Leaders of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce want the business advocacy organization to become more agile and impactful, and they believe it has made progress with a recent change in governance.

Previously, the chamber was governed by a sprawling board of 116 directors. But that board voted Thursday morning to cede power over policy decisions to a new, streamlined 15-member council called the Executive Board of Directors.

Many of the old board’s members will migrate to a new advisory body called the Board of Investors.

“It was just clear that working with a board as large as 120 people was not going to let us be as effective and flexible as we need to be,” said Phillip Green, the chamber’s board chair and Frost Bank’s chairman and CEO. “Smaller organizations are more engaged and more involved.”

In addition to the board restructuring, chamber leadership is developing a three-year strategic plan to “guide their work and future focus,” according to an informational document sent to chamber members.

In a press release, the chamber said the move is the culmination of a process that began late last year. Membership feedback from a survey indicated a desire for the chamber to become more “nimble, efficient and focused on responding to the business needs of the community,” the release said. Following that guidance, a task force recommended the new governing structure.

Richard Perez, the chamber’s president and CEO since 2007, said the change was influenced by other large chambers across the state and country. He also said it came in part from Green’s influence as board chair.

Green comes from a corporate model that utilizes a small board, Perez said. “The larger board model I had is one that I inherited, and one that worked. But it’s outdated, and this is an opportunity to modernize.”

Former chamber president and CEO Joe Krier, a former San Antonio councilman who is Perez’s predecessor, said the change in governance is a move in the right direction. “I hope it will cause it to be a more influential organization,” he said.

Krier said that when he left the office in 2007, the chamber’s board was about half its current size.

The chamber’s clout has been questioned by some senior business leaders in recent years.

A recent example came last year as former USAA Real Estate executive Ed Kelley was preparing to retire from the CPS Energy board. While Kelley and others in the business community wanted to see him succeeded by someone with a strong background in business, no clear candidate emerged. Two former chairs for the chamber called Perez to voice frustration at what they saw as inaction on the part of the chamber to recruit candidates and rally support behind one of them. The seat eventually went to Francine Romero, a UTSA public policy professor who was backed by the mayor.

But the chamber has also gotten wins for its members. Earlier this month the chamber was influential in an 11th-hour push to make sure the City Council redistricting process preserved the entirety of the downtown business district within District 1. Previous proposals would have placed some parts of downtown in District 5.

The San Antonio Chamber has around 1,650 members, a drop from the roughly 2,100 it had before the pandemic. Over the years, other chambers formed around geographic areas or other interests, with the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce enjoying robust membership.

Under the change approved Thursday, the new 15-member Executive Board will consist of the chamber’s president and CEO, six members from companies who contribute $25,000 or more on an annual basis, four members from companies that contribute $10,000 or more, and four members from the general membership as determined through a nomination process. Chamber leadership said drawing from different contribution levels will ensure the board has a more diverse and inclusive composition.

The Executive Board will have the power to approve policy recommendations, including the hiring, oversight and evaluation of the president and CEO position. It will meet monthly with some exceptions.

The new Board of Investors will consist of members from companies that annually contribute $10,000 or more, as well as 27 members who are selected through the general membership through a nomination process. It will inherit much of the previous board of directors, whose membership was determined in a similar way. It will meet quarterly.

Perez summed up the changes by comparing the organization to the businesses that comprise it.

“Businesses modernize, and they look at their customers to make sure they’re being responsive,” he said. “This is us doing the same thing. We’re a business organization, and we need to act like a business.”

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Waylon Cunningham

Waylon Cunningham covered business and technology for the San Antonio Report.