Silicon Valley’s embattled chamber of commerce chose its new CEO on Tuesday, and it’s a familiar face—Derrick Seaver.
As San José Spotlight reported last week, Seaver was one of three finalists for the top job at the Silicon Valley Organization. He previously served as SVO’s executive vice president for more than four years before leaving for a one-year stint at the San Jose Downtown Association. He is currently the chief of staff for Santa Clara County Supervisor Susan Ellenberg.
“I am humbled by this opportunity and understand the outsized responsibility I have to our business community—all of our businesses,” Seaver said. “These people, these businesses, embody some of the best that this valley is known for and need an advocate, a voice at the table. I look forward to getting to work alongside them.”
Pro-business leaders have criticized Seaver for being too progressive on issues, including supporting his boss’s proposal to adopt hazard pay for grocery store workers, which was opposed by the region’s business lobby.
The organization saw immediate fallout from the racist image. It dissolved its PAC. Businesses and nonprofits cut ties with the organization and its membership dropped. The SVO also darkened the face of San Jose Councilmember Sylvia Arenas in another racist ad — and blamed a consultant for it, but continued to work with that consultant last year.
But the organization, which launched diversity trainings and formed a diversity panel in the wake of the scandal, chose a white man as its new leader.
By doing so, the organization’s board passed over Madison Nguyen, the SVO’s current executive vice president and only person of color in the finalist pool. And some business and political leaders aren’t happy.
“It is incredibly tone-deaf for the SVO to pick an inferior white male over a qualified woman of color,” said a local political insider familiar with the situation, who noted that the organization is going back to business as usual after doing damage control amid its racist scandals. “How can the SVO truly be committed to diversity when their actions speak much louder than their words? If this isn’t an example of a glass ceiling or a bamboo ceiling, I don’t know what is.”
San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP President Rev. Jeff Moore has openly criticized the SVO’s race scandals in the past, but hopes Seaver will meet with small business owners of color to discuss plans on how the chamber can turn a new corner.
“I’m willing to give him a chance because from what feedback I’ve been able to get from people in the community is that he’s a fair, honest and hopefully progressive guy,” Moore said. He also hopes that Seaver can help implement programs with bigger companies that will help underserved students of color, such as job training and apprenticeships.
“I want the focus to not be just talking about diversity, but doing diversity,” Moore added.
The new CEO announcement comes as jockeying for the 2022 election season begins. The city’s business faction has yet to announce a candidate for the open mayoral race, while labor leaders already have a few names in the pipeline: Councilmember Raul Peralez, who announced his candidacy in May and is already shoring up support, and Supervisor Cindy Chavez, who is rumored but not yet confirmed. Councilmembers Dev Davis and Matt Mahan, both part of the council’s pro-business faction, have also both been rumored as possible candidates, although some business leaders have shied away from Davis after a closer-than-expected reelection campaign.
Business leaders also lost their majority on the San Jose City Council last year when SVO’s candidate Lan Diep lost his council seat to progressive Councilmember David Cohen.