When people asked me how I liked being chairman of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, I would invariably respond by saying, “I think it’s the best part of my job.”
Certainly the title of chairman carries a certain cachet, particularly among those in-the-know with the San Fernando Valley civic affairs community. But the title alone doesn’t begin to describe what it’s like to lead a business advocacy organization like VICA.
And as I reflect on the past two years, I can’t help but think of what VICA must do in order to stay an effective champion fighting for its members against a backdrop of government entities grappling with headline-dominant issues of sexual harassment and philosophical polarization from coast to coast.
What VICA must do is to keep doing what it does best: Develop thoughtful and significant policy positions and advocate them to local, state and federal elected and appointed officials in order to be an influential player in the public policy arena, thereby enhancing the economic vitality of the San Fernando Valley region.
First and foremost, VICA is a membership organization and it exists to serve its membership. In exchange, members provide the organization with resources – namely revenue, strategic focus, contacts and ideas. Similarly, the VICA board and the staff leverage their connections and relationships to bring value to the members.
As in my day job at AT&T, the value I bring is a function of the quality and quantity of relationships I have with external stakeholders. If I don’t know the right person to contact on an issue, I’m of little to no value to the company.
As VICA chair, I had a bird’s-eye view of how relationships matter. Almost every month, VICA President Stuart Waldman leads a members-only advocacy trip to Sacramento. The delegation meets with legislators and their staffs. What struck me was the breadth of connections Stuart had with key stakeholders at the Capitol. On one particular trip, as we walked from meeting to meeting, members of the Assembly and state Senate would routinely shout to us with a “Hey, Stuart” salutation. For me, it was comforting to know that our chief lobbyist was in good stead with our state legislators, and thus, access to them would not be a problem.
If you go to VICA’s State Officeholders Dinner, you would see a direct benefit of VICA’s positive relationship with state elected and appointed officials, where a significant number of legislators are not locally based but come from northern California and other parts of the state.
Are there things about the organization I wish were different? Absolutely. I would like to see a larger staff at VICA. It is relatively small in size compared with its peer business advocacy organizations in the region. But for its size, the staff accomplishes a lot considering the amount of work it does to manage a wide range of public policy issues and coordinate more than 20 events throughout the year, some of which attract 300 to 500 attendees.
I would have liked to have seen more members involved with VICA’s committees. The heart and soul of the process whereby VICA develops its public policy positions is at the committee level. In committees, members have a real and direct impact on the issues important to their organizations, whether it be a small business or a nonprofit organization.
All in all, my two years as VICA chairman were worthwhile and fun. Even the mundane task of managing the organization via the Executive Committee taught me a lot about budgets and personnel issues. Sexy stuff? No. But I consider my stint as chair a glittering highlight in my ongoing leadership journey.
Kevin Tamaki is director of external affairs for AT&T in the Los Angeles area. In December he concluded a two-year stint as chairman of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association.