As the Valley Economic Alliance’s first permanent president, Bill Allen was instrumental in growing the business group into a significant economic and philanthropic organization. When he assumed the position in 1995, Allen brought together Valley businesses, government officials and educational institutions to make the region a more desirable place to live, work and do business. Now chief executive of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., Allen continues to be involved with the Alliance as vice chairman. Before joining the Alliance, he served as president of MTM Television in Studio City. Allen is the son of “Tonight Show” host Steve Allen and actress Jayne Meadows. In October, he was awarded the Fernando Award for his volunteer service in the Valley.
Question: How did you become involved with the Valley Economic Alliance? Answer: I was literally sitting in the dentist chair, of a dentist named Fred Adelson, who had been in Encino for many years. He was doing a semiannual teeth cleaning and had all the gear in my mouth, so there wasn’t much I could respond to. And he used that opportunity to basically pitch me the idea of getting civically involved right after the (Northridge) earthquake. He said, “You’re the president of Mary Tyler Moore’s television production company. You have some resources to help. You have a lifelong experience in the Valley that could help, I wish you’d come to a planning meeting for something called the Economic Alliance.” And I said, “I’d be happy to.” I wasn’t going to deny the man when he had sharp tools in my mouth.
How did you participate at first?
He asked me to simply go to a few meetings. At the first meeting I attended, which was at Galpin Motors, I met Bert and Jane Boeckmann, David Fleming, Bob Scott, David Honda, Gary Thomas and so many other Valley business leaders that were simply trying to conceive of a series of strategies to help respond to the earthquake. There were some short-term business assistance strategies being developed, including developing rapid economic development response teams.
How did you eventually become president? That strategic planning process went on for more than a year in 1994 and 1995, and then we decided to incorporate an actual economic alliance and begin to implement that plan. Around that time, I sold my interest in MTM and the Family Channel, which had acquired us, and the other CEOs on the planning committee – people like Bert Boeckmann, Steve Lew, who was the head of the Universal Studios lot and theme park activities – all turned to me and said, “Why don’t you step in and run the Alliance?” And I said, “I don’t have any background running an economic development organization.” But I said, “You know what, I will be happy for a year to help get this organization up and running. I’ll raise a few million dollars you need to get it launched, I’ll provide some office space, I’ll devote a year of my time and then I’ll try and find someone who’s a real professional in economic development to take over.” I so enjoyed the work that I ended up doing it for four years.