Christine Benero was working at Swansea Elementary School in Denver earlier this year when she looked up and noticed someone she knew. Benero, the president and CEO of Mile High United Way, was helping lead a service mission to spruce up the school. It was a Saturday. It was hot. And there in front of her, up to his ears in dirt, was Todd Munson.
“Oh,” Benero thought. “There’s the president of Chase bank.”
Since the day he arrived in Denver about a decade ago, Todd Munson has been lending a hand. Those who work with him closely share a similar view of Munson. He is the epitome of the inclusive business community Denver has become known for, where even those coming from cities across the country can stand up and make an impact.
In the last 10 years, Munson has made an impact on everything from nonprofit organizations to business leadership groups to his own organization as the managing director and vice chair for the Colorado Market of JPMorgan Chase.
Now, he takes one of his most prominent roles yet as the 2016-17 chair of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce board of directors. He does so as the Chamber is set to tackle big issues at a key time in the city’s history. Affordable housing, workforce development, raising the bar for constitutional ballot measures and opening up primary elections to independent voters are just some of the agenda items.
“With so much on the Chamber’s plate, you want someone who knows how to lead,” said Bob Deibel, president and owner of OfficeScapes and the Chamber’s 2014-15 board chair. “Someone who wants to engage.
“Todd’s the guy who raises his hand.”
Business wasn’t always his first choice. Munson grew up sure he was going to play catcher for the Detroit Tigers.
His father was an engineer and moved the family to Detroit when Munson was young. While his father might have planted the business seed in his brain, it was Munson’s mother whom he credits for much of his affable personality.
“She was very chatty,” he said with a laugh.
He went to Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, on a baseball scholarship. Near the end of Munson’s college career, his coach Boyd Coffee sat him down for a tough conversation. In Coffee’s estimation, Munson wasn’t going to make it in the major leagues. But he had an offer: Come coach and he’d pay for Munson to get his MBA.
He didn’t have to think hard about that one. He graduated with his MBA and by 1996, he had joined Chase predecessor Bank One as a senior commercial banker in Louisville, Kentucky, where he served in roles of increasing responsibility until he relocated to Colorado in 2005.
At the time, Colorado was an outpost for Chase, the western frontier of its footprint. Since that time, Munson has helped oversee the expansion from 20 retail banking centers to 118 today. He said he’s very proud of that because it helps the middle market and commercial banking sides.
When he gets involved in things, it’s not because he wants people to know that he sits on this or that board. He does it because he believes in it. — Stuart Davie, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Denver
“What also helped was getting involved in the community,” he said.
When Munson and his wife Sue moved to Colorado 10 years ago, he knew only one person: his daughter who had just moved here to attend college. “This is where my mother’s genes came in handy,” he joked.
He immediately raised his hand and began contributing, said Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Chamber. She said Denver is unique among business communities, in that a person like Munson, fresh into town, can immediately jump in.
“We tell everyone that we’ll embrace you,” Brough said. “We don’t have a lot of barriers to entry. We don’t care what your last name is or where you went to school.”
The list of organizations he currently serves or has served in Denver is dizzying: the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, the Boy Scouts of America, VISIT DENVER, Goodwill Industries of Denver, Colorado Symphony and the Mile High United Way.
Stuart Davie, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Denver, said Munson wouldn’t like others listing off this track record. He just wants to do good work.
When Davie joined Goodwill in 2012, Munson was already on the board and had served as chair a year earlier. But when the current chair stepped down, Munson stepped up to the chair again.
“He’s a very genuine guy,” Davie said. “So when he gets involved in things, it’s not because he wants people to know that he sits on this or that board. He does it because he believes in it. He does everything with the view of furthering the nonprofit.”
Early in his managerial career, Munson was in a meeting with an executive when he cut her off one time too many. “Todd,” she said, “are you going to let me finish?”
He stopped, took a pause and said, “I’ll work on that.”
He calls listening his “learned art,” one that people close to him say he’s mastered quite well.
“When you’re talking to Todd you feel that you’re the most important person,” said Bob Hottman, founding partner and CEO of EKS&H and immediate past chair of the Chamber board.
At a retreat of the Chamber board in August, Brough remembers Munson beginning the conversation by asking members a series of thought provoking questions. If you could have dinner with one person from history, who would it be? If you could have one talent that you don’t currently have, what would it be? Half the board was completely new but within minutes, Munson managed to break down walls and open up a dialogue.
It’s always nice to have that big win, but the kind of work that the Chamber does is a marathon not a sprint. We’re going to move things in bits and pieces. — Todd Munson
“I’ve learned the best answers come through collaboration,” Munson said. “I think that’s the best leadership. Now, if no one wants to share their opinion, I’m happy to give them mine, but that’s not as productive as getting all voices and all angles on an issue.”
This year, Munson will be gathering voices for numerous issues facing the Denver metro area.
Brough said so much of what the board will do in the coming years is seen through the lens of the Chamber’s five critical issues: water, education, energy, transportation and engaging unaffiliated voters.
“I love these issues because they are what is good for all of Colorado, not just the business environment,” she said.
Affordable housing is a specific issue that is getting a lot of attention this year. As rental and home prices continue to climb, companies worry about affordable living options for their workers. Munson said that means increasing the supply of both low-income housing and affordable workforce housing. (Part of that is a continued effort to change the construction defect laws that have prevented developers from building the sort of entry-level housing options that provide a wide array of options for workers.)
Munson and the board are also interested in workforce development programs. “Not everyone needs a four-year degree,” he said. The Chamber is watching the work of the state’s Business Experiential-Learning (BEL) Commission that is studying alternative systems like the Swiss career track model.
“If you talk to Denver Public Schools, they tell you that if they can get a student in a career track, the student is much more likely to graduate,” Munson said. “When you give a kid a direction, you address a lot of the social issues caused by dropping out.”
The Chamber itself is taking on workforce development with opportunity youth—those 16 to 24 who have dropped out of school or are not working. With its talent pipeline director, the Chamber is connecting those youth to businesses who offer real-world job experience and create connections.
The Chamber is also lobbying hard to raise the bar for getting constitutional amendments on the ballot. One ballot measure it does support this year is allowing unaffiliated voters to participate in our primary system. Currently, independent voters are the biggest bloc, and yet they cannot easily participate in primaries. Removing that barrier may result in a less-polarized electorate, more moderate politicians and more collaboration in the legislature to address today’s pressing issues.
Munson said Denver has been quite bold in its moves over the last few decades. The city built a major league baseball stadium in the middle of its downtown. It also moved its nearby airport to land 20 miles utside the city center.
He hopes the board can continue to be a leader as the city grows and adapts. So what will define a successful year for Munson and the board?
“It’s always nice to have that big win,” he said. “But the kind of work that the Chamber does is a marathon not a sprint. We’re going to move things in bits and pieces.”
He said he’s up to the challenge of maintaining Denver as a place where people want to come, a place where people want to raise their hand and get involved.
James Carlson is a Denver-based journalist and content writer.
This was originally published in the fall issue of Business Altitude. Click here to read the full issue.