January 31, 2023
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Op/ed: The Bob Hatch legacy, and lessons learned from a great mentor


By Gina Keough

I joined the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce team in 1999. As staff, we saw President and CEO Bob Hatch’s business side, his military side, his funny side, his serious side, his angry side and his human side.

Perhaps a better title than president and CEO would be “mentor.” What makes him a strong mentor is his ability to build a team — he calls us his “Chamberlings.” He respects us as people and he respects our opinions and feedback. He is an active and empathetic listener. He takes opportunities as they come and seeks solutions to problems by using our strengths and talents.

He genuinely cares for us and has been flexible and open when we have had challenges in the office or at home. He also allows us to grow, spread our wings and meet challenges head-on.

When Hatch came to head our chamber 20 years ago, it was in shambles. He was instrumental in building everything back up — and I do mean everything. First, he put the chamber’s finances in order, then he modernized the office, bringing in computers for himself and the one other existing staffer.

Next came building up the framework for the success our chamber and visitors bureau enjoy today. He built the programs for our organization and built up staff by developing titles and job descriptions. He also built relationships with our city leaders, the business community, and strengthened his ties with other chambers in the region and contacts in the tourism industry.

Hatch’s skills have seen us through some very difficult and scary times, and we are cautiously optimistic that the economy is finally starting to pick up. The travel industry has certainly started rebounding. We have seen record Transient Occupancy Tax figures, and for July 2013 through April 2014, overnight stays in Santa Maria hotels provided more than $2.2 million in revenue for the city.

One of Hatch’s greatest talents is positioning people and organizations for success. His support and encouragement have been instrumental to all of us, the chamber staff, in each one of our jobs. He has given the chamber’s members and the Santa Maria Valley business community at large important tools and programs to help them grow their companies.

Therefore, this year, in honor of Hatch and his amazing contributions to our business community and the travel industry, the visitors bureau created a new tourism award: The Bob Hatch Excellence in Hospitality Tourism Award.

It will be presented each year at the chamber’s annual travel and tourism luncheon in May to a visitors bureau member who has conscientiously used the chamber membership benefits that Hatch designed to grow and become successful. Hatch has a standing invitation to present his legacy award at our future tourism luncheons.

Bob Hatch has treated the chamber staff like family, which is why we have all stuck around so long. He is wonderfully wise, always encouraging, and eager to help each one of us not only reach our potential, but also reach for the stars in our personal lives. Any mentor worth his salt will have words of wisdom and appreciate his team.  Here are some of our favorite Bob-isms:

• “This is my place … and these are my people!” (His hallway announcement most mornings).

• “Never argue with a crazy person, because soon they won’t be able to tell you apart.”

• “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you’re not worried about who will get the credit.”

We thank him for always being there, for supporting us, for the smiles, hugs and kind words, not to mention the pink box of donuts — often when we’ve needed them the most.

• Gina Keough is the manager of the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau at the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce. This column is adapted from her remarks at the retirement dinner for outgoing President and CEO Bob Hatch on June 21. Hatch retired on June 30 after 20 years leading the chamber.