Nearly a month since Diane Sánchez abruptly resigned as president and CEO of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the group’s board named Maj. Gen. Juan Ayala, the City of San Antonio’s military and veterans affairs director, to fill in on an interim basis.

Ayala, a retired Marine Corps general who is director of the City’s Office of Military and Veterans Affairs (OMVA), will serve until the Hispanic Chamber’s CEO search committee names a successor, according to a board announcement released Monday.

Ayala is not a candidate to lead the chamber permanently, and he will continue to perform his main duties with the City while working for the chamber, the release said. He plans to return to his position with the City as soon as a permanent replacement is named.

“As a veteran of the Air Force, I am honored Maj. Gen. Ayala will serve as the first-ever general in the interim president and CEO role and thankful to Erik Walsh and the City of San Antonio for supporting the Hispanic Chamber,” stated Erika Gonzalez, chairwoman of the chamber. “General Ayala’s leadership will be instrumental with continuity and with operations during our transition.”

A native of El Paso, Ayala commanded Marine Corps installations worldwide and is the former inspector general of the Marine Corps. His service includes four combat tours in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and a year as the senior advisor of a Military Transition Team, embedded with the 1st Iraqi Army Division.

Ayala is stepping into the role vacated by Sánchez, who resigned after leading the chamber for just one year. In a resignation letter to the board, she stated she was “undermined and berated for speaking out on matters of public concern and urging Board compliance with operational guidelines.”

Sánchez replaced longtime CEO Ramiro Cavazos, who took the helm of the national organization, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, in September 2018.

Ayala will serve as interim president and CEO through a part-time executive loan agreement with the City, and will split his time in half between the City and the Hispanic Chamber.

The chamber will reimburse the City for half of Ayala’s compensation during his time with the chamber. In fiscal year 2018, Ayala’s annual salary was $127,354.

“This is a tremendous honor for Juan, and it speaks to the caliber and professionalism of both Juan and the City’s executive team that his leadership is recognized and coveted by an important business group in our community,” stated City Manager Erik Walsh.

Ayala has served as director of the OMVA since 2016. The OMVA supports the work of organizations within San Antonio’s military community and partners with Joint Base San Antonio to help support the mission readiness and ensure the sustainability of the city’s military bases.  

“I am looking forward to working with this historic organization and preserving and building upon the 91 years the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber has been in existence,” Ayala stated. “Growing relationships with the Hispanic Chamber’s staff, board of directors and most importantly the hundreds of members who make up this incredible organization is essential.”

The Hispanic Chamber has formed a CEO search committee and posted a description of the job on its website.

Shari Biediger

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

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