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Debra Rosen Retiring From NSDBC

ORGANIZATIONS: CEO Revitalized Chamber

Fourteen years ago, Debra Rosen took over a North County business group that was broke and on the verge of collapse.

“It was a mess,” Rosen said. “When I got there, I realized they were in massive debt.”

Debra Rosen
CEO
North San Diego Chamber

Then known as the San Diego North Chamber of Commerce, what is today the North San Diego Business Chamber hadn’t paid its rent in six months, had liens against it – and most importantly, had lost the trust of its members, Rosen said.

“After coming onboard, the board told me this organization is in trouble and needs to be fixed or we will close it,” Rosen added. “There was no way I was going to close it down but we got close, very close. I remember running to the mailbox just to get checks from the members.”

After taking over as president, and CEO, one of the first things Rosen did was to renegotiate the organization’s lease. Then, after COVID hit, she right-sized the office again, going from a suite that had five private offices, a conference room and a board room to one with a small conference room and three private offices, one of which is kept open for members to use.

One of Rosen’s guiding philosophies is that everything that the chamber does has to be relevant to a majority of its members.

“Every dime we spend, every event or program we implement must be relevant to 75% or more of our members,” she said. “If it’s not, we don’t do it.”

Retirement Plan

With Rosen getting ready to retire June 30, the organization she rescued is thriving. NSDBC is one of only six California chambers to have a highly coveted five-star rating from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a distinguished accreditation earned by only 3% of chambers nationwide.

During Rosen’s tenure, NSDBC has broadened its reach to include companies as far south as Interstate 8. The organization also has a reputation of creating value for its members, boasting a retention rate of 87%.

Looking forward, Rosen said that five years ago, she and her husband set a deadline to retire in 2023 and bought a 45-foot catamaran. The couple now plan to sail into retirement – literally, leaving on a three-month to year-long seafaring adventure starting in October, with her son and a friend or two to help crew the boat.

“My role on the boat is to open a good bottle of wine or champagne,” Rosen said.

A graduate of San Diego State University with a bachelor’s degree in public administration with a business and marketing emphasis, Rosen said that she had planned on becoming a lawyer but changed her mind after taking a year off from school to sell advertising.

That opportunity turned out to be so lucrative that she decided against going to law school and instead went to work at the San Diego Union-Tribune in management, where she developed an interest in business organizations after working with the Gaslamp Quarter Association.

After a little more than 14 years with the Union-Tribune, she moved on to her first stint at heading a troubled organization, the Escondido Downtown Business Association, which the city was then threatening to dissolve.

Rosen convinced city leaders to keep the association after she met with every downtown business to determine what they needed from the association.

“It was a fabulous opportunity for me to work with businesses and understand the challenges they went through.”

Passion for Business

When she was approached to take over what was then the San Diego North Chamber of Commerce, Rosen said, “I thought I was ready for a bigger challenge – and it was a much bigger challenge.”

Those who’ve worked with Rosen at NSDBC praise her energy and effectiveness. They said she’s leaving a lasting legacy on the organization.

Stacey Hrountas
CEO
Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Centers

Stacey Hrountas, CEO of Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Centers and a board member at NSDBC, said Rosen will leave a lasting legacy on the organization.

“She’s created this wonderful mix of businesses – small, large, public, nonprofit, profit – the whole spectrum,” Hrountas said. “Debra has the ability to engage people and create this energy and excitement. She’s no-nonsense. We love her.”

Hrountas said that Rosen’s many accomplishments have included establishing a mentor program at the chamber and creating the wildly popular Women’s Week event, which is scheduled to take place next month with Gretchen Carlson among the headline speakers.

“Debra’s trying to engage the next level of leaders and give them support,” Hrountas said.

Denise Visconti, an employment attorney and shareholder at the law firm of Littler Mendelson and past board chair at NSDBC, said that Rosen “has been thoughtful about generating funding to make sure we are on solvent financial grounds.”

Denise Visconti
Employment Attorney and Shareholder
Littler Mendelson

Visconti also said Rosen has “boundless energy and has really been strategic in making sure the board is well representative of the region” geographically and in  attracting top company executives and the types of companies they represent.

Visconti credited Rosen for establishing a policy of making sure that every one of the organization’s members is contacted at least once a month.

“Those touch points are important. It really does make members feel they’ve got that personal connection,” Visconti said.

Under Rosen’s direction, the Rancho Bernardo-based organization has grown to more than 800 members, although Rosen said success “is not based at all on how many members we have.”

Joseph Levanthal
Managing Partner
Dinsmore & Shohl San Diego

Rather, Rosen said she measures the chamber’s effectiveness by how engaged its members are, and she said that in 2022, 93% participated in the organization in some way.

“Debra’s in this role in part because she has a passion for small business and making sure that people have the resources and things they need to thrive,” Joseph Leventhal, managing partner of Dinsmore & Shohl’s San Diego law offices, said. “She’s found a way to really have different benefits, different events, different programs that attract and add value for everyone involved in the North San Diego Business Chamber.”

North San Diego Business Chamber

Founded: 1980
Headquarters: Rancho Bernardo
President and CEO: Debra Rosen
Headquarters: Rancho Bernardo
Employees: 7
Website: www.sdbusinesschamber.com
Contact: 858-487-1767
Business Members: 812
Notable: North San Diego Business Chamber is the only five-star accredited Chamber of Commerce in San Diego County.

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