Written by Whitney Diaz, Director of Internet Services and Publications, San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce

The San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce has elected well-known small-business expert Michael Gunther, founder and partner of Collaboration Business Consulting, as the new chair of the Board of Directors.
Gunther brings an important small-business perspective to the Chamber in a time when small businesses are facing new challenges. About 90 percent of the Chamber’s membership base is made up of these smaller businesses (with 20 employees or less), so there’s no doubt his leadership will be invaluable in the coming year.

As the oldest voluntary organization on the Central Coast, the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce boasts a membership of about 1,500 area businesses and organizations and a staff of 15. The San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce is a nonprofit organization that is an independent business advocacy organization that is not affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or any other Chamber of Commerce.

“I really see an opportunity for the Chamber to reinvent itself,” Gunther said. “This more competitive economy is the new norm, so how do we as a Chamber want to operate within this new norm? There is a real opportunity for the Chamber to build upon its strengths and stay on the cutting edge of technology and services to its members.”

Gunther leads the Collaboration team, a team whose vision is to inspire, educate and empower individuals and organizations to achieve their full potential. And, he suggested, the Chamber needs to look toward the future with eyes wide open, especially with so many changes ahead – including new leadership at the local government levels and within Cal Poly and Cuesta College.

“We have an opportunity to achieve the next level of potential as an organization. By cultivating new relationships and using the Economic Vision document as our guide, we plan on developing a strong strategic plan to continue implementing our vision,” Gunther said.

He first got involved in the Chamber in 2003 after meeting several past board members in an executive networking group in San Luis Obispo. His initial association with the Chamber was as a facilitator for the annual Board of Directors retreat that year. He then jumped right in to serving on a Chamber committee. Later, he was elected to the board and subsequently served as vice chair, legislative affairs.

“I felt that I had gained so much knowledge about the community through the committee,” Gunther said. “It just got me vested in the community by showing me what the Chamber’s role is and how involved it is in the community. The Chamber has benefitted me personally as well as professionally by helping develop my professional skills and knowledge, and connecting me with countless business and community leaders.”

Gunther founded Collaboration in Atlanta, Georgia in 1995, and moved back to California (he was born in Southern California) in 2003.

“We spent two years researching between San Diego and Seattle, looking for where we wanted to live,” Gunther explained. “We came back to San Luis Obispo, and as we walked around we realized that this is what we were looking for. There’s something intangible about this place that was just lacking everywhere else.”

As the fourteenth born in a family of 17 children, Gunther learned at an early age that he had to work hard for what he wanted.

“I grew up with a really strong work ethic, but I was also an avid learner,” Gunther said. “That’s what makes our team at Collaboration work so well together – we’re always learning. When we think about the work we do, we just love having an impact both on our clients and our community.”

After earning his bachelor’s degree in business at Loyola Marymount University, he became the youngest vice president of Shurgard, Inc. running a $40 million division in the southeast. From there, Gunther pursued his interest in strategic thinking and management and received his master’s degree in psychology from the Georgia School of Professional Psychology, became Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Certified, and earned his FastTrac Facilitator & Administrator Certification from the Kauffman Foundation.

“I decided to get my master’s degree in psychology instead of business because I discovered that business success is tied directly with the people and their behaviors. It’s our behaviors that often hold individuals back in achieving success in business,” Gunther explained. “So if you can understand what you need to shift in your own behaviors and how to make that change, you can get the outcome you want.”

Gunther is devoted to strengthening the community and businesses within it. He is on the External Advisor Board for Cal Poly NSF Partnership for Innovation Program; he has participated on the Board of both the Friends of Prado Day Center and the Community Foundation’s Growing Together Initiative; he is an alumni of the Leadership San Luis Obispo Class XIV; and he has performed pro bono work for Economic Vitality Corporation, YMCA, United Way, Rotary Daybreak Club, and San Luis Obispo Art Center. Now, he takes on the role of chair of the board for the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce.

“The Chamber really focuses on doing the right things to strengthen our community – through its board, volunteers and staff,” Gunther said. “It’s a well-run machine, which really allows us to attract the people want to participate in implementing the Chamber’s goals.”

Seven board members will join Gunther as officers of the Chamber’s Executive Committee, which exercises the powers of the board between those times when board meetings are held.

The 2011 Executive Committee includes:
•    Vice Chair, Community Affairs –  TekTegrity CEO Russ Levanway
•    Vice Chair, Membership/Operations – United Way of SLO County’s COO Charlene Rosales
•    Vice Chair, Economic Development – The Tribune President and Publisher Bruce Ray
•    Vice Chair, Legislative Affairs – Digital West Networks Inc. President Tim Williams
•    Treasurer – Promega Biosciences President Kristen Yetter
•    Board Counsel liaison – Madonna Enterprises Real Estate Manager Clint Pearce
•    Past Chair – Pacific Energy Company President and owner John Ewan  

For more information, visit www.slochamber.org.

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