Executive assistant and office manager, Joint Venture
By Duffy Jennings
Lisa Bruner has left the building.
Like the unsung Silicon Valley rock star that she is, Bruner retired with little fanfare at the end of February after 20 years as Joint Venture’s executive assistant, office manager and organization linchpin nonpareil.
Her departure momentarily takes the joy out of Joint Venture and leaves a void that’s difficult to measure.
“Lisa isn’t merely a spoke in the Joint Venture wheel – she’s the hub,” said CEO Russell Hancock, who has depended on Bruner from the day he took the helm in 2003. “Everything here revolves around her. “I’m still in major denial over this."
Though she is moving on to an even more challenging role – full-time grandma to five active boys under 8 – Bruner’s legacy of service and dedication lives on in a forever-grateful staff, in an appreciative board and in the organization she touched in so many ways.
“I’ve been a gate keeper, a paper hoarder and the office mom,” she says, reflecting on two decades in the role that evolved over time from a program assistant into a multi-faceted and vital support position. “I believe in Joint Venture and what it stands for.”
“I like Joint Venture because it’s apolitical, a neutral forum,” adds Bruner. “At Joint Venture, dreams turn into realities. There’s no hidden agenda. It always just felt right to me.”
Bruner had spent 15 years working with the Los Altos Board of Realtors when a merger in 1995 left her without a job.
“I was out of work for 30 days,” she says, “and then I saw three jobs in the Mercury and one was Joint Venture, so I faxed my resume, got an interview and was hired the same day.”
Joint Venture was just two years old under founding CEO Becky Morgan when Bruner started there, working on the Healthy Communities initiative, which focused on teaching organizations to promote healthy lifestyles. She later worked on economic development, Smart Permitting, and “S.V. Can.”
“It was a roller coaster of initiatives,” she recalls. “We created them, launched them, finished them and started new ones.”
Bruner moved into her current role as the executive administrative assistant in 2001. After Morgan retired, Ruben Barrales headed the organization for a brief time until Hancock became CEO in 2003, just as communications technology was becoming mainstream.
“Those were the early days of email,” Bruner says. “We would check our AOL account once in the morning and we’d have one or two emails. Today we have over 13,000 people on our email list.”
In addition to her daily duties with Hancock, Bruner managed the West San Fernando Street headquarters and all its needs, coordinated logistics for quarterly board meetings and other events, and oversaw the detailed production of the annual State of the Valley conference.
“I didn’t do it all,” she demurs. “Everybody works hard on State of the Valley. “You just do what needs to be done. That’s the Joint Venture way.”
"Lisa has been a constant source of smart, friendly support in the last two decades of Joint Venture, providing constant and consistent cheerful organizational leadership to Joint Venture’s important work in the Valley," said Judy Kleinberg, president and CEO of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce and a former vice president of programs and advocacy with Joint Venture.
Bruner was born in South San Francisco to Robert and Eva Pedersen. “My father was a tin knocker,” she says in the vernacular for sheet metal work. “And my mom was a secretary who could type 120 words a minute.”
Her mother had emigrated from Sweden and met her father in Chicago, where he worked on numerous high-rise buildings. Bruner says that after her mother had visited California in 1945, she returned to Chicago with the announcement that “we’re living there.”
“My father had gypsy blood, so we moved around a lot,” says Lisa. Once in California, the family, which included Lisa’s younger brother, Chris, who now lives in Campbell, lived in Paso Robles, San Jose, on a ranch and in Los Gatos, where Lisa attended Los Gatos High School.
After high school, Lisa spent time traveling and lived for a year on a 30-foot cabin cruiser in Redondo Beach before returning to San Jose, where she worked in various administrative jobs.
In January of 1973, a girlfriend invited her to a San Jose State University sorority party, where she took a liking to a young man playing conga drums, Brad Bruner. An engagement soon followed, and in September they were married, a union now 41 years strong.
The couple has two children. Their daughter, Jennifer, 38, is a Redfin real estate agent. She and her husband have three sons, Ethan, 8, and 2-year-old twins, Carson and Hudson. Their son, Adam, 36, is a carpenter who has two sons, Wyatt, 7, and Jack, 5.
Lisa says the family growth in recent years put more focus on retirement. The 900-square-foot Cambrian Park home that she and Brad, a carpenter and contractor, purchased in 1975 has now expanded to 3000 square feet.
“We have the party house,” she says. “They all come to our house. It will never be finished.”
Aside from keeping pace with the growing family, Bruner says retirement was inevitable.
“It was just time,” she says. “There are waves of life just like there are waves of innovation, and this is one of those waves of life for me.”
Bruner says she is looking forward to “actual gardening instead of yard work,” teaching the boys to plant and grow vegetables, and taking them on day trips.
“I’d also like to rent a cabin by a lake for an entire summer and have all the kids there.”
Lisa Bruner may have left the building, but the people she touched through Joint Venture will be applauding her for years to come.