By Mark Apostolon
Brenna Butler Garcia is a dynamic political presence whose strength is based in keen insight, unbounded optimism and creating progressive opportunities for economic growth; and she is very much on the move.
On January 8, 2015, Brenna Butler Garcia left her offices and role as CEO of the Stockton-based San Joaquin County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for the last time to be the new Manager of Marketing & External Engagement for the Sacramento-based Western States Petroleum Association. What she leaves behind is an organization with increased political and economic influence – not only locally but nationally – and a significant impact on Latino and female-run businesses throughout the Central Valley. Her advocacy for the community, and that of the Chamber’s Board, deftly raised the SJCHCC to new heights; or as the Board put it: “Since Brenna’s start as CEO, she has expanded program capacity, increased membership and created community partnerships that provide substantial benefits to their members. Brenna has also boosted funding streams to historical record-breaking levels.”
But as Butler Garcia sees it, her leadership stemmed from insight gained through personal experience: “After working for a small business myself, I began to recognize the challenges many business owners face to operate a business in California. Regulatory burdens, access to working capital and access to information on how to efficiently operate are needs that most businesses face and exactly why an effective business advocacy group like [the SJCHCC] is so critical for most small business owners.”
A graduate of Harvard Business School, Butler Garcia started out in the consumer sector before deciding on a new career path. “After many years working in sales and marketing for a major subcontracting firm, I was drawn to work in the non-profit sector first as a volunteer and later as a professional fundraiser for both human services and business organizations. Serving as an advocate for the agencies I represented made me feel that my work was making a difference in the betterment of our community.” In each of those organizations, which include the Society for Disabilities, Hospice of Emanuel and Jessica’s House, Butler Garcia made a significant contribution. It was her work at Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock that ultimately led her to the position as CEO of the San Joaquin County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
SJCHCC President, Sylvester Aguilar recalls when Butler Garcia came on board in January 2013 they wanted “someone young and aggressive who could take us to the next level expand our relevance in the local state and national level and she accomplished all of that. She brought a fresh perspective to the chamber.” In short, she invigorated the Chamber’s political influence for economic recovery and continued growth, in part, through the careful development of alliances and coalitions all in support of its membership.
“One of the most important things [for any non-profit or association] is what makes you relevant,” Aguilar stated. “We go out and represent our members; we want to be a part of the recovery of Stockton, San Joaquin and Central Valley; but we don’t want to duplicate the efforts of other groups.” Butler Garcia understood this, “it’s important that we take assessment of what our members need to be successful in the Central Valley and provide them with the services and resources that can help them achieve success quickly and efficiently,”
She understood that construction projects would play a critical role in the Central Valley’s economic recovery. So with the astute acumen she created new partnerships within the community while strengthening current alliances to create state-level opportunities for minority-owned and female-run small businesses knowing that “many of our members in all areas of industry are impacted by the construction trade in Central California. Getting involved early in the planning process is essential for small businesses seeking contracts.”
It was just the beginning of how she would broaden the SJCHCC’s influence in just 36 months with the support of the Board. “Working with community partners has really been the key to strengthening the effectiveness and outreach of our existing program portfolio,” she emphasized. “This meant engaging our members, community partners, elected officials and sponsors to create awareness for the needs of business in the San Joaquin region.”
Butler Garcia expanded existing programs (such as the Latina Business Conferences), and created new, innovative ones to diversify and broaden the Chamber’s influence, guided business owners to become more a part of their communities, encouraged pro-growth political involvement, and fostered an atmosphere to break gender barriers, all benefitting the Chamber’s growing and thriving membership. “I have a collaborative professional business background,” Butler Garcia continued, “and it was my goal … that our members and leaders of the Hispanic business community had an elevated and involved presence in our diverse community” – and she made sure their presence was recognized. Pointing to the significant increase in membership under Butler Garcia’s tenure, Aguilar notes, “[Our members] know they’re being represented, and know we’re creating opportunities for them.”
More specifically, under Butler Garcia the San Joaquin County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce:
• Increased corporate partnerships by 34%;
• Developed and achieved the most aggressive budgets to-date in the history of SJCHCC.
