UMSL alumnus Ken Cella set to become next chair of St. Louis Regional Chamber’s Board of Directors

Ken Cella doesn’t hide his passion for the St. Louis community.

He was born and raised in the region, first in south St. Louis and then in St. Charles. He stayed home for college, graduating from the University of Missouri–St. Louis in 1993 and later earned his MBA at Washington University in St. Louis.

Ken Cella is the new chair of St. Louis Regional Chamber’s Board of Directors.

For nearly 30 years, he’s built his career at one of the area’s leading firms, Edward Jones, starting as an intern and now leads its Client Strategies Group.

He’s getting the chance to help shape St. Louis’ future as he prepares to succeed Thompson Coburn Chairman Tom Minogue as chair of the St. Louis Regional Chamber’s Board of Directors in September.

“It’s really exciting to be able to contribute in this way, but there’s also a feeling of responsibility,” Cella said. “I wouldn’t have said that becoming chair was something that has been on my goal list. But like a lot of things that happen in life, once the dialogue started, it became clear that my passion was aligned, and it made it a really easy yes.”

Minogue, another UMSL graduate, first worked with Cella on UMSL’s Chancellor’s Council and called him an easy choice to lead the Chamber’s Board of Directors.

“He’s bright, he’s high energy and he’s a recognized leader who’s committed to St. Louis,” Minogue said.

Cella will be the third UMSL graduate in a row to chair the board of directors. Minogue succeeded Ameren Chairman and CEO Warner Baxter in that role beginning in 2018.

Minogue doesn’t think that’s purely a coincidence.

“UMSL is an exceptional institution that turns out highly qualified people into the workforce in St. Louis,” Minogue said. “As those people progress through their own careers they inevitably rise to positions of leadership in their own organizations and in the community. So UMSL, which has been around for more than half a century, is now at a stage where it supplies not only a lot of the workforce but also a lot of the leadership in the St. Louis community.”

“Ken, Tom and Warner each typify our engaged alumni,” Chancellor Kristin Sobolik said. “They sought UMSL for its high-quality education and affordable price, and UMSL provided opportunities for internships and jobs right here in St. Louis. This reflects 74 percent of our alumni who live and work right in the region and contribute as engaged citizens.”

The St. Louis Regional Chamber is the region’s largest business organization and represents businesses large and small across 15 counties in Missouri and Illinois.

Cella has already been part of its Executive Committee for the past four years while also serving on the board of AllianceSTL, a subsidiary of the St. Louis Regional Chamber that helps companies meet their workforce and expansion needs.

He believes strongly in the role it can play in strengthening the region.

“For a healthy and vibrant community, it’s essential,” Cella said. “You need the confluence of large and small businesses coming together, creating the patchwork of our city, to really support the people who live here and make this a continued place of opportunity for families to want to live.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has crystallized the organization’s importance. It’s been an invaluable resource, particularly for businesses that were deemed nonessential amid stay-at-home orders that had to shut their doors. The Chamber helped them navigate the most effective ways to move forward.

Cella remains bullish on St. Louis’ future even after these recent challenges.

He notes that the region is home to a skilled workforce, including about 85,000 people working in STEM fields and has high-caliber higher education institutions helping train a new generation of employees and leaders.

The region’s affordability has helped it rank high on several lists of the most attractive destinations for Millennials, and it is home to cultural amenities that have endeared the region to natives and transplants alike.

“We’re in a new era and we have a chance to change the narrative for St. Louis with how we see ourselves and how others outside of our community see us,” Cella said. “What this role really provides is a platform to do that.”

He points to John Bachmann, who spent 23 years as Edward Jones’ managing partner, for teaching Cella the importance of being civically engaged. Bachmann, who died last year at the age of 80, was chair of the board of the Chamber and also held leadership positions in organizations such as the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Saint Louis Science Center, United Way of Greater St. Louis, Washington University, Missouri Baptist Medical Center and Monsanto.

More recently, Cella looks to Minogue and Baxter as examples to follow in their tenures as chairs of the Chamber’s Board of Directors.

“These individuals aren’t doing this to better their careers or have any personal gain,” Cella said. “Their passion is for St. Louis and the opportunity to make our entire region better. I think that servant leadership orientation is a common thread.

“It also takes determination and tough mindedness in how you’re setting objectives and moving toward our ideal future state with discipline.”

Cella, a past president of the UMSL Alumni Association, chose to do his undergraduate work at UMSL because of the College of Business Administration’s strong reputation and because he thought the makeup of the campus – a mixture of students right out of high school and older students returning to school after doing other things – would provide a rich educational experience.

He also was interested in starting to build his own resume while working toward his degree. That included the internship at Edward Jones.

It all set him on the path to where he is today.

To prepare to assume the role of chair in September, Cella is embarking on a listening tour of sorts this summer, scheduling 35 meetings with leaders from St. Louis-area businesses of every size to better understand their needs so he can help shape the agenda.

“I’m ambitious for St. Louis,” he said. “There are so many inspirational leaders to work alongside them. The Chamber is committed to understanding and serving the needs of a vibrant and diverse St. Louis business community.”

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