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Leadership Columbus: Cindy Frey

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Cindy Frey begins her new job Monday as president of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce. SUBMITTED PHOTO
Cindy Frey begins her new job Monday as president of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Cindy Frey

Place of birth: Jacksonville, N.C.

Date of birth: June, 5, 1962

Has lived in Columbus for: 18 years

Title: President of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce

Education: Bachelor’s degree in English from DePauw University

Family: Husband, Eric; children, Jess, Hannah

Hobbies: Reading (mostly fiction, such as “And the Mountains Echoed,” by Khaled Hosseini, but also nonfiction such as Steven Johnson’s “Where Good Ideas Come From”); watching my

daughter’s tennis matches; and spending time with family to do community stuff, such as going to art exhibits, farmers markets or movies at YES Cinema

Community involvement: I’ve been on the kidscommons and Arts Council boards and formerly served with Foundation for Youth. My husband and I also are involved at First Presbyterian Church, especially with our youth group, where we support mission trips. That’s also a great leadership development opportunity. The participants make physical improvements, such as fixing houses, and they’ve done that in Detroit, West Virginia and New Mexico.

What were some of your first jobs?

I babysat for neighbors, and in college I sold ice cream from a bicycle with an ice cream cooler, which was tough on hills. After high school, I worked for a biochemistry professor at Purdue. He was doing research, and he sent me to various libraries to copy articles for him.

What primary lessons did you learn from those jobs?

Babysitting is a lot of responsibility, and I learned taking the job seriously and being worthy of someone’s trust by being vigilant and dependable.

How did your leadership capabilities develop?

I was very active in my church youth group in St. Louis, and we were given a lot of leadership opportunities, to organize social gatherings, for example. I also was part of an 80-member youth choir, and we traveled a lot, to Wyoming one year, Connecticut the next, so I got to go to some places on my own, without my parents. In college, I took on some leadership roles with my sorority and was in charge of public relations for a bike race that’s similar to the Little 500 at IU.

What are some of the greatest leadership lessons you’ve learned?

I got to spend a lot of time with Judy O’Bannon, when I worked with the Indiana Mainstreet program. I traveled with her and watched how she motivated people to improve their communities. What I learned was that she really lived her values. She and Gov. Frank O’Bannon lived in a historic building next to a government-subsidized apartment building, and on Halloween, when kids came up to collect candy she knew all of them by name. On Thanksgiving, she organized people to go into the apartment complex to deliver groceries, and she would have us take notes on whether the door locks were working, whether smoke detectors were visible. And then she would take those notes to the Housing Authority to make sure any issues were addressed. And they never called a press conference or made a big deal out of it. That’s servant leadership, living your values and leading by example. That’s the kind of leader I would aspire to be.

What leadership lesson do you wish you had known earlier?

That you don’t have to have a title or be in a certain position to participate. Anybody who wants to step up and participate by being a leader at the community level can do that. If you’re passionate about something, get involved. I’ve observed some younger people, and this was true in my case as well, who become leaders only after they’ve obtained some kind of title, whether it’s captain of the football team or president of the student council. But leadership takes many forms. You don’t need a title to make a difference.

What do you like best about your job?

How gratifying it can be if you can solve someone’s problem, whether that’s connecting a business with new customers or bringing together a startup business owner with a veteran business owner so they can be mentored and encouraged.

What advice do you have for aspiring leaders and other young people who want to get more involved in the community?

A good first step for young people is to join Columbus Young Professionals, which started here at the Chamber and continues to do interesting things. Young people can engage in and launch projects with peers. Many other local organizations also would welcome fresh perspectives and new energy from young people in the community. Start with where your passions lie, whether that’s the arts, parks or tutoring.

Leadership Columbus is a twice monthly Q&A with Columbus’ leaders. If you know someone we should talk to, contact Boris Ladwig at 379-5712 or

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