Spotlight: JoAnna Sohovich, CEO of Chamberlain Group
OAK BROOK — Before coming to head one of the most innovative technology companies in the country, JoAnna Sohovich had already lived in 17 different places throughout her life.
By the time she landed in Illinois to become CEO of Chamberlain Group in suburban Oak Brook Terrace, the New Mexico native was ready to take on a new challenge using an invaluable tool: perspective.
“[Living on the coasts] we never got the warmth like we do in the Midwest,” Sohovich said.
While typically she traded Midwestern charm for the cosmopolitan coasts, she found the perfect balance in Chicago.
“Chicago is the only place in the U.S. where it’s incredibly cosmopolitan… but strangers are friendly, and they’re open, and they’re warm and they’re welcoming,” she said. “I try to enjoy what’s good about each place that I live; I try not to recreate what I liked about the last place because that’s a recipe for unhappiness. But I can say Chicago’s been my favorite place because it’s got that balance.”
A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Sohovich served as a Naval officer for five years and quickly worked her way up the ranks into high-responsibility leadership positions. She credits her military experience in laying the foundation of expertise in manufacturing, business, management and technology she’s drawn upon during her now 20 years in corporate leadership.
After she and her husband decided to swap military life for the business world, Sohovich headed departments at both Honeywell and Black & Decker.
But it was when Sohovich connected with the family-owned Chamberlain Group, an Illinois company that designs, manufactures and distributes residential and commercial access solutions connected with MyQ technology, she knew she’d found the “perfect fit,” she said.
Not only did her professional experience serendipitously align, but Sohovich said the company’s values mirrored her own: integrity, good corporate citizenship, long-term growth, quality and excellence, and more.
When she took the helm almost two years ago, Sohovich said while restructuring her company ownership made the conscious decision to stay in Illinois, despite the state’s potentially rocky business climate. But rather than fleeing, Sohovich said the Duchossois family buckled down on the investment in Illinois more than ever by building a brand new state-of-the-art facility in Oak Brook.
“The quarterly results are less important than long-term growth and profitability, and investing in the future,” she said. “We’ve seen amazing results from continuing with our strategy and moving forward.”
Investing in the Suburbs
Now, with a renewed investment in the state both personally and professionally, Sohovich said she hopes the state’s legislators will refresh its investment, too 一 especially in Chicago’s suburbs.
“I’ve lived in other states that used to be tax havens, and they rode that all the way down to the ground, and companies have ended up leaving those states,” Sohovich said. “You can’t continue to tax the same, or dwindling, number of companies until there’s no profit left. If companies can afford to pay more taxes, they can also afford to move to more favorable locations.”
While Sohovich said concepts like the Discovery Partners Institute campus along the Chicago River serves as a great jumping off point for new graduates in tech and engineering, she wants to see similar investments made in places outside the city where people, particularly millennials looking to start families are on their second, third, or fourth jobs, can affordably live and plant roots.
Housing, particularly down payments, in the suburbs where companies like Chamberlain Group employ hundreds of residents, is inaccessible to many of Sohovich’s young workers who wish to live there, she said.
“[Millennials] are accepting jobs at our Oak Brook facility more and more often,” she said. “But what we’re missing in the suburbs is affordable housing for young families.”
Though the term “affordable housing” is sometimes met with pushback, it’s something that can ultimately help attract more support and resources into the community, she said.
“When I think about Illinois as a business leader and the success that I’d like, and the treasures that I think we have, I really want us to prioritize attracting talent and innovation 一 both on an individual level, but also on a corporate perspective,” she said. “When we bring software developers and innovative talent out to the suburbs, we can have a headquarters here that makes us competitive on a global landscape, and we can augment the tax base very, very effectively and it helps make the entire community better for everybody.”
With an organized, concerted, and purposefully planned effort, Sohovich said she believes bringing more employment-driven planned communities to the suburbs could re-energize areas outside Chicago and give millennials more incentive to plant long-term roots in the state.
For example, the closed McDonald’s headquarters could be repurposed into a new corporate development, with other resources a community would need around it: restaurants, shopping, offices, health care resources, parks and more.
“I want to be a state where organically we’re bringing in young, talented, productive, innovative people,” she said. “If we can plan some communities around that, much like retirement communities are being planned, and do that in partnership with employers or areas where there are employers, then you can really communicate...the tax dollars, the talent that’s coming in.”
Ultimately, Sohovich said she’s looking for leadership in the state’s government that will make a serious investment in communities outside of Chicago, and protect the values both she and her company share.
“I feel that each successive election, no matter what election it is, creates more division, and we need to be a country that can openly discuss opinions and openly respect differences of opinions.”
In a country, and state, largely divided, Sohovich said it’s important more legislators are able to unite citizens through meaningful conversation and discourse.
“I would like to see all parties make a greater effort to create unity," she said. "I would encourage a spirit of camaraderie and openness, particularly toward people who have beliefs that are counter to their party’s.”