Person of the Week
Meet Madison Chamber President-Elect John Mathers
After several years serving on the Madison Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, Madison beach Hotel General Manager John Mathers is preparing to step into the role of chamber president at the end of current President Rose McLaughlin’s term on July 1. (Photo courtesy of John Mathers )
As the promise of spring draws near and people move to outdoor activities, John Mathers, president-elect of the Madison Chamber of Commerce says, “I haven’t seen a lot of people in a while, with the whole COVID thing.”
It’s a sentiment most people are likely feeling after 12 solid months of the pandemic. And while everyone is by now isolation-weary and looking forward to brighter days—like with the arrival of spring—good news abounds with the vaccination roll-out, officials stating that COVID infection rates are reducing state-wide, and Governor Ned Lamont announcing last week the easing of more restrictions beginning on Friday, March 19.
The processes of getting back to normal is something John eagerly looks forward to both in his up-coming role as chamber president and his on-going role as general manager of the Madison Beach Hotel.
John grew up in central New York, near Syracuse.
“My father’s side of the family is mostly from Pennsylvania,” John says.
His move to Connecticut was the first for his family, when the general manager opportunity opened at the Madison Beach Hotel.
“When the company I was working for in Massachusetts opened the hotel in Madison [after replacing the prior facility between 2009 and 2011], they asked me come down here. I started working at the hotel in February of 2012, and then we moved here in August of 2012,” John says of his wife Melissa and their two children, John and Madeline. “I was commuting back-and-forth because my daughter was finishing up high school.”
While John and Melissa have found an excellent fit in Madison over the past eight years, John jokes, “I’ve got another 30 years here before I can call myself a local.”
John comes to his career and volunteer activities by way of his formal education.
“I went to school for restaurant and hotel management. I also have a degree in business administration and marketing,” he says. “I’ve always been very involved in every job I’ve had.”
It’s that drive to participate that has given John a solid background to help lead the chamber for the next two years, replacing current President Rose McLaughlin, whose term ends in June.
For the past five or six years, John has also served on the Madison Planning & Zoning Commission as a full commissioner, is a long-time board member of the New England Inns & Resorts Association, and in 2018 he was presented with the Tourism Leader of the Year Award at the Connecticut Governor’s Conference on Tourism. To add to his slate of duties, last autumn John joined the board of directors of the Connecticut Lodging Association.
In his career role as “the face” of the Madison Beach Hotel, as he puts it, it is only natural that John lend his leadership talents to the Madison chamber.
“The Chamber of Commerce works very hard to promote all businesses in Madison,” John says. “We also work to promote the town of Madison as a destination for visitors.
And John is certainly no stranger to prompting tourism since that award from the governor’s office in 2018 included this statement: “As a member of the Madison and Greater New Haven Chambers of Commerce, John [Mathers] has cultivated professional partnerships that have driven international travel to Madison in particular, and Connecticut in general.”
As the economy begins to recover, tourism promotion will be more important than ever. The effect of the pandemic on many local business is reflected in how John’s own work in hospitality was devastated.
“While some business flourished,” John says, “the business I’m in suffered greatly. Like many others. A big portion of our business is weddings, and last year we would have had over 70 weddings at the Madison Beach Hotel, with over 120 to 150 people at each wedding, and instead our wedding business was off 85 percent.”
The fallout from such a precipitous drop in reliable business was the furlough of 100 percent of John’s employees in March 2020.
“Our restaurant business was off about 45 percent due to restrictions on the number of people we could seat, and the hotel business as off significantly,” John recalls. “We only brought back about half of those employees during the summer.”
Despite those sobering numbers, John says he’s happy now that things are starting to improve, and businesses in Madison negatively impacted can re-open and recover.
“We’re hoping things turn around pretty quickly,” John notes, “and we’re encouraged by the fact that the governor just announced that he would ease [more] restrictions. The limit on indoor functions has gone from 25 people up to 100. That’s going to be a game changer for a lot of people. We’ve already had the phone start ringing for events starting to book.”
Beside preparing to help businesses return to normal in 2021 and beyond, during the pandemic the chamber helped get word out about federal and state grant and loan programs available to help businesses weather the worst of the COVID storm.
“The chamber did a very good job of being a conduit of information that came from state sources,” John says. “That’s the beauty of a chamber: It provides for a fabulous networking opportunity. Somebody knows somebody who knows something that others need or can use.”
While the chamber prepares for its new president, the board is also in the midst of another sea change due to forthcoming retirement of long-time chamber executive director, Eileen Banish.
“For the past 27 years the chamber has been led by Eileen,” John says. “She’s really the brains of the outfit. The board of directors is advisory, and Eileen answers to the board, but we also take direction from her because she’s so good at her job.”
John says a search committee is currently looking for Eileen’s replacement, now that she and her husband Tom have bid farewell to Madison for warmer climes in South Carolina.
“For the short term, Eileen will continue her work as executive director remotely,” John says, adding, “She’s leaving big shoes to be filled, that’s for sure.”
While John says he works a lot, when he does kick back it’s at the piano keyboard or strumming a guitar.
“I play for myself,” he says. “I’m very interested in music, so I spend a lot of time listening to music and I play a little.”
And the family’s two dogs keep John and Melissa active on long walks together.
“We also love to cook,” John says.
Outside of that, family time is important, too, since both children live nearby: son John, 29, in New Haven and daughter Madeline, 27, in Hamden.
But when it does come to work, John is excited about the Madison Chamber of Commerce.
“If people aren’t familiar with the chamber and they own a small business, it behooves them to become affiliated with the chamber,” John says. “It’s a great network of people, it’s a great support, and the chamber really exists to do everything it can to ensure that your business is a success. Our small chamber here in Madison is grass-roots, and yet it’s one of the most successful chambers in the region.”
For more information on the Madison Chamber of Commerce, or to become a member, call 203-245-7394, email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit www.madisonct.com, or write to: Madison Chamber, 12 School Street, P.O. Box 706, Madison, CT 06443.