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Executive Director Jody Hansen (left); President JoAnn Leonard

Chamber of Commerce: New executive director and president

The public face of the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce has changed several times over the past few months. Since January, the chamber has enjoyed the company of three executive directors and two presidents of the board of directors. The personnel changes each took place because of unforeseen circumstances, and the chamber said it expects to carry on business as usual now that everyone has settled in for the long haul.

Jody Hansen, the chamber's new executive director, and JoAnn Leonard, the new president of the board, are the new hands at the helm. Outgoing president, Bill Sullivan will begin a new position in Las Vegas in the beginning of August.

When Linda Asbury left after two years as the chamber's executive director, Sherri Lewis, formerly the executive director of the Town of Los Gatos Chamber, took over as the interim director while the chamber's board searched for a replacement. Lewis handled the chamber's affairs from March until June 1, when Hansen assumed the reins.

Hansen comes to the chamber from the Arcata Chamber of Commerce, where she spent six years as that organization's executive director. She moved to the position in Cupertino to live closer to family, and because she always admired the town's social fabric. "I always thought it was a really great community here," she said.

She compares the quality of life in Cupertino with that of Arcata, though the city, located in Humboldt County, has less than half the population of Cupertino--roughly 16,000 people to Cupertino's 50,000. Despite the difference in size, Hansen said she would approach her new position in much the same way as she did in Arcata. She first has to adjust to the larger organization, though. "I'm just kind of absorbing right now," she said.

Hansen has set herself to the task of listening to the chamber's members. She wants to find out how the chamber can help them in these uncertain times. Like the leadership at the chamber, the economic situation in the area has also undergone rapid changes in recent months. Hansen said she wants to make sure that the chamber does its part to help Cupertino businesses weather the storm.

"Businesses are surviving, and some are even thriving," she says. "A few people will say that business is down ... but I don't see that people are panicking."

Most business owners that she has spoken with have expressed the opinion that the recent downturn represents a cyclical slowing of the economy, rather than a sign of serious trouble, Hansen said. Because of what she has heard from the members of the chamber, Hansen plans to focus on economic development. She hopes to look past the bumps in the road to find ways the chamber can encourage new businesses in the future.

Hansen said she aims to increase the chamber's visibility, a goal held by most of the recent chamber executives. Sullivan cited the goal in his speech accepting the role of president, and Leonard said she plans to keep the fire burning now that she has the reins.

Leonard, president of the Leonard Group Inc., which sells custom imprinted products such as mugs and T-shirts, has long participated in the chamber. Her company joined the chamber about five years ago, and she has served on the organization's board for the past three. The board selects its president a year in advance, so Leonard already knew she would become president after Sullivan's term. His decision to move to Las Vegas simply advanced the timeline by about six months. Sullivan stepped down on July 17, at which time Leonard succeeded to the presidency.

"I think it's great that I get to be president," she said. "We have a lot of good ideas, and I would like to see them executed."

Leonard praised the work that her predecessor put into the chamber and plans to further his goal of spreading the chamber's name through the community.

"I plan to build upon the foundation that we've established there," she said.

She wished Sullivan well as he travels towards new opportunities. "I'm very pleased that he's able to move on and get a great position," she says.

Sullivan, co-owner and operator of the Outback Steakhouse in Cupertino, is going to Las Vegas to manage a new upscale restaurant that opens there soon. The restaurant, half-owned by the Outback corporation, will offer a more refined dining experience.

His main reason for the move, however, is the high housing costs in the area. "I wanted to move to an area where I could afford to buy a house," he said. He made the decision solely based on the cost of housing and, in fact, said he hates to leave Cupertino.

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