Q&A: Donna Lasman, Venice Chamber of Commerce Executive Director

Venice beach.
Donna Lasman.
Donna Lasman.

Donna Lasman is a Southern California native, born, raised and still residing on the Westside of Los Angeles. She has fond memories of summers at the beach and of the eclectic mix of entertainers and artists along the Venice Boardwalk.

It is no accident that she found herself at home as the Executive Director of the Venice Chamber of Commerce. Combining her love for business and community involvement is what Lasman enjoys most about her work.

Her experience in business began at an early age when she would spend weekends and summers (when not at the beach) at her father’s auto parts store.

Coming from modest beginnings, Donna worked part-time jobs during her time at University High and worked full-time while in college first attending Santa Monica College and then transferring to University of Redlands where she earned a bachelor’s of science degree in Business Administration.

She has more than 30 years’ experience in business, specializing in the area of business development and management.

Following college, after working for several firms, she finally joined the family business, an automotive parts distribution warehouse, as Vice President/General Manager where she tripled the size of the company during the 12 years she worked there.

After the birth of her son, desiring a more flexible lifestyle she resigned her position and spent the next several years working as a community volunteer and as a marketing/business consultant.

Lasman’s next opportunity found her, when a friend suggested her for a position at LAX Coastal Chamber of Commerce working in membership.

After four years she moved on to serve the Venice Chamber of Commerce as their Executive Director.

She said she is proud and honored to work with the Venice community and believes that her intimate knowledge of operating a business, combined with her leadership skills acquired from business and volunteer involvement enables her to effectively and successfully represent the Venice business community.

What makes the Venice Chamber of Commerce unique?

We are part of the City of Los Angeles and part of Councilman Mike Bonin’s district. What makes the Venice Chamber really unique is that we are operated primarily by volunteers. We have virtually no staff with the exception of myself working part-time and a couple of consultants. Other than that we rely on the dedication and talents of our volunteers. I feel very fortunate to be a part of this community because it’s consists of people who are energetic, enthusiastic and passionate.

Venice is comprised of a unique fabric of artists and entrepreneurs and there’s an innovation and creativity that is very vibrant in our area.

Can you share a little about the history of the Chamber?

The history of the Chamber goes all the way back to 1922 when we were incorporated. It was at its height around the 1940s and 50s. Venice once upon a time was a city and was later dissolved and absorbed by the city of Los Angeles. Prior to my starting there four years ago the Chamber was operated all by volunteers for nearly 20 years. It was fairly low key – little impact or visibility within the community – mostly about a group of business people hosting monthly mixers. Four years ago we experienced a renaissance, building membership which at the time was at 120 members and now we are over 325. We have a full board with highly functioning committees and a lovely array of events. In addition to the annual holiday sign lighting hosted last week in partnership with the City of Los Angeles and Councilman Mike Bonin, there is the Venice Art Crawl, a Business Expo, Chamber happy hours, and most recently, the Venice Beach Young Professionals so there are lots of exciting things going on.

What was your background prior to joining the Chamber?

I have a degree in business. For the first part of my career I actually owned and operated a family business in the automotive industry. That’s where I picked up most of my of business skills. I think the best education is hands on. When you are working for a small business you get to work in every facet of running a business.

You get to see the direct impact of how your decisions influence and create immediate results. My educational background is in business, and following my work with the family business, I took time off, for my best career ever – being a mom. Having a background in business was a good fit for working with Chambers of Commerce, first with LAX as their director of membership and now with the Venice Chamber as executive director. What I love about it is that I get to combine my knowledge in business with my interest in community involvement. I enjoy the best of both worlds.

What is the Chamber’s relationship with the city of Los Angeles, in particularly Mike Bonin’s office?

Our chamber and our board members have close ties with the council office and their field representative come to member meetings. The council office and Mike Bonin have been helpful in facilitating issues that are of importance to people in Venice. A number of our board members have close relationships with the councilman.

What events do you have coming up?

Our monthly mixers are always on the fourth Wednesday at appealing locations. We did try a monthly networking meeting, but Venice people don’t like to wake up early, so we switched the morning networking to an evening happy hour. We have our happy hour mixer every first Thursday. The Venice Beach Young Professionals will start hosting mixers every other month and then coming up in the first quarter, we have the Venice Art Crawl in March. It is held quarterly focusing on different areas of Venice.

What do you love most about being involved in Venice?

I have to say it’s the people. The people who are involved on the Board of Directors, and the volunteers in our community are so talented and enthusiastic. I feel very lucky to be involved in part of this community.

And for anyone wanting more information about the Chamber?

Thank you for asking. We have our website venicechamber.net, email [email protected], and by phone at 310.822.5425.