It was unanimous. Members of the Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce’s search committee, executive committee, and board of directors all voted in favor of offering Lila MacDonald the permanent position of CEO, following her service as interim for the past six months. MacDonald assumed the reins of the organization on a temporary basis after the departure of previous CEO Ted Garrett, who was only in the position a short period of time.
“Lila has taken ownership of the chamber; she has a positive team leadership style,” said board president Jon Frandell. The chamber board conducted its vote on May 27 and the position became MacDonald’s permanently on May 28.
The six months that MacDonald served as interim were full of challenges, all of which she overcame with gusto.
“Due to the resignation of one person, Lila was tasked with handling the Avocado Festival – and it ended up being the best and smoothest run one we have ever had,” said Frandell. “In addition, she has handled the financials and we are looking good. Not one person has had a negative comment about her performance.”
“When I became the interim, because of the way it went down, I had to hit the ground running and do the job I said I would do,” said MacDonald. “The Avocado Festival was looming and there was a lot to do. After the festival, there was a lull and I thought to myself, ‘I can do this’ [job].”
Frandell said it has been a benefit to the chamber that MacDonald is a “known quantity.”
“She’s from Fallbrook; she knows everybody and is not easily intimidated,” he explained. “She is a fair player and collaborates with everybody. She is transparent and doesn’t have hidden agendas.”
It is important, Frandell said, that the chamber be “transparent and do its job promoting business and commerce.”
“We want to be carrying out our mission statement and our strategic plan,” he said.
While Frandell calls MacDonald a “risk taker, in a good way, who reaches out and bounces ideas off others.” MacDonald said she “thinks outside the box.”
“I’m one of those people who asks ‘why not?’” she said. “I’m not caught up in the ‘things have always been done that way’ excuse. I always want to know, how could it be better? I want to figure it out.”
MacDonald said chamber members have been very supportive of her and as time went on, “several of them told me I should do this [job] permanently; that I was a good fit.”
While MacDonald didn’t come to the position with a background in chamber of commerce management, her organizational skills stood out.
“I like making lists and crossing things off lists,” she said, with a smile. “I really come from an entrepreneurial background.” And she has found out that other chamber CEOs come from other industries as well.
“I meet with other area chamber CEOs to network and have found out they all come from different walks of life,” said MacDonald. “The bottom line is I enjoy serving my community and being part of a team. Collaboration is key.”
Under MacDonald’s leadership, the Fallbrook Chamber team appears to be stronger than ever, said Frandell. “They are doing an amazing job – better than ever.”
MacDonald’s team includes Jackie Toppin, Lacy Schwartz, and Linda Costello.
Toppin’s responsibilities include membership services. “I think Jackie is dynamic and wonderful; she is passionate about the community and about serving our business members,” said MacDonald. “To Jackie, each person is special and important. She is genuine and helps people get the most out of their membership.”
Schwartz is responsible for accounting systems. “Lacy is awesome with numbers; a real problem solver. She is the youngest of all of us and I really appreciate her fresh perspective. She does our Facebook page, handles our online ticket sales and fields our technology questions.”
Costello, the newest addition, is “a breath of fresh air,” said MacDonald. “Linda is so creative and so talented. She is understanding of ‘computer speak’ and her talent for creative design brings a new eye to the chamber. I love what she has done with our ads. She can verbalize what’s in my head and I am so grateful. She is also so timely with her work.”
MacDonald stresses that her style is being a “team coordinator,” not a unilateral decision maker.
“We dialog about everything, it’s important to me that everyone provide input on things, especially systems and how we can improve them in the future,” she said.
The chamber team will be busy for the remainder of 2014 with multiple events such as the Wine & A Bite summer series, Fall Faire, Village Artisan Faire, and Fallbrook Christmas Parade.
In addition, MacDonald said, “I will be focusing on tourism and collaboration throughout the community – in all business areas. I want to have more free business classes, and a better community calendar.”
While her responsibilities are many, MacDonald said the enjoyable aspects of her job make the rest smoother. “I like dealing with the public and our members,” she said. “I love the different personalities and learning about what makes people excited about what they do.”
When asked what the more challenging aspects are, she said, “There’s really nothing I don’t like. When it comes to stuff I’m not particularly good at, there are others in the office who are. Each staff member has individual strengths, which allows us to handle all tasks well.”
For MacDonald, the position is invigorating and the team is strong. She said she is dedicated to providing greater support for Fallbrook businesses.
“You have to have a heart for it; your heart has to be in it,” she said.