Civic Committee and Commercial Club name new president

Derek R.B. Douglas comes over from the University of Chicago and will be the first African American to lead the allied organizations.

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Derek R.B. Douglas

Derek R.B. Douglas


Two related business groups involved in urban affairs, the Civic Committee and the Commercial Club of Chicago, said Monday that Derek R.B. Douglas will become president of both organizations. Douglas, 51, will be the first African American in those roles.

Douglas is vice president for civic engagement and external affairs at the University of Chicago, where he has worked for 10 years in several jobs. He previously worked in President Barack Obama’s White House on the Domestic Policy Council and as director of its Urban Policy Office.

Scheduled to start the jobs Aug. 1, Douglas will succeed attorney Kelly Welsh, a former corporation counsel under Mayor Richard M. Daley. Welsh has held the positions for five years and is retiring.

Douglas graduated from Yale Law School and he holds an economics degree from the University of Michigan. 

In a prepared statement, Douglas said the allied organizations “have a tremendous history of addressing critical issues facing the Chicago region from transportation and infrastructure, education, fiscal policy, public safety and economic development, including driving inclusive expansion of Chicago’s tech economy. I am eager to continue this important work in my new role.”

The announcement included a statement from Obama praising Welsh. “Over the past five years, Kelly has overseen a slate of truly transformative initiatives — from promoting technological innovation, to investing in our youth, to improving transportation,” Obama said. “I am also deeply grateful for his steadfast support of our work to make the Obama Presidential Center a community hub for the South Side. It’s clear that Chicago will reap the benefits of his leadership for generations to come.” 

The Civic Committee consists of CEOs of major Chicago-based corporations. Membership of the Commercial Club is broader but still represents an elite group of corporate leaders. The club was a catalyst for Daniel Burnham’s influential Plan of Chicago, published in 1909.

Welsh said he will remain active with the groups. “Derek’s broad experience in the academic and public sectors will be especially valuable as the Civic Committee and Commercial Club, and their affiliates, work to improve our region. He is an ideal choice to take our work forward,” he said.

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