Chris DiPentima is citing his overlapping work in private sector leadership and public policy formulating as being the key starting point for his new role as president and CEO of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA), while his predecessor, Joe Brennan, has pledged to create a smooth transition before his retirement on Aug. 3 after 32 years at the head of the trade group.
DiPentima is division president of Leggett & Platt Aerospace, which includes Pegasus Manufacturing in Middletown. He also served as chairman of the CBIA board from 2018-19, chairs the Connecticut Manufacturers’ Collaborative and serves on the board of the Connecticut Manufacturing Innovation Fund. In an interview with the Business Journal, DiPentima stated his background gives him an advantage in understanding both sides of the economic dynamics.
“It’s obviously a little different having a business leader with public policy experience, and I’ve advocated at the capitol quite a bit,” he said. “This position has traditionally been more of a public policy person, but I think this is a very positive opportunity. I have a bit of a reputation of collaborating here in Connecticut, whether it’s been with the Connecticut Manufacturers’ Collaborative or on the governor’s Manufacturing Innovation Fund.”
DiPentima has two months before he formally takes the reins, and he said he will be using this time to connect with the CBIA staff and membership.
“I want to get my feet wet,” he said. “I want to understand how the organization carries out our mission and get to know the people in the organization, which may be a little more difficult in this time of virtual meetings and not a lot of us going into the office right now.
“We have a lot of external stakeholders – our board members are all around Connecticut, and we have some very large members and companies and we have some small to medium-size companies, too. I’m really looking forward to getting to know them. We have a lot of other organizations that we collaborate with and I look forward to meeting various chambers across the state.”
DiPentima’s work at Leggett & Platt Aerospace involves leading the company’s operations in Washington, California and France, and he offered a firsthand appraisal of how Connecticut’s reaction to the pandemic measured against other regions.
“We’re better off than some other states,” he said. “I run some operations in some other locations and our governor was fairly liberal with how he defined the essential businesses which allowed a few industries to stay open that weren’t allowed to stay open in other locations around the world. That really put us in a good position if – keeping manufacturing and construction and other essential services going while other states closed those down early is going to give us a leg up as we come out of this.”
As for Brennan, he acknowledged staying longer at the CBIA than he anticipated due to the ongoing pandemic crisis.
“We pushed off my retirement a little bit, just to try to hopefully get through the worst of it,” he said.
“We had so many businesses shut down and then reopening slowly, we’re not quite sure what the general public’s comfort level is going to be to get back out and frequent those businesses. And then on the policy side, the pandemic is creating tremendous strain on our state budget. There’s almost an unending litany of issues that you can raise just with the pandemic alone – not to mention all the challenges that Connecticut faced before the pandemic hit, so certainly a lot on Chris’ plate.”
Brennan noted that during the transition period, he still has “a lot of work to do,” but he will still be active in the organization once DiPentima begins his new job.
“I’m going to stay on with CBIA at least for the end of the calendar year, to help with a variety of tasks around board recruitment and board meetings and other things to help Chris through the transition,” he said.
“I may stay a little bit beyond that – I haven’t figured that out yet. Just knowing the next legislative session starting January is going to be particularly challenging. It’s not that I don’t want to pull away. I do want to pull away, but on the other hand I care so passionately about our members and the state that I want to do whatever I can do to help.”