Passing the Torch: Ames to be New BBB President, CEO as Potter Retires

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Melissa Ames first joined the Better Business Bureau of Mahoning Valley more than 18 years ago, and it’s been “the only grown up job I’ve ever had,” she said.

In 2022, her role with the organization will expand as president of the board of directors starting Jan. 1, then as the new CEO when the current chief executive, Carol Potter, retires in May.

The BBB announced the news during its Annual Meeting of Accredited Businesses Thursday morning at the Davis Education & Visitor Center at Fellows Riverside Gardens. Families of both Ames and Potter were on-hand for the passing of the torch.

Ames, who usually operates behind the scenes and takes attendance during the annual meeting, was front and center during the Dec. 9 event, the theme for which was “We are wearing our heart on our sleeve.” A sentiment that seemed appropriate as an emotional Ames shared her experience working with Potter.

“For the past 10 years, I have been lucky enough to have a true mentor and friend in Carol Potter,” Ames said. “She has helped bring to the forefront every day what we came to do. And it’s fulfilling the mission of the Better Business Bureau in the Mahoning Valley.”

BBB President-elect and incoming CEO, Melissa Ames, looks forward to an exciting 2022.

She thanked Potter for her passion, drive and commitment to the BBB’s mission, its staff, its board of directors and accredited businesses.

Oftentimes, the BBB is the only resource for consumers and residents to find trustworthy businesses in the Mahoning Valley for their needs, Ames said. That is what makes the work meaningful to her, she said.

“I am beyond blessed to do something that I love,” she said. “Every day is different – different challenges, different experiences. But in all of that, we get to make very meaningful impact to those within our community.

“Getting to meet our businesses and see what they do every day is just the pleasure of my life.”

Looking to the future, Ames said 2022 will be an exciting year as the BBB is ready to come out of the pandemic and get back to working more closely with its accredited businesses.

“We’re ready to go. We’re coming out of this weird phase and we are ready to see our accredited businesses again, meet with our constituents and really build value and trust within the marketplace,” she said.

Her goals include maintaining and improving the BBB’s accessibility to consumers, and helping accredited businesses to successfully come out of the pandemic with different events and speakers to help them hone their skills.

In the months leading up to her retirement, Potter will work to ensure a seamless transition by continuing to mentor Ames for the role and connecting her to the businesses and CEOs in the entire BBB network.

Ames was unanimously voted president-elect by the board at its October meeting, Potter said.

“As much as I’ve put BBB center in my thoughts, Melissa will continue to do that,” Potter said to those gathered. “It’s wonderful. And I just thank the board for permitting me my experience, and for permitting me to share it with someone who’s such a valuable asset to all of us.”

Potter thanked the board and accredited businesses for the past 10 years and the opportunity to lead the BBB.

“It’s a position that has been so rewarding and I’ve treasured it more than anything else that I’ve ever done in my life,” Potter said. “When you really care about an organization and you look into the future, you really want to make sure that leadership continues to yield successes.”

Six years ago, Potter recognized Ames’ talent and “extraordinary willingness to learn and go into areas outside of her comfort zone,” she said. Ames was promoted to vice president of BBB services, and has since worked closely with Potter on BBB initiatives.

“It has been a delight and a pleasure, and we’ve really had a great time doing all of this,” Potter said.

Under Potter’s leadership, the BBB established its signature event, the Torch Awards for Marketplace Trust, which honors local businesses, nonprofits and civic leaders. She also established new partnerships, the BBB’s TrustBuilders, within the Valley’s banking community including Farmers National Bank, PNC, Premier Bank and Huntington Bank.

Potter also developed partnerships with Farmers Trust Co. and Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC to create the BBB’s Ethics & Integrity Scholarship Program. The program has awarded more than 35 $1,000 scholarships in seven years.

Jennifer Johnson, BBB board chairperson and area manager, Struthers division at Aqua Ohio, Inc., commended Potter for her leadership since becoming BBB president and CEO in January 2013. Potter had been planning her retirement and succession for a while, Johnson said.

“She presented a very sound succession plan to the executive committee over the summer, which is what got all of this rolling and moving in this direction,” Johnson said.

Johnson welcomed Ames into her leadership role and said the BBB will continue working to aid its accredited businesses in coming out of the pandemic.

“To say our businesses are experiencing unprecedented times is certainly an understatement,” Johnson said. “Workforce shortage issues and delays, navigating mandates that are changing what seems every day, human resource issues we probably never had to deal with before, and even the challenges associated with some of the extraordinary growth your businesses are seeing as a result of these new times. So it’s not easy.”

That said, Johnson believes the common thread that connects all of the accredited business in the BBB is they will pull through and “and maybe even come out a little bit stronger,” she said, “because you all operate under the BBB’s standards of trust.”

That commitment to ethical enterprise is critical to maintaining and expanding a company’s trust in the marketplace, Potter said. More than 1,000 businesses comprise the BBB’s membership, which allows the organization to serve the more than 530,000 residents in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.

In 2021, BBB of Mahoning Valley enjoyed a 96% retention rate of its accredited business members, reported Carol Potter.

During the pandemic, area companies that went out of businesses or had to leave the BBB for financial reasons led to a “significant number” of accredited businesses leaving the organization, Potter allowed. Yet in 2021, the Mahoning Valley chapter enjoyed a 96% retention rate of its accredited business members, who on average stay with the local chapter for more than 14 years, she said.

“We have the advantage of a higher level of retention,” she said. “In our Valley, the conclusion here represents a business community with long-standing support of trust and ethics.”

In a recent survey, 8.6 out of 10 consumers said trust is important to them in making purchase decisions, Potter reported. Of those surveyed, 62% said the BBB helps them find trustworthy businesses to buy from, and 66% agree the BBB delivers on its mission and helps advance honest, she said.

Additionally, the BBB website displays information on all Valley businesses that the organization can get information on, she said. Of those who visit the website, 77% opt to go with accredited businesses over non-accredited, A-rated businesses identified by the BBB.

“You can see the value of the trust mark in real terms,” she said.

Standing out as a trustworthy business is important for attracting customers, as well as potential employees, she said.

“They’re looking at you too,” Potter said. “They want to work for a trustworthy business. So that’s important in your recruiting.”

As circumstances like the COVID pandemic force changes on the marketplace, “the bad guys come out,” she said. Of all the scams recorded by the BBB in the last year, about 10% have been COVID-related, she said.

Of the businesses exposed to a COVID-scam, 66% have lost money – about $88 on average, Potter reported.

Those who are most susceptible to a scam are individuals who are 35 to 50 years, with females having the highest risk of being exposed to a COVID scam, she said.

Potter advised businesses to be on the lookout for some of the more common COVID scams, including scammers impersonating government officials, and companies offering fake cures and masks. She also warned business owners to be aware of vaccine fraud.

“There’s a whole underground market now for those vaccine cards,” she said.

Fake employment offers are also prevalent, she noted, emphasizing the importance of BBB-accredited businesses promoting their trust mark. Other scams include offering businesses grants and studies to help them through the pandemic.

“People still think that they can pay $100 to find out how to get a million-dollar grant from the government,” Potter said.

Online scams are the No. 1 way consumers can be taken advantage of by the scammers, she noted. For consumers who want to check on an online product to see if it’s legit, she recommended checking the product against the BBB Trust Index.

Social media and email are two other prevalent places for consumers to get scammed, she added.

Pictured at top: In 2022, Melissa Ames will assume the role of BBB president in January, then will takeover as CEO in May with the retirement of Carol Potter.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.