After increasing membership by 21 percent and placing the Highlands Ranch Chamber of Commerce on unprecedentedly strong financial footing in less than one year as president, LaRae Marsik has turned in her resignation.
She isn’t leaving without some murk in the waters, however, and an apparent impasse between her and the board points to Marsik being forced out.
Marsik, who will depart the chamber Aug. 31, reacted to that suggestion, stating that as president of the organization she serves “at the will of the board.” The resignation was a “mutual decision,” and the two parties had reached a crossroads, she said.
“LaRae really worked with the members to find out what their needs were; brought new members into the chamber to make sure we were reaching out for our vision; looked at the retention of members. I thought she was doing a good job, she just wasn’t the right fit with the board at this time,” said board president Melanie Worley.
Worley wouldn’t elaborate on the details of why the fit was not right, calling it a “personnel matter,” but said, “as far as what we are looking at with the interaction with our members, we are looking for a different fit. ... Our visions were not far off.”
“It’s been a hell of a year,” Marsik said. “At some point in time as organizations evolve, priorities shift. We’ve put in a very solid framework to move in whatever direction the board now selects. ... I’m proud of the work that we accomplished.”
In her short time at the helm, Marsik was responsible for launching an online employment center, helping to develop a mobile app for the chamber, implementing the organization’s first business technology forum and creating a business education team that delves into the day-to-day business operation needs of the area.
“We came to a point where we built a huge amount of very strong momentum that many of our members have been a very excited part of,” Marsik said. “My hope moving forward is that the board can recognize that and can find a way to harness that momentum for the next phase of the chamber’s development.”
That next phase will be happening without a few of its members. Since the July 30 announcement from Marsik, former Chairman’s Circle partner and longtime member The Law Center, as well as newer member Great Play Gym, have both announced that they will let their memberships expire the same day Marsik steps down.
“I think what you saw here is a small group of people accustomed to using the chamber for their own purposes, to provide perks to them, and LaRae came in and turned that all upside down. It’s really a loss for the community,” said Robert Wareham, shareholder at the Law Center.
Wareham, who co-chaired the search committee that selected Marsik, said it is likely to be extremely difficult to find a new leader as qualified as she was.
“From where I sit, any capable executive that interviews for that job, their first question has to be, ‘Will the board leave me alone and let me do my job?’ After the way they treated LaRae I don’t know how they attract somebody good,” he said.
Worley said she has heard from a handful of interested applicants already, and a couple of them have submitted resumes to the board, including one of the finalists from last summer’s search. As far as retaining membership through the transition, she said the reactions by some are to be expected.
“I think in the beginning there is always a reaction when change first occurs,” she said. “The board, of course, will work really hard with the members that may be resistant to change to reassure them that the vision of the chamber really hasn’t changed. We’ll go back to those members who may be leaving and reaffirm with them and try to change their minds. We’ll work just as hard for them as we always have.”