Home for Little Wanderers, who retired after fifteen years of service. Besides multiple awards for service to the community, Dr. Wallace Benjamin is recognized for her service as a Trustee of Wellesley College and Pine Manor College as the CEO of The Urban League of Boston for eleven years, and Director of Operations at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston, to name a few of her accomplishments. The tributes from local business and government leaders poured in (She was hired by Deval Patrick as his chief of staff), on her considerable work ethic and enthusiasm to advocate for children in Boston was duly recognized.

The executive staff of Hill Holliday was on hand to see Karen Kaplan, Chairman and CEO of their company honored.  She recounted how she started as a receptionist to make money for Law School and how she stayed for 30 years to eventually take on the CEO role. Her leadership has been recognized in the advertising industry for innovative moves to maintain brands of heavy hitters such as Bank of America, Johnson & Johnson, Dunkin Donuts, Liberty Mutual and John Hancock, and oversees a network of three agency brands- Hill Holliday, Trilia Media, and Erwin Penland. She was an advisor to Charlie Baker’s transition team, and spear headed the creation of the One Fund Boston to help victims of the Marathon bombing.

The final keynote speech was given by Bozoma Saint John, Chief Brand Officer of Uber, heralded as the rock star for the evening, she engaged the audience with stories of her early work with Spike Lee, a meeting with Iggy Pop, solving the Mountain Dew brand crisis at Pepsi, where she innovated music festivals, and working in music entertainment as Head of Global marketing for Apple Music and I-Tunes, and leading the way with global marketing of the now ubiquitous Beats Music. Honored by Billboard, Fortune, Fast Company and Ad Age, she relished in the challenge of her latest stint with Uber (to put out the fire) as Chief Executive Officer. The winning in this evening progressed quickly as organizers promised to get people out in time for the Boston Celtics to trounce the Cleveland Cavaliers.