The Milpitas Chamber of Commerce’s Board President Inderjit Mundra has resigned from his position and from the board.
His resignation comes amidst a period of turmoil that has characterized the organization since last Fall.
To date, several Chamber Board Members have come forward with claims that the former Chamber President had been mismanaging the organization.
In the past few weeks, before Mundra’s resignation, two other Board Members, along with one longtime Chamber Ambassador, resigned from their positions as well. Two of these individuals directly cited Mundra as the main reason they stepped away from the organization. A few months ago, a Chamber employee also quit, mentioning in an email to board members that Mundra was the reason for her departure.
At the Milpitas Chamber, things have been coming to a head for quite some time…
In 2021, the Milpitas City Council approved $200,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to the Chamber to support the organization with planning events and engaging the business community. However, those plans came to a halt shortly after The Beat published an article highlighting friction in the Chamber between Board Members and the current leadership. At the time, Warren Wettenstein was serving as Chamber President, with Mundra as Vice President. Last August, the City Council decided to hit the brakes on the funding process.
Then come October, the City of Milpitas would send the Chamber a letter stating that they would not be releasing the $200,000 in funding at all due to the Chamber’s lack of sound financial health, as well as their inability to produce detailed workplans.
Along with the City of Milpitas stepping back, business owners in the community have also been stepping back from the Chamber, opting not to renew their memberships.
Mundra’s resignation came via an email to the Chamber’s board members on the evening of February 12. The following day, the Chamber Board met for a special emergency meeting where they named Kelly Yip-Chuan as Interim Chamber President. Yip-Chuan is also a Trustee on Milpitas Unified School District’s (MUSD) Board of Education.
“[Mundra’s] resignation is in the best interest of the Chamber,” said Yip-Chuan in an interview with The Beat. “The Chamber needs someone who is trustworthy and can get the job done. We need new leadership so we can now move forward and work collaboratively to rebuild this organization.”
According to current Board Member Victor San Vicente, Mundra’s resignation is something that others have been calling for for the last several months. San Vicente said that last September he and a few others called for the resignations of both Mundra and Wettenstein. The pair refused to give up their positions.
In early January of this year, while Mundra was still President, a Chamber Ambassador stepped down from her role, saying she would not be renewing her membership. In an email to the Chamber Board obtained by the Beat, the former Chamber Ambassador, who wishes to remain anonymous, wrote:
“I wanted to inform you that I will not be renewing my membership. It’s a new year with new goals. My goals for this year is to cut back on spending and spending more time on what I love.
I am truly disappointed how the Chamber is being run with the past and current executive board, namely Warren and Inderjit. For the past few years, the morale at the Chamber has been steadily sliding down. New members join then quickly find out that there’s no real benefit to them and drop by the next year. Members that are appointed or elected to be on the Board of Directors, volunteers mind you, are being ousted because they disagree. Those that have a voice are getting ignored and shut down, especially the women. The budget is mismanaged, mishandled, and there is no accountability when it comes to the Poppy Bank Credit Line. How are you paying it back?”
The former Ambassador ended by stating:
“We need new leadership. I need a change. I don’t see myself continuing on as an Ambassador at the Chamber, nor do I want to. And I will not be renewing my membership.”
Last August, as mentioned, a Chamber employee also suddenly resigned, citing the way Mundra treated her as a central reason.
In an email obtained by The Beat, the former employee wrote to Chamber Board Members about how demeaned she felt by Mundra. Part of the email read:
“I was hired as an Office Manager but Inderjit our VP made it very clear that I had no title and that my business cards would be blank. Cards that I never received. He wanted me to do everything that an office manager didn’t do, even move heavy furniture that could potentially hurt me. I was very vocal about having a bad back. He just didn’t care. I was just over his condescending ways. I had no voice and he spoke to me like a child whenever I had something to say, asking me to listen and be quiet. He even humiliated me in front of people including Larry oh and the lady who came to organize. She walked with me outside on one occasion and said to me ‘If my boss spoke to me in that way, he would be fired’. I decided to quit and gave my notice.”
In Mundra’s resignation email, he wrote: “I greatly appreciate the opportunity to have served the Chamber for the last 8 years. I take this time to pass on the torch to the new team and a brighter future for the Chamber.”
There were no specific details in his email about why exactly he chose to resign; when The Beat reached out to Mundra for a comment, he did not respond to our request.
Currently, the Board is trying to work together to determine next steps. Yip-Chuan mentioned that although many members have left in recent months, there is talk of them wanting to come back now that the organization is under new leadership. So she is hoping that they can build up both morale and membership.
Meanwhile, there’s also the issue of the Chamber’s financial viability…
Several Board Members informed The Beat that the Chamber’s funds have been mishandled over the past couple of years, and that half of a $50,000 line of credit from Poppy Bank, which was activated under Wettenstein’s leadership, has already been spent.
Suraj Viswanathan, who recently took up the role of Chamber Treasurer, has been rolling up his sleeves and trying to find ways to solve the Chamber’s financial troubles. When he was first brought onboard, he took a look at the organization’s financial situation and saw immediately that things had to change.
“I saw that the Chamber was spending money without generating it, and using staff time toward the wrong things,” said Viswanathn in an interview. “My immediate reaction was we need to change our goal to make sure staff time is used to generate money and also show value.”
Viswanathan also saw that with all its expenses, the Chamber was actually falling short by a couple grand each month to pay the bills, which was why the line of credit had been dipped into.
At a recent board meeting, Viswanathn proposed that the Chamber get rid of their current office space on Hillview Drive and opt for something smaller and more affordable. He also suggested cutting their remaining staff member’s time by 40%.
However, this week the remaining staff member also submitted her resignation, and now the Chamber is without any employees.
Also, it was recently discovered by Chamber Board Members that numerous outstanding membership dues haven’t yet been collected. The Board is now working to determine the best approach to procuring those funds. A few days ago, Viswanathan also mentioned that the Chamber was hit by surprise in the form of a $20,000 bill for past rent from their landlord, which the current leadership had not been aware they owed.
With new leadership now at the helm, it’s not yet certain whether the City of Milpitas will be open to issuing the $200,000 in ARPA funding.
But John Agg, who came on as the Chamber’s Vice President at the end of last year, is hopeful about the future:
“We’re facing some struggles,” said Agg in an interview with The Beat. “And my hope is that we’ll have consistency and agreement on direction going forward. Right now, we have an energetic group of individuals working together who can give us a chance at a real future.”
Sonia Medina-Ashby is a realtor, as well as a Planning Commissioner with the City of Milpitas. She initially felt weary about renewing her business membership to the Milpitas Chamber this year: “I wasn’t going to renew my membership. But I am now, since it looks like it’s going to be run a lot better,” said Medina-Ashby. “I think it can be a prosperous place for all business owners in Milpitas. And now with different leadership, it has potential.”
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The loss of CJ Ericson killed the Milpitas Chamber of Commerce. She was the driving force in keeping the membership engaged with the Chamber. As a member of the Chamber of Commerce for the past 36 years, I’m sad to see its decline in the past few years. I agree that a good first step would be to find a smaller office space to help reduce their monthly expenses. My office is next door to the Chamber, and the office space was much larger than they needed.