San Jose Chamber of Commerce names new CEO
The San Jose Chamber of Commerce office is pictured. File photo.

The San Jose Chamber of Commerce has selected Leah Toeniskoetter as its new president and CEO, the organization announced today.

Toeniskoetter is the founding director of public policy think tank SPUR San Jose, as well as a senior manager at Deloitte and daughter of prolific developer Chuck Toeniskoetter.

She is the third CEO for the group in three years, in the wake of the chamber—formerly known as the Silicon Valley Organization—dissolving its political action committee and losing hundreds of members after it ran racist campaign ads in 2020.

“Leah Toeniskoetter has significant experience successfully launching new initiatives and organizations, shaping public policy, and fostering community impact, making her an exceptional choice to lead the Chamber into a new era,” the chamber said in a statement.

Toeniskoetter succeeds Derrick Seaver, the chamber’s most recent CEO, who resigned in August.

“The Chamber of Commerce supports and speaks for a wide spectrum of businesses, from our favorite locally owned stores that are core to our neighborhoods to Fortune 500 enterprises that drive global change,” Toeniskoetter said in the statement. “It is an honor to step into this leadership role in service of our diverse community and to advance the economic vitality of San Jose and beyond.”

The chamber said Toeniskoetter’s experience aligns with its “commitment to advance economic growth through convening, collaborating and championing the San Jose business community.”

Toeniskoetter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rev. Reginald Swilley, a partner at the Minority Business Consortium in San Jose, said the chamber has long been doing the bidding of large, multibillion-dollar corporations, by taking their money and donating to politicians who write policies to benefit big business. All the while, Swilley said the chamber claims to benefit all businesses, while supporting policies that make it harder for small businesses to thrive and contributing to a massive wealth gap.

“The new CEO of the chamber should commit to working for the economic strength for the bottom 50% of our community, because that’s where the small businesses are,” Swilley told San José Spotlight. “I would like for the chamber to actually make sure that its policies help build the economic structures of our communities, and our small businesses. If you have an economic system where the regular people have enough, then everybody benefits.”

Swilley said the chamber has shown the community what it stands for by previously spreading racist ads through its political arm, and by its continued opposition to measures to increase worker wages and hours, which he said would benefit San Jose businesses by giving residents more money to spend locally, but which have been staunchly opposed by large corporations.

“This is who they are, they will use anything they can for another dollar,” Swilley said.

Silicon Valley Business PAC Director Victor Gomez, who previously led the chamber’s political action committee before leaving to start his own in 2018, said he hopes Toeniskoetter isn’t afraid to make enemies.

“You better be hated by some on the other side of the issues, because if you’re not, then you’re probably not doing your job,” Gomez told San José Spotlight.

Gomez added that even if the chamber decides not to revive its political action committee, the chamber itself needs to revive its advocacy and muscle.

“It’s going to be very important for the chamber to show up to every single City Council meeting and Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors meeting, and for them to deliver a message that this business community is hurting right now and the city and county need to step up and take action,” Gomez said.

The chamber also announced Thursday that Nicholas Adams, the chamber’s vice chair who San José Spotlight reported was one of two finalists for the CEO role, has been elected chairman of the board. Adams is president and CEO of a public relations firm called NINICO Communications.

“It’s an honor to be elected chairman of the board to serve an organization that has had a successful impact on my business and our region,” Adams said in the statement. “I look forward to working with our board and my friend of over 15 years—Leah—to usher in a new chapter for the Chamber, putting our members first.”

Contact Joseph Geha at [email protected] or @josephgeha16 on Twitter.

Editor’s Note: Victor Gomez was previously on San José Spotlight’s board of directors.

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