After 20 years of self-diagnosed “chamberitis,” Janet Levett, president and chief executive officer of the Thousand Oaks-Westlake Village Chamber of Commerce, will retire Jan. 30.
Levett started in 1989 with the Westlake Village Chamber and was a key figure in merging it with the Thousand Oaks Chamber in 1999. In the past decade, she has nearly doubled the combined chamber’s membership to about 1,400.
Taking over her position will be another business leader looking to retire, except the retirement will involve a bit more work than the travel and volunteering Levett has in mind. The TOWLV chamber picked Jill Lederer, the former owner of 10 regional Domino’s pizza franchises for 26 years, as Levett’s successor.
“As someone who always likes to stay busy, when I heard that the chamber job was available, I just thought there’s nothing I would rather do,” Lederer said. “I had had other offers and people inquiring, ‘What are you going to do when you’re retired?’ And I wasn’t really sure and I thought we would travel and thought I would do some nonprofit work but when this came up it just clicked with me.”
Lederer and Levett are working together to come up with a way to not only increase the number of members but also help Thousand Oaks and Westlake Village-based businesses get through the recession. Starting in mid-January, the chamber is offering a series of networking and marketing opportunities to help its members.
“We’re not waiting; we’re getting started now on it,” Levett said. “We’re also doing a partnership with the city of Thousand Oaks to help businesses with financing and things like that.”
She added that historically, membership increases during economic downturns as business want to band together for strength.
As former chair of the board and treasurer of the Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce, Lederer said the experience has given her a significant advantage as she steps into the CEO role. She has also been on the flip side, as joining the chamber was one of the earliest things she did when she opened her first Domino’s Pizza in 1983 in Thousand Oaks.
“I went into the chamber office by mistake and ended up joining the chamber before I even applied for my health permit,” she said.
Lederer’s career with Domino’s Pizza began while she was at college at Ohio Wesleyan and needed a part-time job to earn extra cash.
“After college, I stayed with Domino’s and went to the training program in North Carolina and became a manager and then a supervisor for Domino’s in Indianapolis,” she said. When trying to find the best market for a new franchise, she picked Thousand Oaks because there were few Domino’s Pizzas in California at the time. She ultimately expanded to a total of 10 Domino’s stores – five in Ventura County and five in the San Fernando Valley.
Lederer eventually went on to earn a master’s in business administration from Pepperdine University.
Levett’s move to the chamber executive spot began while she was working at Westlake Village-based Jafra Cosmetics International. For 16 years, Levett worked in sales, marketing and human resources and served on the Westlake Village Chamber board as a Jafra representative. The chamber’s executive board approached her about taking on the CEO job and asked if she’d at least consider taking it for a year. Before she knew it, 365 days turned into about 7,300.
Levett said several job offers have rolled in since she announced her retirement in early January. “I’ve been approached and said, ‘Not right now; if I come out of retirement I will consider it,’” she said.
She initially didn’t plan on retiring for at least a couple more years, but her retiring husband convinced her otherwise.
“He said he was going to go out and have fun and travel and do all these things and that he wanted me to be with him. And when he mentioned the word fun, that’s when everything turned!” Levett said, laughing. “We both have our health and we want to travel and do some redecorating.” She and her husband will also become grandparents in April, “so we’re looking forward to a great year this year,” she said.
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