Jeremy Harris said he cannot fill the shoes of longtime Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Randy Gordon; rather, he wants to build off the steps taken and set his own stride for the organization.
Harris, 41, who has been with the chamber for seven years, took the boss’s seat this month after a three-year succession plan to replace Gordon, who had been with the organization since 1994. Harris previously served as senior vice president.
“Randy’s given me a long leash to cut my teeth and work with our members,” the successor said, having helped launch the chamber’s first mobile app, found the chamber’s Young Professionals program, and serve as a president of the Southern California Chamber of Commerce Executives. He’s also a conference chair for the Western Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (WACE).
The Cal State Long Beach graduate, who planned a career as a licensed drug and alcohol counselor, caught the political bug working on campaigns for former councilman Frank Colonna and wound up as a government relations consultant with businessman and Long Beach Post co-founder Shaun Lumachi. They consulted for various chambers of commerce in Southern California, including Long Beach’s.
Although he was then president and CEO of the Garden Grove Chamber in 2011, Harris said Gordon sold him on the idea of coming back to Long Beach, where he was attracted to what he could learn from a man with experience running a larger operation.
“Randy is so good at selling you something, and he said, ‘You love this industry, and you love what you are doing, and you have to move on to the big leagues,’” said Harris, who has two kids at home with his wife Kellee. “I saw the opportunity to learn from one of the best in the country.”
As of July 1, Harris is running the Long Beach Chamber with a nearly $1.7 million annual budget, as many as eight employees and 750 members, including businesses and nonprofits both small and large.
A large part of what the chamber does is work with government officials to advocate on behalf of businesses, acting as a voice for the business community’s various sectors. For Long Beach Economic Development Director John Keisler, the connections between chamber businesses, nonprofits and the city are a win-win for all involved.
“That connectivity is how the economy works … when people know one another, that’s the glue that keeps it together and forms an economic ecosystem,” Keisler said. “I’ve met many people for the first time at chamber networking events, and that continues to be an important part of how we figure out what is going on and what we can do to grow the economy.”
The relationship between the two has been critical over the past couple of months due to coronavirus, too, the city official explained. Both have worked together to communicate out resources and health order updates on a constant basis. The chamber has established a COVID-19 resource page for businesses.
Although it’s bittersweet to see Gordon retire, Keisler said he’s excited to work with Harris: “It’s really fun to see Jeremy as a Cal State Long Beach guy and someone who has a real genuine love for the city who has been doing this now for a number of years and has this great network and can step into this leadership role.”
Keisler added that he simply enjoys Harris’s company.
“He can talk to anyone and make them feel included,” Keisler said. “I look forward to working with him just because of who he is and how he approaches his work.”
For his part, Gordon—who is maintaining a non-salary president emeritus role at the chamber—said he’s confident that Harris will do “an incredible job” and might be more well liked than his predecessor.
“I’ll help Jeremy as much as I can,” he said. “I love him like a third son.”
Mitra Rogers, representing The Boeing Company, has been involved with the chamber for about a decade in various capacities and officially started her new role alongside Harris as Chairman of the Board on July 1.
She said Gordon is leaving the chamber in the best possible hands with Harris, and the two fresh leaders have a lot of plans for the future—even if some of what they had in mind has shifted as the business community and world grapple with the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m incredibly excited to work with Jeremy and truly honored he asked me to chair during his first year,” Rogers said. “He is the nicest guy and incredibly sharp and incredibly innovative. I couldn’t think of a better person for Randy to hand the baton to.”
She called 2020 a year of change for the Long Beach institution that can trace its history back to the earliest days of the city in 1891, saying: “Change in leadership, and then given what our county and our world is going through, we are all forced to make lots of change in the way we run our lives and businesses.”
Harris shared that view and said he has an “after COVID” planning folder for all the ideas he hopes to see through when the world is past the pandemic and the chamber’s staff—some furloughed—return full time at the office. Many chamber events also have been postponed or are on hold.
In the meantime, he’ll start his new role with a listening tour, planning digital face-to-face meetings with 100 community leaders over the next 100 days to find out what the chamber is doing right and what it can do even better, especially during such challenging times.
The chamber also plans to relaunch its defunct foundation—out of existence for more than a decade—and offer grant opportunities for COVID relief and career development.
Harris and Rogers both want to work on communicating the chamber’s story and successes more within the community and maintaining the organization’s continued role as the “voice of business,” especially as businesses need support to get through the pandemic.
“These are unprecedented times, and this is not what we dreamed, but our organization is in great hands,” Rogers emphasized.