The San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce announced Monday the board has selected Marina Gonzales as its president and CEO.

Gonzales succeeds interim leader Juan Ayala, the City of San Antonio’s military and veterans affairs director, who filled in for almost six months after Diane Sánchez abruptly resigned in January.

Ayala was not a candidate to lead the chamber permanently. A retired Marine Corps general, Ayala plans to return to his position as director of the City’s Office of Military and Veterans Affairs, and will serve as chairman of the development committee and member of the Hispanic Chamber’s executive board.

Gonzales most recently served as president and CEO of the nonprofit Child Advocates San Antonio, as an executive with CentroMed, overseeing government and legal affairs, and was chief of staff to Texas House of Representatives District 117. 

“Marina’s wealth of knowledge, experience, and track record make her the top candidate for this critical role,” said Erika Gonzalez, chairwoman of the Hispanic Chamber. “Her connections with the San Antonio community and her strategic leadership will transform our organization.”

Gonzales will start Aug. 17. 

The selection of Gonzales follows a stormy period for the chamber after Sánchez replaced longtime CEO Ramiro Cavazos, who departed in September 2018 to head up the U.S. Hispanic Chamber. Sánchez began in February 2019 and resigned one year later.

In a Jan. 25 letter addressed to the chamber’s board of directors, Sánchez said she felt undermined and berated for speaking out on issues. “The inability to practice good governance principles while ignoring and undermining the good work that has been done, hinder my ability and that of the staff to successfully perform our duties and execute this vision,” she wrote. 

The CEO search committee, formed earlier this year and led by Denise Hernandez, vice president of development for caterer True Flavors, and chair-elect of the chamber, was comprised of local and national leaders, according to the chamber’s announcement. 

“We are confident they found the best candidate who will bring innovation and growth to our Chamber,” Hernandez said. “I am certain Marina’s vision and passion for advocacy will better our business community.”

A South Texas native, Gonzales earned a law degree from the University of Illinois-Chicago John Marshall Law School, and a bachelor’s degree from St. Mary’s University

“As a first-generation college and law school graduate, and daughter of an entrepreneur, I understand the critical role that Hispanic-owned businesses play in the success of our community and our economy,” Gonzales said. “Our businesses and our nation are facing unparalleled challenges and I want to ensure our Hispanic chamber members are successful.”

Gonzalez, the chamber chairwoman, also thanked Ayala for his service as interim CEO.  “General Ayala’s leadership has been invaluable to our members during the pandemic,” she stated. “He and staff have worked hard in providing resources and guidance along with reassurance San Antonio will persevere.” 

The San Antonio Hispanic Chamber was founded in 1929. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recognized the chamber as a 5-Star Accredited Chamber in 2014, at the time the only Hispanic chamber to receive that accreditation.

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.