CFO holds herself to high standards

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce
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Photo by Mark Rhodes


Sylvia Haines

Hampton Roads Chamber, Norfolk

Often when he’s leaving work for the day, Bryan Stephens finds Sylvia Haines, his chief financial officer and chief operating officer, still hard at work. “She demands more of herself than we would demand of her,” says Stephens, CEO of the Norfolk-based Hampton Roads Chamber. “She adheres to the highest of standards. I have seen her stay late into the night and redo things to the standard of excellence she expects.”

That standard is reflected in the perfect audits the organization frequently receives. “I remember a couple of years ago they identified a minor deficiency of under $100, which was easily fixed, and she was upset about it. She told me she was better than that,” says Stephens. “She has dogged determination to do everything to a high level of excellence.”

Born in Portsmouth, Haines started with the Hampton Roads Chamber in 1987 as an accountant. “What I enjoy the most in chamber work is that you get to juggle a lot of different things. It’s not just accounting. I get to oversee communications and marketing. I enjoy that part of my job. It’s never boring,” she says.

In addition to accounting, her work at the organization has involved relationship building and public speaking, duties that have helped her overcome her shyness. “I used to be painfully shy,” she says. “Being an introvert, doing presentations over these years has helped me grow. You have to put yourself out there, and it’s helped me step out of my box. Forming relationships with others in the community has helped me grow as well.”

Haines has accumulated many responsibilities during her time with the chamber. Her job includes working for the chamber’s affiliate organizations such as the Small Business Development Center of Hampton Roads, Hampton Roads Sports Commission and Hampton Roads Chamber Foundation.

The chamber also handles administrative duties for the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance and Chamber Solutions, a partnership of chambers across Virginia. “I do wear a lot of different hats, but I love what I do,” says Haines. “I would rather have too much on my plate than have too little, any day.”

Haines understands how to spot “red flags and bring them to my attention,” says Stephens. “She will identify something that is problematic before it becomes problematic. We are able to implement some sort of solution to prevent it from being problematic. She keeps me well informed.”

Haines also supports the chamber’s mission of being the voice of the local business community. “I think she personally cares not only about the organization but also the people that make up the organization,” says attorney and consultant Shepelle Watkins-White of Shepelle Watkins-White Consulting & Law in Chesapeake. “She had an employee that was terminally ill and she put in long hours to cover for the employee, and I think that is very telling about her compassion.”

Haines is a selfless leader and “mentor to everybody that works for and with the Chamber,” says Stephens. “We have a lot of young professionals that work for us, and they all look to her as a role model.”
A mother, Haines serves as treasurer of Champions for Children: Prevent Child Abuse Hampton Roads. “I have a passion for children being taken care of the way we should take care of them,” she says.

She doesn’t know where the future will take her, but one day she would like to run a chamber of commerce. “I don’t know where that is in the future, so we will see,” she says. “I’m happy where I am right now. My boss is doing some great things with our chamber, and I want to be part of that.”

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