October 1, 2001 - From the October, 2001 issue

L.A. Chamber Hires New President/CEO: Hammer Links Regional Agenda To Economic Vitality

L.A. once hosted Fortune 500 corporations, Banks, and Captains of Industry. Obviously, that is no longer the case. Yet despite our business climate's evolution, the approach of L.A.'s Chamber in trying to attract businesses and advocate for change is still designed for that long forgotten era. New L.A. Chamber President/CEO Russell "Rusty" Hammer recognized that that approach no longer works and that to truly address businesses one must address them individually. L.A. Chamber Board Chairman Charlie Woo joins Rusty in detailing for TPR the Chamaber's new mission for L.A. and the Southern California region.


Rusty Hammer

Charlie, you've recently announced the hiring of Russell "Rusty" Hammer as the L.A. Area Chamber's new President. What attracted the Chamber to Rusty? And what's the Chamber's greatest leadership need today?

Charlie Woo
Chair, L.A. Chamber Board

First and foremost, we were looking for someone who can engage the business community, increase the membership and turn this organization into one that can truly be an advocate for the business community.

To accomplish that we needed a leader that was comfortable with addressing policymakers, a person with Chamber experience, a good administrator and most importantly a leader that can work with the diverse business organizations, not merely within the confines of the City, but region-wide.

Rusty has a proven record in all those areas. And he painted a wonderful picture of where the Chamber should be focused and how we can get there.

Rusty, bring our readers up to speed on what attracted you to this opportunity. What's the challenge? And why did you decide to leave your position in Sacramento to pursue it?

Rusty Hammer
President/CEO L.A. Chamber

Los Angeles is the second largest city in America and will be one of the major world cities of the 21st Century. Because of that, it deserves a Chamber of Commerce that is a leading business organization, not only in Southern California, but throughout the state and country.

Those factors offer a tremendous opportunity for someone to take on a leadership role in the business community. That's what attracted me from Sacramento. That opportunity isn't something that I could turn down.

There's obviously a change in lay leadership in chambers throughout California and across the U.S. Members were once drawn from Fortune 500 companies, then banks, then utilities are now drawn from accounting, law and consulting firms. What does that say to you about where leadership needs to come from? Who will form the core of the L.A. Chamber as it moves forward?

Rusty Hammer

To be successful, Chambers must begin to reach out past their historic membership groups and find people who want to be involved. The future of a Chamber and its success relies on that. That means approaching professionals, architects, engineers, accountants, attorneys and entrepreneurs as well as large corporations and small businesses. They all have a stake in the future of this region, the quality of life that's going to be here and the prosperity of this economy. Having said that, I don't think the Chamber has evolved to a place where its only leaders are accountants and attorneys. But, you do have to make your leadership reflect your membership.

With that in mind, what is the unique 21st Century challenge for a Chamber today? And are the challenges unique to a large metropolitan Chamber like Los Angeles?

Rusty Hammer

The role of Chambers has lessened because many have continued to use a cookie-cutter approach to representation. What they must realize is that the one size fits all approach simply doesn't work anymore.

You have to look at business in segments-technology, manufacturing, service, entertainment, etc. You find out what those companies need and how the Chamber can help those industries specifically. Within that vertical segmentation you can divide them into small, medium and large, but you still have to tailor your programs and services to a company's specific needs.

That's the new role of a Chamber. Just like any other business, it must provide a range of customized programs to its membership. Programs that meet the needs of business, not as we describe them, but as they describe themselves. And that means keeping in touch with membership and being very flexible.

Another key, particularly in larger metropolitan Chambers is realizing that the Chamber's responsibilities and mission overlap with a number of other business groups. Metropolitan Chambers like the L.A. Chamber must realize that they can no longer focus on how cities and businesses work individually but how they interrelate and work within a regional context.

We must be concerned as much with Downtown L.A. as we are with the San Fernando Valley. And we must look at those areas within the broad perspective of a thriving regional economy that preserves and enhances quality of life at the macro level. We have to bring all those other business organizations together to look out for the future of the L.A. Region.

You've used the term "region" a couple times. Do you think of Los Angeles as a region? And if so, how do you adopt a strategy that enlists people to think and to act regionally rather than defensively and within parochial and local political boundaries?

