The Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce is expected to announce Monday that it has selected Gary Toebben, a veteran chamber executive, as its next president and chief executive.

Toebben, who assumes the post July 1, will replace Russell "Rusty" Hammer, who was forced to step down as he continues to battle a rare form of leukemia. Hammer will continue on a part-time basis with the Chamber for at least the next 18 months.

Toebben, 58, has spent the last eight years as president and chief executive of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, a 1,900-member chamber serving the region just south of Cincinnati. For 18 years prior to that, he served as president and chief executive of the Lawrence, Kan., Chamber of Commerce.

He was selected to head the L.A. Area Chamber following a six-month search by the executive recruiting firm Korn/Ferry International. Reached at his Northern Kentucky Chamber office last week, Toebben said he wanted the opportunity to run a chamber in a large metropolitan area.

"I've been part of the greater Cincinnati metro area, which has 2 million people and found that I relish the challenge of harnessing resources to create a better region," Toebben said. "It all comes down to helping people come together with common focus and common commitment."

Toebben said that after meeting with the staff of the L.A. chamber and key business and civic leaders, he will focus on making Los Angeles more business-friendly.

"There are things that cities can do to reinforce the message that they do care about business," he said. "Los Angeles already has the reputation of having the greatest collection of human talent ever assembled on the face of the planet. Now it must have a reputation as a place where business can grow and prosper."

Toebben also has served as chair of the board of the American Chamber of Commerce Executives, where he frequently worked with Hammer on key issues affecting the nationwide business community.

While heading the Lawrence Chamber, Toebben worked with current L.A. Area Chamber board chair Dave Nichols, now senior vice president at AT & T; Corp., who was in Kansas at that time.

Upon the board's selection of Toebben, Nichols said, "Gary Toebben knows business advocacy inside and out. With his 30-year track record and relationships at the national, state and local levels, we are confident that Gary is the best person to help us harness this engine and accelerate the Chamber's continued growth."

Under Hammer's leadership, the L.A. chamber reversed a long slide in membership and became much more active in political campaigns and in forming alliances with other business organizations. The chamber now has about 1,500 members.

Toebben said he and his wife Janice, a vice president in private banking with U.S. Bank, have already begun looking for a home in L.A., either in the downtown area or in Pasadena.

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