• Oversaw the highest overall revenue in the Chamber’s history;
• Formed new strategic partnerships with private and public agencies, educational institutions and non-profit organizations to provide expanded program capacity and enrich member opportunities. These partnerships include: SJC Department of Public Works, Huddle, SJCOG, CALTRANS, High Speed Rail, Governor’s Office of Economic Development, SJ Farm Bureau, CSU Stanislaus, Western States Petroleum Association, Latino Leadership & Policy Forum, the Western Farmworkers Association, and the US Hispanic Chamber;
• Collaborative efforts with the University of the Pacific, SJC Worknet, the City of Stockton, San Joaquin Delta Collage and SJCOE led to a substantial expansion of program content and capacity of programs like the Student Financial Aid & College Awareness Workshop, the Business Forecast Conference and the Small Business & Entrepreneurial Expo;
• Affiliations with groups like the Lodi Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Stockton, the Modesto and the Central Valley Hispanic Chambers of Commerce allowed SJCHCC to expand its benefits for members to a regional presence;
• Developed new programs with areas of focus in procurement, small business start-up needs, tax credit education and the Leaders’ Luncheon On Business;
• Increased action from advocacy efforts by SJCHCC on behalf of the business community at the State and Federal levels; and,
• Created organizational awareness and relationships with elected officials, statewide agency committees, advisory councils, media contacts and corporate and member prospects.
“SJCHCC has a long history of being one of the most accomplished Hispanic Chambers in the State, one which I am proud to be associated with,” Butler Garcia says smiling. SJCHCC was formed in 1972 as the Stockton Mexican American Chamber of Commerce and went on to become founding charters of both the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce and the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Butler Garcia saw “the leadership within the organization had been substantially strong over the years and the Board set a vision for SJCHCC to offer programs and services for its members that were relevant, impactful and strengthen the Hispanic business leadership in the community. “
She is especially proud of how the newly created programs and collaborative efforts impacted a different sub-set of the business community. “The Leaders’ Luncheon has been a dedicated source to help educate and grow the next generation of elected or community leaders in the region, the Entrepreneur Lab and Small & Entrepreneurial Expo reach the local micro or fledging businesses, and the various procurement expos that allow our members to become certified small or disadvantaged businesses in order to gain contracts with public sector agencies.”
When she took on the role of CEO, Butler Garcia understood the “SJCHCC is the voice for the business community in the region at a local, state and federal level,” and that she, with the Board, needed to make a dramatic impact on its community through “the development of collaborative strategies that will allow the Hispanic business community to prosper and offer services that will promote sustainability in the marketplace.” She accomplished that and more.
Butler Garcia’s work at the SJCHCC has been widely recognized. In November 2015, the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce awarded her the ATHENA Young Professional Leadership Award, “an international leadership award that actively supports and celebrates the ATHENA mission of supporting, developing and honoring women leaders, inspiring women to achieve their full potential.” For Butler Garcia winning the award “was a true honor for me and for our entire organization. To be recognized by the greater community for being an advocate for business and our region was a humbling experience and reinforced my belief of how many individuals we have in San Joaquin County committed to working together to better our community. I am humbled to be recognized by my community.”
Even though she will no longer be SJCHCC’s CEO, Brenna Butler Garcia will continue her affiliation to the Hispanic Chamber network in her position of Central Region Director for the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce Board of Directors and in her new professional role at the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) which represents companies involved in petroleum exploration, production, refining, transportation and marketing in California, Nevada, Oregon, Arizona and Washington. “I am excited to be transitioning to another non-profit business organization that seeks to represent their members through education and advocacy. WSPA is dedicated to ensuring that Americans continue to have reliable access to petroleum and petroleum products through policies that are socially, economically and environmentally responsible.
As she transitions into her new role at WSPA, Butler Garcia’s “hope for SJCHCC is that they will continue their commitment to adapting to the needs’ of their members. SJCHCC is a progressive and nimble organization that has done a remarkable job at addressing the current needs of the business community and creating relevant and impactful content to their members. My experience at SJCHCC has been tremendous. I sincerely cherish the relationships I have forged in this community with people who genuinely care about the progress of our region.”
Expressing excitement former SJCHCC CEO Mark Martinez noted with pride, “Brenna is moving up into a very influential role in Sacramento. She has earned this great opportunity with WSPA. Representing the oil industry is very critical financially and economically to the states including California. I can’t wait to see what she’ll do.” For Aguilar, this seemed to be moment he always knew would come. “We’re so proud of what she’s accomplished. When you find someone like Brenna, you know you’re not going to keep her forever, so you hope you get to keep her for as long as you can. I think we were fortunate to have her as long as we have. I couldn’t be happier for her.”
By Mark Apostolon