Passing the Torch: Leadership Lessons from Past, Present & Future Board Chairs

JEFF CONNOLLY, JEN CROWLEY & JAMES BYL are three names making business happen in West Michigan. From leading companies to inspiring professionals across the region, these leaders are spearheading initiatives at your Grand Rapids Chamber and are working tirelessly to support our business ecosystem.

Meet these three leaders below and hear leadership lessons from their experiences.




Jeff Connolly serves as the senior vice president and president of West Michigan & Upper Peninsula for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. He recently completed his term as 2022 board chair for the Grand Rapids Chamber and has continued to be deeply involved in the Chamber’s initiatives.

For over 17 years, Connolly has been active with the Grand Rapids Chamber, holding numerous positions on the board, committees and the foundation. In 2023, Connolly entered the “hall of fame” as a Chamber Champion for his dedicated service to the community.

Connolly has seen the organization ebb and flow over the years, but his favorite initiative was seeing the Grand Rapids Chamber Foundation step up during the pandemic.

“We’re continuing to evolve as a community, and the Chamber has evolved as well. We’ve had a foundation for many years, but through the Covid-19 pandemic, we were able to use the foundation to help distribute funds and support local businesses.”

Connolly also reflected on his board experience and how different leadership styles have shown up over the years. He has worked closely with the Chamber’s current board chair, Jen Crowley, as she transitioned into the role.

“Jen is part of a long legacy of not just good and respected leaders, but highly engaged leaders. There’s a delicate balance between being a strong leader and knowing when to let others step up. Jen’s energy as board chair has been electric, and I’m excited for what’s next.”




Jen Crowley serves as the co-owner and chief marketing officer for Highland Group and is nearing the end of her term as the Grand Rapids Chamber’s 2023 board chair.

During her time on the board, she served in roles related to budget and finance, public policy, governance, compensation and more. Additionally, Crowley has been involved with several councils and initiatives throughout the years, including serving as the Create Great Leaders council chair in 2015-16.

Now, nearing the end of her one-year term, she’s looking back on her experience and reflecting on the progress the Chamber has made under her leadership.

“This was a BIG year for growth – the new office space, the first full year of the Center for Economic Inclusion, expanding the Elliott- Larsen Civil Rights Act, advancing housing policy, welcoming new Americans, childcare advocacy and more. The Chamber is busy supporting the business community,” says Crowley.

While growth is a great thing, the 2023 board chair is even more focused on leaving a lasting impact for years to come.

“My hope is that in five or ten years, when we look back at the work that the Chamber is doing now, we will see that impact in the community. Are new Americans being welcomed? Have we made meaningful progress on housing affordability and accessibility? Are more people able to create wealth and opportunity through owning or running a business? I want to make a difference that lasts.”




James Byl serves as the owner and president of both Multi-Automatic Tool & Supply Company and Belding Tool & Machine, and will be taking the reins when his board term begins in January 2024.

Byl has been involved with the board for the past 6 years and has held roles on the Executive Board and the Political Action Committee at the Grand Rapids Chamber.

In his new role, Byl is looking forward to serving the community and helping to cultivate a vibrant downtown.

“There are so many great organizations to be involved with here in Grand Rapids, but for me, particularly as a business owner, the heart or essence of a city is its culture and vibrancy.”

Value-driven plans. More resources. Better business benefits.

“I believe the Grand Rapids Chamber is THE organization for helping businesses thrive.”

Byl is eager to get started in 2024 and hit the ground running, especially in a major election year.

“It’s going to be a really big year. I am looking forward to some good political endorsements, another great lineup of programs, and more progress in housing and the many things the Chamber is doing to elevate our city. Personally, I’m looking forward to getting to know all the Board members better, and also the various committee members.”


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