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Busy Leader

  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 10:00 a.m. July 11, 2014
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
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Jacki Dezelski took a chance on a newspaper help wanted ad in 1996 for an organization that sought a communications coordinator.

That organization was the Manatee Chamber of Commerce. There was one problem. Says Dezelski: “I really had no idea what a chamber did.”

But Dezelski met with some senior Manatee chamber executives and liked what she heard. A University of Florida graduate with a bachelor's in graphic design, Dezelski worked for a mom-and-pop printing firm, so the new opportunity was a welcome challenge. “The chamber seemed more complex,” says Dezelski.

Now, nearly 20 years later, Dezelski is a high-ranking executive at one of the top-ranked chambers of commerce in Florida. Her title is executive vice president. That means she handles strategic planning, oversees the budget and works in multiple other areas, including health care, education, workforce development, Leadership Manatee, Manatee Young Professionals and the Manatee Chamber Foundation.

Her responsibilities are significant, considering the chamber has been named a national chamber of the year and is a three-time Florida chamber of the year. “I know it sounds cliche,” Dezelski says, “but I get to go to work every day and know the work we do helps businesses and the community. I love working for the chamber.”

Dezelski was named a Business Observer 40 under 40 winner in 2002, when she was vice president of community development at the chamber. Born in Los Angeles, Dezelski moved to the Bradenton area with her family when she was a young girl, in 1980. Prior to California, her family and ancestors owned a farm in Michigan, near Traverse City.

Instead of farming, Dezelski found her passion at the chamber. Dezelski says one of the best things about the organization is it works with both businesses and the entire community. That, and she says the people she works with make it easy to come to the office.

“We are blessed with a lot of talent,” says Dezelski. “I get to work with the very best people in the community.”

First Lady
Manatee Chamber of Commerce executive Jacki Dezelski and her husband, Mike Kennedy, are a well-known couple in and around the Bradenton business networking scene.

Kennedy ran Florida operations for the Pittsburgh Pirates for five years, and after that he headed the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority for five years. Kennedy is now director of discipleship at Harvest United Methodist Church in Lakewood Ranch.

The couple has two young children, and shares many of the parenting responsibilities. But there's one thing the couple doesn't share: a last name. That's not necessarily a political statement, but a practical one. Says Dezelski: “I didn't want to be Jacki Kennedy.”

Blast from the Past
Here's a look back at some of Jacki Dezelski's answers to the questionnaire published in the Business Observer's 2002 40 under 40 issue.

Professional Ambition: “Continue to be involved with a dynamic, community-minded business/organization in a career that offers a challenge, leadership and integrity, while supporting a balance between my professional and personal life — quite simply, 'Having It All' and earning it!”

Favorite Book: “A Prayer for Owen Meany” by John Irving; “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand; and Vanity Fair magazine.

Follow Mark Gordon on Twitter @markigordon


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