29-year Temecula chamber of commerce CEO honored at retirement gala

After 29 years leading the Temecula Valley Chamber of Commerce, retiring President/CEO Alice Sullivan is celebrated during a party with members of the community at Pechanga Resort & Casino, Sept. 30. Shane Gibson photo

Local business owners and government officials commemorated the retirement of Alice Sullivan who has led the Temecula Valley Chamber of Commerce for almost as long as Temecula has been an incorporated city with a celebration at the Pechanga Resort Casino Grand Ballroom Monday, Sept. 30.

Sullivan announced in May that she planned to retire after serving the Temecula community for almost 30 years – she has led the chamber since May 1990, just a few months after the city officially incorporated in December 1989.

And she’s made her presence known over those nearly three decades, showing up to almost every city council meeting during that time, launching local shopping initiatives, spinning off the chamber’s tourism committee into a separate organization and even getting Temecula put on TV news weather maps, according to the people who have associated with her over the years.

The longtime chamber president was presented with honors and accolades by the Temecula City Council – including a chair in the council chambers dedicated in her honor – the week prior and many of the same associates who were on hand at the council meeting were present for her retirement celebration.

Pechanga Tribal Councilman Russell Murphy thanked Sullivan for her close relationship with the Pechanga tribe during her time leading the chamber of commerce.

“Allison, you’re a true friend, and you’ve just been a tremendous leader throughout these years, and I can’t thank you enough,” he said.

Tony Turski, owner of Stadium Pizza, said Sullivan always put the chamber and its volunteers first – not herself.

“Alice and the staff never took the front seat on anything that they did,” Turski said. “She always gave the credit to the volunteers that were serving the chamber. Alice believed the volunteers were the driving force of the chamber and it was her mission to make sure that vision never got lost.”

He also gave Sullivan credit for the talented staff she hired at the chamber, referencing leadership qualities that he said he first read about in the autobiography of automobile executive Lee Iacocca.

“Lee Iacocca simply said, ‘I surround myself with amazing people,’” Turski paraphrased. “Over Alice’s 29 years as the president and CEO of the chamber, there have been some pretty amazing staff members that have worked there.”

Turski said he’s confident that the chamber will remain in strong moving forward after Sullivan’s retirement; Emily Falappino was announced as the chamber’s next president in August.

“The chamber has been and always will be in good hands,” he said. “That’s the way Miss Alice kept it and that’s the way Miss Alice has left it.”

Terry Gilmore, owner of Paradise Chevrolet Cadillac and Paradise Buick GMC, rattled off many of Sullivan’s accomplishments during her time as chamber president, including finding a permanent location for the chamber of commerce headquarters, helping to start the Valley Young Professionals and many others.

“She’s contributed much to the city and much to the business community and we are all the lucky ones. She is, in my mind, the Bill Belichick of chamber CEOs,” Gilmore said, referring to the New England Patriots head coach.

Sullivan, speaking finally at the end of the celebration, said she was honored to have so much support from the community, and to have her children, grandchildren and husband there with her.

“I think the most important message that I need to give you all tonight is the strength of Temecula, our community – you may not realize that when you’re a member of the chamber that you’re also contributing to everything that the chamber does,” she said. “The partnerships, the connections, I hope it will all continue.”

As many of the people she has worked with during her career may have predicted, Sullivan quickly shifted credit to those who worked for her.

“I’ve been blessed throughout my career to have strong leadership on the chamber board and professional mentoring from so many of our members, our board of directors, our chairmen,” she said. “I’m also very thankful for the dedicated staff, past and present, our wonderful ambassadors and our volunteers over the many, many years.”

Will Fritz can be reached by email at wfritz@reedermedia.com.