It’s been more than a week since Bob Linscheid was named the Silicon Valley Organization’s interim CEO and he’s not wasting any time repairing the business organization’s stained reputation.
“I’ve been pretty much 100% SVO. In fact, my hours are insane. My wife wonders if I’m ever gonna come out of this room,” Linscheid told San José Spotlight. “I’m not going to work Christmas Eve or Christmas, but I’ll work every other day this year.”
The former president and CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce was tapped Dec. 9 to succeed former SVO CEO Matt Mahood who resigned following public outrage over a racist attack ad posted on The SVO’s website by its political action committee during the November election cycle.
On his way out the door, Mahood apologized for the racist ad and insisted he knew nothing about it.
Now it is Linscheid who is apologizing — for a withered raspy voice.
Linscheid said he spent the week in “outreach mode,” making dozens of calls from his home office in Danville, getting to know The SVO staff, small businesses and community members dismayed by the organization’s campaign tactics. The SVO lost longtime members, such as Kaiser Permanente, PG&E and Comcast, nonprofits and loyal board members following the scandal.
The racist ad was not the first time the business group got into hot water for its campaign tactics.
Linscheid’s first action for helping the SVO rebuild itself is simply to listen.
“Universally, folks say we need a strong business advocacy organization,” he said. “Folks that have reached out to me want to help us build a path to reconciliation and so far, so good.”
But will it be enough to reconcile the damage and loss of trust caused by The SVO’s years of questionable campaign ads?
Rick Callender, CEO of Valley Water and president of the California NAACP, hopes so.
Callender has known Linscheid for almost three decades and has seen him in action as both the chair of the California State University Board of Trustees and as CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.
“He’s had to work with me as a business guy — in the water area — he’s had to work with me when I was leading portions of the NAACP, and when I hammered on the trustees for educational equity,” Callender said. “Bob has always been someone that I could call and know that I would have an ear and sometimes he would have solutions and would move toward the solution.”
Linscheid wants to get The SVO to return to helping businesses weather the pandemic by strengthening its committees on small businesses, education, housing and health care. The health care committee is brainstorming how businesses and hospitals can help with storing and distributing the COVID-19 vaccine, Linscheid said.
Linscheid said his experience in working for other chambers makes him equipped to serve as an interim CEO for a minimum of 90 days, until The SVO hires a permanent CEO. He has not applied for that job.
Callender is confident in Linscheid’s ability to bolster the business side of The SVO, but shared concerns about whether he can “clean house” given potential limitations from the board.
The SVO’s now-dissolved PAC has been denounced previously for inappropriately targeting local candidates. This November, the PAC spent more than half a million dollars to oppose campaigns of candidates running against their endorsed candidates.
The group’s most recent scandal stems from an image posted on The SVO’s website opposing San Jose City Council candidate Jake Tonkel. The post— meant to criticize Tonkel’s stance on police reform— read “Do you really want to sign on to this?” and featured a picture of Black people in the streets surrounded by tear gas.
The SVO PAC was also criticized for darkening photos of Latino Councilmembers Sylvia Arenas and Sergio Jimenez in political mailers in March.
Linscheid said there are no plans to revive the PAC anytime soon.
The SVO formed a new diversity committee following the latest controversy, but how it will operate is still being fleshed out, according to Linscheid.
Critics of the organization, including local NAACP president Rev. Jeff Moore, questioned the decision to put a white man at the helm after the organization came under fire for its lack of diversity and inclusivity.
But Linscheid said he helped make the San Francisco chamber more inclusive.
During Linscheid’s tenure there, he formed a diversity and equity task force in response to businesses demanding a more diverse and inclusive business community. The chamber used its new platform to advocate for equal pay, homeless youth, formerly incarcerated individuals and working mothers.
The experience, Linscheid said, helped him understand how to “not just sprinkle but bake” equity into the fabric of an organization— something he hopes to do at The SVO.
Aside from tackling The SVO’s diversity, Callender said The SVO needs a leader who is capable of restoring the organization’s role as a business advocacy group.
“We need the Chamber of Commerce to go back to being a successful Chamber of Commerce, rather than a divisive, race baiting, divisional entity in our community,” Callender said. “Bob can get (The SVO) back in the business of being a chamber and representing all aspects of our community.”
Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.
Editor’s Note: Rick Callender serves on San José Spotlight’s Board of Directors.