The bare, off-white walls of the outgoing Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO’s office seemed a sign of the times, a reminder to all who entered that Bob Hatch would soon be leaving his longtime post.
In an interview with Noozhawk last week, Hatch talked about the recent renovations that prompted him to take down the numerous plaques and certificates of recognition, and the motivation he lacked to make more nail holes in the walls of an office he has decided to depart after 20 years in June.
A heavy subject, but always in good spirits, Hatch light-heartedly turned the conversation by pointing out that “Hatch” isn’t even the name on the placard that rests on his desk anymore.
A “No Pets” sign from a friend has taken its place, another memento he hasn’t bothered to move while more important work is afoot — like finding someone to replace Santa Maria’s most well-known business advocate.
“You just kind of know when the time comes,” the 67-year-old said. “My career has already kept me away enough from my family.”
Even as he said it, and meant it, Hatch made clear he couldn’t have picked a more fulfilling career to have fallen into years ago, when he was still searching for what he wanted to do after returning from military service in the Vietnam War.
When he left Hancock early to work, he was drafted into the Army and spent two years in the military, most of it in Vietnam earning commendation medals and three Purple Hearts.
He lived all over California and in Nevada, picking up odd jobs along the way, before he was offered a membership development gig with the Salinas Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Skeptical, Hatch turned the job down — he was making good money in hospital administration— before reconsidering.
“I enjoyed it because it was a people job,” he said.
The Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce created a new development director position for him, and he worked there until the Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau recruited him for its top post.
Three years later, Hatch applied for and won the equivalent position at the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitor & Convention Bureau.
“It was the hardest work I think I’ve ever done in my life, except when I was an infantry man in Vietnam,” he said of reshaping the struggling chamber. “We needed just to reconstruct the purpose of the chamber.”
Hatch hired a team to help him renew relationships with the City of Santa Maria and to generate partnerships with private, pro-business entities.
“It’s remarkable the work you can get done when you don’t care who gets the credit,” he said, noting a jump to 900 members from 650.
Even as he readies to rake in lots of credit during ceremonies others have planned, Hatch said he remains invested in the fate of northern Santa Barbara County business, which hopefully will retain momentum and not be sullied by the stringent guidelines of South Coast county officials.
Hatch joked that he has few hobbies — “Maybe I’ll dust off the golf clubs” — but planned to spend time with his wife of 31 years, Teresa, and their three grown children.
He said he hopes to help train a replacement, and will happily hand over the blank office walls for the new CEO to decorate.