Michelle Kerrick, managing partner for Deloitte’s Los Angeles office, took over as 2018 board chair of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce in January. Kerrick, 55, is the fifth woman to lead the board in the chamber’s 130-year history. This year marks a critical transition period for the chamber, with longtime Chief Executive Gary Toebben set to step down in June. The Business Journal’s Howard Fine recently caught up with Kerrick, and edited excerpts of their conversation follow.
Question: What’s your primary goal as the chamber’s 2018 board chair?
Answer: My first objective will be to manage the transition to a new leader for the chamber. (Executive search firm) Korn Ferry has been hired and we are working closely with them in the search. We are also reaching out to various people within the chamber and the business community to get their input about the attributes they would like to see in the next leader.
What qualities are you looking for in a new chief executive? Do you believe it’s necessary for that person to have experience running another chamber?
I’m not sure anybody would have thought 12 years ago that picking Gary Toebben from a chamber in Kentucky would have resulted in him succeeding as well as he has. So the candidate now to replace him must have those administrative qualities and also make the organization more nimble. I believe some knowledge of Los Angeles is helpful. Unlike some other markets, there aren’t just a handful of corporations driving the business community; we have a huge middle market economy. Also, there’s a diverse political landscape here.
Some have claimed that the chamber has lacked clout at Los Angeles City Hall, pointing to minimum wage hikes and other policies passed over the chamber’s objections. Do you think the chamber needs more clout?
We have wonderful relationships today with (Los Angeles) Mayor (Eric Garcetti), the (Los Angeles) City Council and (the Los Angeles County Board of) Supervisors. But we can always use a stronger voice. I would like to see more CEOs come together as a single voice more often. In the Bay Area, there is a council of business executives that does a nice job of driving strategic issues. That council gets a lot of credit for the policies underlying the Bay Area’s tremendous job growth. We’ve had some ability to do that, but it has been limited.
So how would this CEO council work?
I’ve had some preliminary discussions with some board members. The plan would be for the CEO council to meet once or twice per year, possibly meeting for the first time this summer. I’m hoping we can get 10 to 20 CEOs together for that first meeting, which would map out what issues the CEOs would like to tackle and how the council would function.
What should the chamber be doing to make itself more attractive to young entrepreneurs and start-up companies?
This topic has come up in discussions over new chamber members, and not just with our chamber. We need to get better representation of some technology companies on the board. We also have to help technology companies understand the value that the chamber brings.
How do you want to see the chamber step up more in dealing with the homeless crisis?
Homelessness is one of the biggest crises we face, and it’s compounding itself. The chamber has been working with United Way and it has helped pass legislation. The chamber must continue to have strong seat at the table. We do have a group of members very engaged in this issue.
Any other goals for the chamber this year?
I’d like to see the chamber address more the skills gap that exists here in L.A. We should be visiting with local technology companies and get a better understanding of what the gaps in skills are here among local job applicants. The next step is getting collaboration among businesses, high schools and community colleges on changing the school curriculum to address these skills gaps. And that might include more internships with local businesses (see related Commentary, page 35; Op-Ed, page 36).
Turning to Deloitte: What are your goals in your position as managing partner of the Los Angeles office?
The goals are to continue to grow our practice and hire more professionals. We need to operate in this disruptive and fast-paced environment. We already show the depth and breadth of services we offer; we need to do this even more, for our current customers and potential customers.
When you’re not running the Deloitte Los Angeles office or the Chamber board, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I’ve got an 11-year old daughter who is my top priority: spending time with her is one of my favorite things to do. I also enjoy traveling and working out. We came to Los Angeles seven years ago from Arizona; there are so many different parts of Southern California we are always trying to discover.