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Friday, Aug 19, 2022
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Blending in Is Part of Life for Area’s Influential

They don’t have famous names or the kinds of fabulous fortunes that land them on the covers of national magazines. There are no maps to the communities where they live. If, as the saying goes, the rich really are different, the affluent in the greater San Fernando Valley are different still from many of their counterparts across the nation or even over the hill. While the Valley is home to some of the same names familiar on the national business scene, it is, for the most part, a place where the wealthy possess a net worth three zeros fewer than their billionaire counterparts, and they run companies that are, often as not, unknown beyond the industries in which they operate. “It’s not a Fortune 500 type of wealth,” said David I. Rainer, president and CEO of California United Bank, an independent business bank in Encino. “It’s middle market. Middle-size business, middle-size real estate. It’s so diversified, distribution type companies, light manufacturing, real estate and a lot of professionals.” While there is certainly entertainment-related money in the Valley, most of the area’s most prominent businesspeople made their fortunes in unobtrusive businesses that, though well-known in their particular industries, do not have the fame of the Donald Trumps or the Warren Buffets. There are some. Al Mann, considered the granddad of biotechnology, and David Murdock, Dole chairman, are among the richest in the world. And among the Valley’s most prominent business folk, there are also some, like Burton Sperber, whose, ValleyCrest Cos., has sales of $750 million, with businesses that extend over a number of states. Some have even made national news, as did Alan Purwin, whose Helinet Aviation Services in Van Nuys grabbed headlines when it flew over hurricane torn New Orleans providing footage for nearly all the national media. But many of the wealthiest businessmen in the area, like Bert Boeckmann, whose Galpin Motors generates $717 million a year, run operations that do not extend beyond the Valley. And, by and large, the Valley’s most prominent businesspeople are best known to their own industry peers, for their philanthropic efforts in the community and to the local area. The Valley has always been a place where multi-millionaires are made, not born. They do not come from a long line of wealthy families that have paved the way and left their mark in different cities. Their businesses, most started after World War II when the Valley was drawing its earliest non-farming residents, are relatively new. Some were driven by passion. Many were driven by need. But most of them started with nothing at all. “Most of the wealth that I have had the opportunity to work with is first-generation wealth,” said Michael J. Crum, founder and president of Financial Planning for Generations (FPG Inc.) in Thousand Oaks. “They at first were just trying to make a living, and sometimes struggling to do so, and now are among the quite wealthy.” In the 1950s and 1960s, when the Valley first began to draw residents in large numbers, the most prominent of new settlers were often professionals, doctors, lawyers and accountants, who soon found they could augment their incomes by buying what were then inexpensive real estate properties. Soon, they found they could parlay a six-unit apartment complex into one twice as large, and so on, until they began diversifying into commercial properties. And before too long they found themselves with portfolios that included several hundred thousand square feet of real estate. But the post-war economic boom also brought other opportunities to provide goods and services, leading to numerous businesses that now yield anywhere from $10 million to $500 million or more in sales a year. Most are still privately owned by the very same people who founded the companies. And if the businesses are as varied as the Valley economy, many of their founders share one thing in common they began with little more than the desire to eke out a living for their families. “My father made $200 a week and lived in a nice, modest apartment,” said Rickey Gelb, who has amassed what he calls a “comfortable lifestyle” through real estate investments throughout the Valley. “My goal was to make $200 a week and live in a home.” Consider some of the stories behind the most prominent Valley names. Sperber started with a single nursery he opened in North Hollywood in 1949 to, as he explains it, “feed my family.” Well before Tae-Bo became a national obsession and his videos sold over $1 billion worldwide, Billy Blanks grew up the fourth of 15 children in a poor, Erie, Penn., neighborhood. Javier Uribe, the retired founder of 1 Day Paint & Body, which now boasts 30 stores, came to California with nothing when the Rio Grande went dry, putting an end to the farm he and his father worked in Texas. Bert Boeckmann first began working at the Galpin dealership as a salesman because, well, he needed a job. Even Angelo Mozilo, the CEO of Countrywide Financial Corp. who pulled down $160 million last year, grew up the son of a butcher in the Bronx, New York, and started his career as a messenger for a mortgage company while he was putting himself through school. For many, the accumulation of wealth was a slow process, involving false starts and failures along with successes. “There were lots of times my wife and I couldn’t cash our paychecks because we had to make sure our men all got paid,” said Sperber. Their perseverance continues to color both their companies and their lifestyles today. Some are so fiercely private they almost never appear in the media. They often donate huge sums of money to charity anonymously. They neither seek out nor live in the limelight. And for the most part, they have remained active in the companies that they built. “Most of the people I know that are wealthy have either made it on their first shot, or made it, failed several times, but kept trying until they got to the point where they are at,” said Tony Principe, president of Westcord Commercial Real Estate Services in Westlake Village. “And a lot of them are still working today. They continue to do it because they love what they do.”

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