John DeClercq: stepping down as joint CEO of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce at month-end

John DeClercq will step down as joint-CEO of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce at the end of this month after 18 months in the job. Polly Armstrong, with whom he shares leadership responsibilities, will continue to head up the local business organization solo, most likely on a part-time basis.

DeClercq is returning to the commercial real estate field after being approached about a job by a company that owns a portfolio of low-income housing across the country. He says the Chamber is now on a steady footing and that, for financial reasons, he needs to take up a full-time job.

DeClercq was appointed as joint-CEO with Armstrong in January 2011 and they have brought some consistency to the organization. The previous three years saw four CEOs arrive and depart in quick succession.

“There were rough waters before Polly and I took over and crafted a job that was good for both of us,” he says, adding that the past 18 months have been about stabilization. The Chamber’s membership is now approaching 400, he says, and he feels optimistic about the future for businesses in Berkeley. “The downtown P-Bid passed and we’re excited that the West Berkeley Project and civil sidewalks are both on the November ballot,” he says.

DeClercq also cites the city’s Economic Development department, under director Michael Caplan, and the Berkeley Startup Cluster’s Skydeck incubator space as positive driving forces. He says he believes the rejuvenation of Telegraph Avenue as a business district will be a priority for the next few years.

Ultimately, though, DeClercq says one of the Chamber’s most important functions is “good old-fashioned networking.” With that in mind, the organization orchestrates myriad opportunities for businesses to meet and collaborate, including two monthly mixers, ribbon-cutting ceremonies, and events such as the Firefighters’ BBQ benefit, held this year at the Berkeley Yacht Club, and the Berkeley Coffee & Tea Festival, inaugurated under DeClercq’s watch.

The Chamber’s board is meeting soon under new chairman Diane Rames, and will consider whether the CEO position needs to be redefined. DeClercq says it is likely Armstrong will continue to hold the reins in a part-time capacity and they will not be recruiting to fill his shoes.

Prior to being joint CEO of the Chamber, DeClercq was President of the Downtown Berkeley Association where he helped create the Business Improvement District (BID) for downtown. In 1991 he managed the Berkeley Center, including the Shattuck 10 Cinemas, the Shattuck Hotel, Original Mel’s diner and a dozen other retail and office tenants.

Armstrong is a former Berkeley City Councilmember (1994-2002) and a 32-year resident of the Claremont district in Berkeley.

Berkeley’s Chamber of Commerce names new joint CEOs [01.03.11]

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...