Rusty Hammer

That's my biggest challenge here in L.A. and one that I don't have an answer for yet. Certainly the L.A. County boundary is a place to start, but people commute into and out of those boundaries from all different parts of Southern California. And because of that, they are dependent on each other for the economy, social fabric, entertainment and quality of life.

We have to teach people that the future of the business community, whether it is in Orange County or L.A. County, is intertwined. We need to make sure that everyone understands that this is a regional economy and no matter where they live, communities are dependent on each other.

Let's try to complement your answer with Mr. Woo's additional role on Assembly Speaker Hertzberg's Commission on Regions. Charlie, you've been serving as the chair of the L.A. Chamber's Board and looking for leadership in this region. Is a regional viewpoint and approach possible within the Chamber?

Charlie Woo

Most entrepreneurs will engage if they think it's relevant, and they can get something out of it. If the Chamber continues to go through the motions and continue to concentrate on our historic programs, the new and creative leadership that Rusty speaks of will find somewhere else to put their energy. The challenge is to devise a new set of programs and create an environment where entrepreneurs can exchange ideas and create exciting dialogue.

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Having talked to the Board and gone through the selection process, are there any themes or programs you believe will galvanize a core group of leaders within the Chamber?

Rusty Hammer

The ideas and agenda that we've talked about will provide a solid base for a very aggressive and active regional public policy presence. It is an agenda that if followed correctly will provide a lightening rod that will galvanize people around the future of the economy.

However, as important as the region is, it is only as good as its individual parts. Regions continue to need a vital and vibrant core. Without those places, the outskirts won't survive.

That may explain some of your comments re: a focus on revitalizing Downtown L.A. in a recent issue of the Downtown News. Can you elaborate on the Chamber's agenda for Downtown L.A.?

Rusty Hammer

As I said, every region needs a core. And in L.A., Downtown is an important focus to have. And of course anything the Chamber can do to support the development of that, we're going to pursue. But, there are a lot of organizations working on those location specific issues and as I've said the future of the L.A. Chamber lies in a more global view of L.A. We will work with the CCA and other organizations on issues of revitalizing the Downtown core and help bring vibrancy back to Downtown, but not to the exclusion our mission.

By virtue of being in Sacramento and running that chamber, you obviously rubbed shoulders with State Legislators, the Governor and the Cabinet. What's the role of this chamber from your experience and given your responsibilities in lobbying the State?

Rusty Hammer

The L.A. Chamber has to take a very strong role in lobbying for the issues of Southern California up at the State Capital. And in doing so, it must form partnerships and collaboratives with the other Chambers in Southern California. We must bring Chambers and other business groups in Southern California together in an alliance so that we can vocalize the issues that are important to Southern Californians.

The issues that have been dominating this year's agenda are: energy and water (and now post-9/11) airports and security. How do you see the Chamber's legislative agenda evolving? How can business interests best grapple with issues that are front and center in the newspapers and on the minds of your members?

Rusty Hammer

We need the business sector to be much more vocal and active when it comes to public policy and economic development. Those two areas will be at the crux of our new agenda and it will take into account the factors you mention and the new ones that are presenting themselves because of Sept. 11. Hopefully this tragedy will help our business sector become more entrepreneurial and innovative in developing strategies to incentivize and focus the business sector towards stimulating the state and local economy.

Charlie, complement that answer with your knowledge of the other existing business organizations in this basin. How do you see the collaboration going forward? Is it possible to leverage each institution's resouces?

Charlie Woo

We live in a new era and it's vital that our business organizations work together to leverage their expertise. This kind of cooperation will lead to a focused, regional business agenda and a more effective voice for Southern California business interests.

Rusty Hammer

One of the things to recognize is that there are a lot of Chambers in this region. Individually, those groups can directly effect their communities in ways that the Los Angeles Area Chamber isn't equipped to. What we want to do is promote the local Chambers and work with them to aid their local

communities.

Conversely, we want them to look to us and help us forward a regional agenda that they may not be equipped to implement. This coalition building will be integral to the prosperity of the Southern California economy.

Let's close by having you note some benchmarks our readership should be attentive to over the course of the next year. By what standard would you like to be judged?

Rusty Hammer

The main thing your readers should look at is membership levels. If in one year membership is larger than it is today, I've succeeded in at least part of my mission.

Another benchmark would be the beginning of a tangible presence and structured alliance between chambers and the region. If we can work together and form a vocal coalition, we will be able to realize some real victories. That would be a major milestone for the region and this Chamber.

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© 2020 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.