Walnut Creek Chamber’s new leader calls reopenings first task
By Lou Fancher
For Robert “Bob” Linscheid, the Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau’s incoming president and chief executive officer, what for him constitutes “pitching a perfect game” is easy to define.
“I hope people will see me as a collaborator and not a turf protector; as a person who’s a solver of the area’s most important problems. I want to be a champion for the whole community, not just for business,” he said in a recent interview.
Linscheid steps into his new roles May 1, succeeding Jay Hoyer, who will retire after 30 years leading the organization. Linscheid comes to the chamber having served as the president and chief executive officer of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, the Chico Economic Planning Corporation and several other Chambers of Commerce in California; and as a chair and member of the California State University Board of Trustees.
He received his bachelor of arts and masters degree in public administration from Chico State University and is the president and chief executive officer of Linscheid Enterprises Inc., a company formed in 1993 that services economic development organizations, trade associations, small businesses and professional sports teams in California.
An Antioch native who’s lived or worked in Walnut Creek, San Francisco, Chico and now Danville, it’s a measure of the longtime Bay Area resident’s devotion to home turf more than it is delicate diplomacy when he answers a question regarding his favorite professional sports teams.
“I’m a Bay Area sports fan,” he says. “When I was in San Francisco, the Giants were a big part of my life, but my first live baseball game was the Catfish Hunter game in 1968. He pitched the perfect game with the Oakland A’s at the coliseum. At that time, I didn’t understand the importance of a perfect game.”
Linscheid, now 67, laughs, saying, “I saw a perfect game — and then later, in June 2012, I missed seeing another one when Matt Cain pitched a perfect game and I had given away my tickets to a friend.”
Linscheid fondly recalls Oakland Raider games, when an end zone ticket cost $15. Still an avid sports fan decades later, he remembers that while attending Chico State, a favorite outing was a trip to Santa Rosa to watch training camp and preseason matchups. Highlighting a more recent favorite moment, Linscheid says receiving the Alzheimer’s Association’s Special Caregiver of the Year Award in 2018 from the Alzheimer’s Women’s Initiative was a supreme honor.
“When you’re a business advocate, nothing is life or death. But when you’re an advocate for Alzheimer’s, it is life or death.”
In 2012, Linscheid’s wife, Pam Montana, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.
“She had symptoms at age 58 and is now 65. But the good news is it’s short-term memory loss and she still drives, just not at night and only to places she knows well.”
Together, the couple are parents of six adult children and grandparents of seven in their blended family.
“I have a grandson who was born on June 1st, 2020, who I’ve seen once, other than photos. The separation of COVID gives a whole new meaning to family,” he says.
Asked to elaborate how the appreciation and understanding of family bonds extends into his work life, Linscheid zooms in on trust.
“To me, trust is building relationships. I’m spending time meeting the people trying to create new environments. You can’t build trust without listening.”
He says people in Walnut Creek are telling him their needs and wants: more intensive broadband; interdepartmental city financing; housing; and attracting new business that are not auto- or retail-related, two already well-saturated marketplace areas. Linscheid says the first challenge preceding all others is emerging from COVID-19 closures and getting restaurants and small businesses reopened.
“The business community is in reasonably good shape, but if you have 15% vacancy rates in your retail or commercial space, it affects the community.”
Recruiting and retaining top talent is integral to restoring economic stability, and Linscheid says he’ll use strategies he implemented in previous positions that forecast the future workplace landscape and developed models for collaboration and growth.
“The commonality of Chico and San Francisco is that they’re both educational communities. Their size differs, but the same principles of coalitions were and are transferable regardless. Is there a community college or are there other organizations that can upscale the workers being trained? Yes. Partnerships to develop training are areas where I have experience and expertise I can use.”
Linscheid clearly prefers leadership with a focus on common-cause projects that bring a wide, diverse group of people together.
“Racial inequity is part of that. Just look at homeownership in America, for example: 70% of Whites own homes, but only 40% of Black people and 44% of Latinx own homes. We need to look at housing, education and health with an equity lens. I don’t have the answers, but I have the sensitivity and willingness to listen about how to solve those inequity problems.”
Linscheid’s predecessor, Hoyer, says he’s looking forward as he departs to relaxing and traveling.
“It’s a good time for the Chamber to reimagine itself. Coming off COVID, it’s best to do a reimagining with a fresh, clean slate. The organization has a lot of foundation and could go in any direction,” Hoyer said.
Although emphasizing the chamber in Linscheid’s “experienced, highly capable hands” is in fine position to navigate the path ahead, Hoyer suggests opportunities to retain young adults aspiring to careers in health care, corporate sales and technology might come from expanding workplace development campuses, like one at Shadelands that prior to the pandemic he says reduced a 40% vacancy rate to about 12%. With traffic congestion always a concern, Hoyer says lessons learned about remote work might be incorporated post-pandemic to mitigate issues with traffic and parking.
While launching into his new position, Linscheid and his wife will continue their Alzheimer’s advocacy activities, including annual fundraising walks and participation on Gov. Newsom’s Task Force on Alzheimer’s Prevention and Preparedness, among other organizations.