Former tourism bureau chief found new life when a merger eliminated her job

By Arthur Lightbourn

Yes, Virginia, there is life after being laid off, and Cami Mattson is proving it.

She was among 16 employees who were laid off after the San Diego North Convention and Visitors Bureau was merged out of existence into the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau in late 2010.

She had served with the North County organization for 25 years, 21 years of it as its president and CEO

Mattson readily admits that suddenly finding herself out of a job took some getting used to.

It was a first for her.

“Twenty-five years with any company is a long time,” she acknowledged, “but what it did was create an opportunity and time to explore what would be a next step, a next opportunity, and how I might grow,” she said.

Today, Mattson is the director of community relations for Cox Communications’ California operations. She started Aug. 29 and is responsible for the strategic direction and planning for all of the company’s community relations and corporate giving in California, including San Diego, Orange County, Palos Verdes and Santa Barbara.

For Mattson, 50, it’s is a dream job come true that didn’t even exist when she was given her pink slip a year ago.

We interviewed Mattson in her new office in Cox’s public affairs department on Copley Drive in Kearny Mesa.

Stability and diversity had been linchpins in her personality: stability from the same job since college and the same ocean-view apartment she has rented in Del Mar since 1984, and diversity from her passion for adventure travel that included trekking 19,340 feet up Mt. Kilimanjaro, 17,600 feet up Mount Everest, a 229-foot bungee jump off a bridge in New Zealand, and skydiving out of a plane at 11,000 feet to celebrate Leap Year.

Mattson was born Cameron Mattson in Long Beach, Calif. Her father was a high school industrial arts teacher in the Long Beach Unified School District and her mother, a librarian.

Her love of adventure, she says, comes from her father, who always would say, he’d rather have a life full of experiences than a room full of furniture.

“Material things aren’t important to me,” she says. From her mom, she inherited “a heart for life” and an example of volunteerism. “People, human life, experiences, those are what’s rich.”

After graduating from Brigham Young University in 1984, she joined the Escondido Visitor and Information Bureau in 1985, as a marketing representative.

When the head of the bureau left, telling Mattson that funding was drying up and suggesting she should also considering leaving, Mattson decided instead to hang in there, was tapped as interim director and came up with a plan to reinvent the organization and keep her job — transforming it from an Escondido city bureau into a regional bureau responsible for marketing the 2,000 square miles that make up San Diego’s North County.

Then, on Sept. 2, 2010, Mattson faced another reinvention challenge, that of reinventing herself and her future.

“So I made a list,” she said, “of what was important to me. One, I wanted to stay here in the San Diego area because my parents live here [in Fallbrook]. But I also wanted to work in a supportive and inspiring environment. I wanted to make a difference in the community…So I just really looked at what spoke to me.”

“Then I took a year off. Really, I wasn’t even going to look for a job for seven months. I wanted to just make a wise decision and be deliberate with where I went in my future.

“In between jobs, I did go to South America and trekked in the Andes down in Patagonia, southern Argentina and Chile. I turned 50 in February and I wanted to prove to myself I still had it in me. And I did.”

She travelled with Lori Holt Pfeiler, the ex-mayor of Escondido, who had served 18 years on the Escondidio City Council, her last 12 years as mayor. She is a training consultant with Synergy Executive Education.

“We were both in transition, so this was our transition trip, to figure out what we wanted to be when we ‘grew up’,” she laughed.

When Mattson seriously settled into exploring job possibilities last April, “really what helped was the networking,” she said.

“Over 25 years, there was a vast network of people and relationships that were established. And so I was able to just set the goal to have ‘conversations’ with business leaders, people that I knew, who led me to other people, [and that] was how I even heard about this job.

“It was advertised, but I didn’t see it advertised, because I wasn’t looking that way.”

Her advice to others who might find themselves in a similar circumstances during these high unemployment times?

“One, break through your fears. I had some fears on some of my technical capabilities and I went to computer classes. Don’t let your fears be an obstacle that gets in your way.

“Take charge of your transition. Instead of operating from a place of desperation or fear or confusion, get settled and list your strengths, your weaknesses, and your areas of interests … so you can be deliberate in your search, because that’s how you’re going to sustain your next job and not just make it to another transition job.

“And really to heal and restore, make sure your confidence is in place, surround yourself with supportive people, network and just have conversations.

“I think one of the things that was so exciting for me was just to set up appointments and have conversations. That became inspiring to me and it helped validate who I am, who I was and who I will be.”

What attracted her to Cox, she said, was its philosophy of “giving back” to the community ever since its founding in 1898 by Ohio school teacher James M. Cox, who later went on to serve three terms as governor of Ohio and to purchase his first newspaper, the Dayton Evening News — which became the first step in creating the company that Cox is today — the third largest cable entertainment and broadband provider in the country with more than 6 million customers and 22,000 employees.

“It’s a company with a big heart,” Mattson said. “They hire people with heart. They hire people with passion.

“In my process of joining Cox, I went through six different interviews with 10 people over two months. And a lot of those questions were about personal development, about ethics, about how I communicate. I really was excited that they asked those type of questions versus just tactical questions.”

Her job at Cox is to align three pillars within the company — the Cox Care Foundation funded by employee payroll deductions, the corporate giving program, and engaging its 3,000 California employees in volunteerism to serve in the community.

Utilizing its communications technology, its intellectual capital and its volunteer capacity, Mattson said, the focus will be on helping three specific entities — the military population and their families, underserved youth and the educational capacities of schools to help make a difference that is measurable and sustainable.

The company, she said, is making “bucket lists” of organizations, both profit and nonprofit, that it may partner with to create new community outreach projects that will blend with Cox’s core focus areas.

“There’s nothing that we alone or someone else alone will change this world or change the immediate social needs of our community,” she said. “It’s really together we make a collective impact.”

Quick Facts

Name:

Cami Mattson

Distinction:

Cami Mattson is director of community relations for Cox Communications’ California operations, a newly created position. She joined Cox last August after serving as president and CEO of San Diego North Convention and Visitors Bureau for 21 years.

Born:

Long Beach, Calif.

Education:

B.A. in public relations and communications, Brigham Young University, 1984.

Interests:

Adventure travel, trekking, hiking, cycling, snow skiing, kayaking, jazzercise, dance and the performing arts. “I like movement that surprises me.”

Favorite TV:

“So You Think You Can Dance.”

Favorite foods:

Anything with chocolate mint.

Favorite book:

Among her favorites: “The Little Prince,” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. “I love the message: about everyone is unique and relationships are special.”

Favorite getaway:

“I don’t have one in particular, because I go to so many places. I’m not a predictable, traditional person. I go anywhere. I go everywhere. I like new.”

Philosophy:

“Be authentic, communicate clearly and love largely. It’s all about the human spirit, making sure it thrives in you and in others.”


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