When the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce decided to honor a long-standing city institution for its civic contributions, the chamber did not have to go through a lot of soul-searching.

The chamber awarded Yale with the group’s first “Corporate Heritage Award,” an honor to be presented annually to corporations and institutions that have served Greater New Haven for more than 100 years. The chamber, which represents more than 1,200 businesses in the region, chose to award the University in honor of its 300th anniversary.

Thursday’s award breakfast — the chamber’s 207th annual meeting –also featured keynote speaker John Pepper ’60, the chairman of Proctor & Gamble; the State of the Chamber address; and the election of the chamber’s board of directors.

The award — accepted by Bruce Alexander, Yale’s vice president for New Haven and state affairs — was introduced by the chamber this year to showcase companies continuing the city’s strong traditions in manufacturing, communications and the arts.

Yale President Richard Levin could not attend because of a meeting with the University’s board of trustees. Alexander said the University was proud to be honored by the city.

“We want to be good institutional citizens,” Alexander said. “I pledge to you we will continue to expand the role of active citizenship the award encourages.”

Pepper, who has also served as president and chief executive of P&G, said that during his years as an undergraduate the city and University were separate entities. He commended Levin and Alexander for bringing the two together.

Pepper, who first joined the household product manufacturer in 1963, spoke about the most important traits for successful business leaders.

“The single most important thing I’ve learned in my career is that personal leadership makes things happen,” Pepper said. “Great leaders have a passionate commitment to their purpose, and only with commitment does anything get done.”

Chamber President Anthony Rescigno also delivered his State of the Chamber address and said the chamber’s goal is to go above the national average for retaining chamber members.

“Interest and participation in city commerce is at an all-time high,” Rescigno said. “We want to make Greater New Haven a desirable a place to work and be competitive with every other region in the country.”

Rescigno honored outgoing chamber Chairman Anthony Vallillo with a portrait of Vaillillo that will be displayed in the chamber’s conference room and introduced Diane Wishnafski, executive vice president at New Haven Savings Bank, as the 2001-2003 chair.

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. began the ceremonies by asking for the support from the New Haven business community in his fight to improve New Haven’s Tweed airport. DeStefano said the city should act soon to improve the airport.

“The city must decide if it wants improved air service,” DeStefano said. “These improvements can only happen if we as a region stand together.”

DeStefano added that those in support should contact their state senators or representatives to facilitate improvements.