By Loretta Fulton
Photography by Beth Dukes
Ben, Lillian and Alice get Doug Peters’ attention bright and early on any given morning.
From there, his schedule looks like he grabbed a handful of activities – from a seminar at Dyess Air Force Base to a pie eating contest – tossed them in the air and watched where they fell on his day planner.
Other than exercising the family’s three dogs early each day and getting overnight emails out of the way, Peters has as varied a schedule as you can imagine. On Nov. 2, Peters celebrated his third year as president and chief executive officer of the Abilene Chamber of Commerce. He couldn’t be happier with his decision to accept the offer to move to Abilene from Fayetteville, North Carolina, where he held a similar position.
“Every day, I get to meet incredible people,” Peters said. “It’s a neat perch.”
Much of Peters’ day, any day, is spent on serious business such as meeting with a local university executive, attending a Military Affairs Committee planning session, giving a presentation to the International Rescue Committee, meeting with the Hendrick Foundation board, or leading a chamber staff meeting. “Celebrate my wife’s birthday” was the last entry on Nov. 13.
But take a closer look at Peters’ schedule Monday through Friday and you’ll see some unique entries. November had a couple of doozies. He was one of the models for the Junior League of Abilene’s style show and a week later joined in a pie eating contest to benefit Meals on Wheels Plus. The last time Peters modeled in a style show was when he was 24 and living in Dayton, Ohio.
“I swore I’d never do that again!” Peters said.
But Peters rarely says “no” to an invitation, especially from a chamber member. Being the leader of the Chamber of Commerce is a two-way street. The chamber calls on member businesses and institutions for assistance and they call on the chamber.
“People know I’m willing to do anything I can to help,” Peters said.
One thing he has trouble turning down is the fun events like modeling in the Junior League style show, which was part of the annual Christmas Carousel at the Abilene Convention Center. Peters is a member of the league’s community advisory board. The men in the style show selected clothing from Dillard’s department store to fit various settings. “Christmas morning” was one of those. Turns out that Peters should have consulted with Abilene Mayor Anthony Williams before choosing his Christmas morning outfit.
“We both wore the same robe,” Peters said.
As for the food contests, Peters has volunteered for a number of those, including before moving to Abilene. He’s been in on competitions or judging of oysters, chicken wings, pies (except rhubarb), chili, you name it. Apparently, he’s pretty good at what he does. “I’ve been practicing for about thirty years,” he joked.
Peters’ calendar has many more serious work entries than fun work entries like pie eating contests. Some days he has 7 a.m. breakfast meeting. Many evenings are spent at chamber-related dinner meetings or other functions. He intentionally schedules some meetings early or late so as not to intrude on anyone’s workday.
In addition to those responsibilities, Peters also is a member of several local boards, such as the Grace Museum and the United Way. In between work duties, he attends board meetings and also tells about the chamber’s work at civic club luncheons. Every week, actually every day, brings something new to Peters’ life.
“It keeps things interesting,” he said, “and allows me to meet more and more people.”
Peters’ enthusiasm for his work, plus his track record, caught the attention of the folks making the decision about a new chamber president in 2015. At the time, chamber board chairman Charles Black said more than 50 resumes were received but that Peters stood out. An article in the Abilene Reporter-News prior to Peters’ arrival noted that he was named 2007 Ohio Chamber Executive of the Year and had been a part of economic development projects that resulted in the creation of more than 15,000 jobs and more than $5 billion in community investment.”
Those kinds of numbers are bound to attract attention. As excited as the selection committee was about Peters, he was equally excited about moving to Abilene. Peters previously was in chamber of commerce and economic development positions in Fayetteville, N.C.; Dayton, Ohio; Richmond, Indiana; and Findlay, Ohio. He had long competed with cities in Texas and knew how well-positioned they were to attract and retain business. Now, he’s one of them and loving every minute of it – from early-morning breakfasts to late-night meetings to planning sessions to pie eating contests. And then there was the time he got to fly a B-1 Bomber simulator at Dyess AFB.
“This is the most fun job on the planet,” Peters said.
Peters, a native of Virginia, grew up in Dayton, Ohio, home of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. That’s also where Peters started his career as manager of the Small Business Division of the Chamber of Commerce. From there he moved to Richmond, Indiana, for the same position. He was named interim manager in Richmond when his boss left for McAllen, Texas.
In Richmond, Peters led a downtown revitalization that transformed it from a pedestrian-only area to one that brought traffic and business back into downtown. While he was in Richmond, the city was named the No. 3 best performing downtown in the nation.
The next move was to Findlay, Ohio, where Peters recruited three Asian companies that are still there. The eight years before arriving in Abilene were spent In Fayetteville, North Carolina, home of Fort Bragg. There Peters learned the intricacies of working with the federal government and the unique needs of the military. Peters’ father served in the Army in Korea and Peters grew up with a respect for his service and the service of all members of the military.
Peters brought knowledge from all his previous positions to Abilene, including the importance of collaboration that he first experienced in Richmond, Indiana. That is something he has emphasized since arriving in Abilene.
In November 2015, the Reporter-News published a story about Peters’ first day on the job. He described it as “an absolute whirlwind.” Ask him the same question today, and he’s likely to give the same answer. He wouldn’t have it any other way. He loves the challenge of the job and the opportunity to work with employees and volunteers who serve the city and Dyess Air Force Base. He sees in Abilene a community of servant leaders and considers it an honor to be one of them.
Peters’ family consists of his wife, Whitney, a surgery scheduler at Hendrick Medical Center, and three children, ranging in age from a junior at Jim Ned High School to a junior at Abilene Christian University to a son who is a fitness trainer in Abilene. Peters describes the children as “all beautiful, all smart, and all taking after their mother.”
And, of course, there are the three dogs – black labs, Ben and Alice, and a Shih Tzu, Lillian. A favorite pastime for Peters is hunting, which he tries to squeeze in when not caught up in his whirlwind schedule.
In addition to local involvement, Peters also is on the board of directors of the Texas Chamber of Commerce Executives organization. The group met in Georgetown in October for “R&D” or “rip off and duplicate,” Peters joked. But something he learns when meeting with executives from other cities is that he made the absolute best choice in accepting the chamber leadership role in Abilene.
“I feel very strongly,” he said, “it’s a place I can finish my career.”