When Michael J. Quaranta proposed a barbecue contest as a fundraiser for Old New Castle, he didn’t mean a family picnic. No, Quaranta took classes in the art of barbecue, became certified as a barbecue judge, got the event sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society, pulled together more than $11,000 in prize money and fielded contestants from at least five states.
When there was a glitch in the contest the first year, he took to social media to absorb all the blame. He even suggested that the contest would be better the next year, but that there’d still probably be bumps.
In its third year, the Colonial BBQ continues to grow and has become one of the favorite attractions of Old New Castle’s Separation Day celebration every June.
“He takes initiative,” said Michael Ratchford, Quaranta’s longtime friend and neighbor in Old New Castle. “He throws himself all in. He understands how things get done.”
Taking initiative and getting things done are qualities the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce was looking for when they chose Quaranta, out of a raft of candidates, to be the new president of the organization. Quaranta will take over when current president Rich Heffron retires on June 30.
“We are thrilled to have Mike as our new president,” said Gary Stockbridge, chairman of the State Chamber’s board of directors. “Mike’s diverse set of experiences will make him an effective leader for the State
Chamber’s next chapter as we continue our work supporting small and large businesses across Delaware.”
Quaranta’s experience is diverse. Besides his vast barbecue knowledge, he also knows lobbying, communications, financial management, small business, networking and team building — to name a few of his qualifications.
“I think Mike is going to be wonderful,” said Scott Malfitano, vice president of CSC and a member of the chamber selection committee. “He’s the epitome of what we were searching for.”
Out of the many applicants the committee received, 19 prospective president candidates were interviewed. Quaranta shone above the others because of his experience as a small business owner of an antique store in Old New Castle, his local political involvement as former campaign director and chief of staff for Rep. Michael Castle and a current city councilman for Old New Castle, and his work as a D.C. lobbyist and public relations representative for Cogent Strategies.
Plus, as Malfitano put it, “He knows Delaware inside and out.” The hiring committee expects Quaranta to expand and build the chamber to new levels.
Quaranta, who was a managing director at Cogent, plans to bring some of the lessons learned and practices followed at the D.C. firm to lead the chamber forward. Every team at Cogent consisted of a Democrat, a Republican and a communications person, said Quaranta. But everyone would jump in and help on any project when needed.
You need to have different perspectives and good communication to make good policy, he said. He hopes to expand the chamber’s use of communication tools and social media to expand the chamber. “You can’t do one without the other.”
Known as both a statesman and diplomat, Quaranta even fulfilled the divergent desires of board members, some who wanted a local Delaware candidate and others who wanted to bring in someone from outside who could have a different perspective.
As a local resident who worked in D.C. for the last eight years, Quaranta has both.
“He will be an excellent president moving forward,” said Heffron.
As far as the chamber goes, Stockbridge views working with the new Delaware Prosperity Partnership and the state’s budget concerns as two issues key for the new president.
Quaranta already met with Kurt Foreman, the new director for the partnership, and they have similar goals and objectives. They both recognize the importance of Delaware’s small and medium businesses. They want to keep and grow the businesses that are already in Delaware while making sure the rest of the world puts a pin in the map marking the Diamond State as a possible gem for new business.
Until he takes over completely on July 1, Quaranta will be working side by side with Heffron to make the transition as smooth as possible. That, and he’ll be enjoying more time with his family, his wife, Michelle, and the two high school-aged daughters still at home. He estimates he’ll have an extra 25 hours each week now that he won’t be commuting to D.C. every day.
“The business community is going to face a lot of issues, both legislatively and regulatorily, and the chamber has to be on that,” said Heffron in a release from the chamber. “Mike is the right person to lead the State Chamber and guide the organization’s future. Mike is the type of leader who will embrace that change and will grow the Chamber to a new level of success.