Malibu Chamber of Commerce Re-Inventing Itself

Barbara Bruderlin, Malibu Chamber of Commerce CEO

This story has been updated. Please see editor’s note below.

The Malibu Chamber of Commerce, the 68-year-old association that promotes and protects the interests of the local business community, has undergone a shake-up in 2016. Mark Persson, the Chamber’s staff CEO for the past five years, recently moved on from the job.

Chamber President Rod Bergan claims Persson went on to “pursue higher professional goals,” though The Malibu Times was advised from various sources that his leaving was not voluntary, and came as a surprise to Persson; however the Chamber, like most chambers, has been under financial stress in the past few years for a number of reasons. Many of the national chain stores moving into town don’t generally participate in chambers. 

Formerly, local banks and bank managers were the backbone of chambers, but today banks are more like retail operations, with no long-term personnel active in the chamber.

The income from the Malibu Arts Festival has been decreasing over the years; the Malibu Chamber has downsized into smaller spaces with much fewer personnel.

Local Realtor Barbara Bruderlin has been named by the board as his replacement, and is already working full-time in the position.  

In addition to the change in CEO, there has also been recent turnover on the executive board — four members of the Chamber’s six-person board left this year, some for personal reasons. Although two of the board members have since been replaced, two slots are currently open. 

Bergen and Bruderlin hope the changes will give the Chamber a fresh start in terms of moving forward to improve services and recruit new members. 

Philosophically, Bergen sees the Chamber’s job as not only supporting the business community, but also supporting the community at large. 

“Your ability to buy and sell goods depends on the community. Our job is to act as intermediaries and try to keep our pulse on the community,” Bergen said. “We then reach out to businesses to encourage them to provide better support to the community as necessary.”

Bergen has a long list of ideas to present to the board, and said he and Bruderlin are in agreement. 

“Barb and I are very simpatico as to how we feel the Chamber should move,” he said. “We want there to be a series of events, and we want to start a more aggressive program. We’ll do it incrementally — not all at once.”

Bruderlin and Berger believe the Chamber needs to work more closely with both the City of Malibu and the community, and are looking at ways of doing that.

Moving forward, they first want to focus on improving basic Chamber services, like “making sure the phone is always answered” — an issue that’s been a problem in the past. 

“I feel the Chamber has to be active,” Bergen said. “Things like the new Civic Center sewer construction project are going to result in a lot of questions from the business community.”

In addition, the Chamber website will be overhauled and modernized.

“We’re immediately changing and upgrading our website, which will be more interactive in meeting the needs of the community,” Bergen said. 

Bergen and Bruderlin would both like to get more member networking events on the Chamber’s schedule, with a goal of having at least one breakfast or happy hour per month. 

In addition, he’d like to see the annual “Taste of Malibu” event expanded, “with a more aggressive approach to bringing in restaurants, et cetera.” 

The Chamber’s other signature event, the annual Malibu Arts Festival held at the end of July, will present a challenge in terms of finding a new location — the new Santa Monica College campus construction will be taking place on the festival site. 

The Chamber has a new map coming out, and is working on a number of potential ideas, including an annual recognition dinner, more business education classes and more services for visitors to Malibu. 

“We really need a visitor’s center,” Bergen said. 

Bruderlin, a sixth-generation Californian with a degree from UCLA, has previous experience as a Realtor and a family construction business, co-founded a nonprofit organization and volunteered for two years with the Chamber. 

Two of her personal goals as the new CEO are to do more for “underserved businesses” in the community and to promote more volunteerism.

“This job is the perfect platform for altruism and helping the businesses in Malibu the best I can,” Bruderlin said. “I’m a dreamer, but I’m also a very practical person. I’m very excited about this position.”

Bergen and Bruderlin will be revising the fee structures and levels of membership, upping the value received where possible. Chamber membership benefits currently include various discounts, business referrals, promotion, development and business education opportunities.

Bergen and Bruderlin hope all members will offer input and suggestions. The Chamber office is at 23805 Stuart Ranch Rd., Suite 215, Malibu. 

The Malibu Times staff contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story included a typo misstating the first name of the Malibu Chamber of Commerce’s former president. The story has been updated with the correct name.