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Wednesday, Aug 17, 2022
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Staking Claim on the Valley: 25 Who’ll Lead Tomorrow

Ake Almgren President & CEO Capstone Turbine Corp. More than 15 years ago, Ake Almgren had the idea that a new kind of an electric generator could be both more efficient and environment-friendly. So, he took his expertise as an engineer and founded Capstone Turbine Corp. in Chatsworth to develop the Capstone MicroTurbine engine. The micro turbine would run on natural gas or methane and, using jet engine technology, would generate nearly no toxic emissions. With only one moving part – an axle that turns on a continuous jet of air – in 1998 the micro turbine became the only commercially produced gas-powered micro turbine in the world. With more than $500 million invested in research and development, analysts predict Capstone will become a major player in the energy generating industry as the sales of its micro turbines skyrocket. Roberto Barragan President Valley Economic Development Center As president of the Valley Economic Development Center, Roberto Barragan manages the largest non-profit small development organization in metropolitan Los Angeles. Each year, VEDC helps more than 1,000 businesses with a budget of $3 million and 50 employees in four offices. But the size of the organization does not describe the magnitude of the tasks ahead for VEDC as the Valley small business community moves swiftly into the 21st century, meeting challenges unheard of even 10 years ago. VEDC itself underwent a great transformation in the last two years, both culturally and in terms of leadership, which eventually led to Barragan being named president. “Roberto has the ability to bring people together, cut to the chase, figure out what has to be done and get it done,” said VEDC Chairman Marvin Selter. Before joining VEDC, Barragan was executive director of the Community Financial Resource Center of South Central Los Angeles and, before that, executive director of the Mission Economic Development Association in San Francisco. Glen Becerra Region Public Affairs Manager Southern California Edison Glen Becerra, officially a public affairs manager for Southern California Edison, is also a member of the Simi Valley City Council and was recently appointed by President George W. Bush to the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars. Before returning to Simi Valley in 1996 and taking his position at Edison, he served as deputy director of Gov. Pete Wilson’s Office of External Affairs, acting as a liaison for law enforcement, crime victims and constituent groups. He was also a legislative aide for Assemblyman James L. Brulte before leaving Sacramento. The member of a family that has been in Simi Valley for more than 70 years, Becerra is nevertheless the first of his family to graduate from college, having earned a B.A. in history from UC Berkeley in 1993. Eric Brown Vice President & General Manager Time Warner Communications As vice president and general manager for the northern region of Time Warner Cable’s Los Angeles division, Eric Brown has his hands full. He oversees operations for a customer base of more than 150,000 households. Brown’s community involvement includes board positions with the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley, the Northridge Chamber of Commerce and the North Valley Family YMCA. The Northridge resident is a graduate of UCLA with a degree in political science. Brown also holds a master’s degree in business administration from the Darden School of Business Management at the University of Virginia. Claire Bruno President Sebastian International When Sebastian International Inc. decided it was time to develop a global strategy for its beauty care products, they knew who to call on: somebody who already knew the company inside and out, had contacts all over the industry and saw the potential to take its business to virtually every continent in the world. Claire Bruno returned to Sebastian in 1997 as senior vice president of marketing, specifically to strategically reposition the company in the area of new-product development. She has been president of Sebastian International since November 2000. But even before that, Bruno had been named Sebastian’s vice president of marketing in 1990. After three years with the company, she left to spend four years as senior vice president of marketing and sales for the Revlon Professional Products Group. Larry Cohen President Glyphix Inc. As head of Glyphix, an advertising and Web design agency, Cohen has had his share of tough tasks and seemingly impossible problems to solve. But with his colleagues and a solid staff, Cohen has turned his company into one of the fastest growing firms in California in its first four years. “After our first year, we knew we had a tiger by the tail,” Cohen said. “We really had a good business, so the question was ‘How do we grow responsibly?'” By mixing traditional advertising with Web design, Glyphix is among the first of the next generation of advertising firms, mixing Internet commerce with Web site design. Susanne Daniels Co-president, Entertainment The WB Network When Susanne Daniels arrived at the fledgling WB Network in 1995, she knew the going wouldn’t be easy. But at 29, already a veteran of the network wars, she was charged with developing programs before taking command of the entire Entertainment Division in 1998. Quickly, Daniels moved the network into a position that would make its ratings drastically improve with a slew of shows for young viewers. It was her idea to target teenage girls, a demographic that had gone largely ignored by the major networks. Daniels gave the go-ahead to shows like “Felicity,” “Charmed,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Dawson’s Creek.” Selling a series about a girl who fights vampires to network bosses wasn’t easy, but it helped WB turn the corner. Greg Dollarhyde President & CEO Baja Fresh Greg Dollarhyde has a mantra. “It’s a phrase I use,” he said. “People support what they help create.” That simple management philosophy – as opposed, he went on, to “dictating, do this, do this, and everyone has to say, ‘Yes sir'” – has turned Westlake Village-based Baja Fresh into a network of 100-company-owned and franchise stores in nine states with sales of about $160 million projected for this year. That’s not all. Dollarhyde’s plan is to open 250 new Baja Fresh stores by 2005. Before becoming president and CEO of Baja Fresh in late 1998, he held the same leadership position at Country Harvest Buffet Restaurants Inc., where he spearheaded a massive turnaround and reorganization effort. Even before that, at Roasters Corp., owner and franchiser of the Kenny Rogers Roaster restaurants, Dollarhyde was part of the development team that led the expansion from 16 restaurants to more than 300 in three years. John Duddy Division Director, Operations Rocketdyne Propulsion & Power Someday traveling through space will be as commonplace as grabbing a shuttle to San Francisco, and John Duddy will have played a role in making that happen. For the past three years, the 44-year-old engineer has been working on Rocketdyne’s RS68 engine, a prototype that is paving the way for low-cost space travel. Granted, the RS 68, currently undergoing a required government certification process, still has many more evolutions ahead of it. For one thing, it is an expendable engine, which means it can only be used once. Any viable solution in the long term will have to entail an engine that can be used again and again, just like an airplane. But, says Duddy, “It’s much cheaper than any other rocket engine that’s ever been developed. It’s the best solution right now, but eventually we’ll get to where technology can get us into a reusable vehicle. That’s when people will be taking it just like you take a trip to New Orleans.” Duddy spent two years setting up an assembly facility for the engine at Rocketdyne’s plant in Stennis, Miss. before returning to Canoga Park in November to head up operations here. Building rocket ships wasn’t a part of his plan when he received his degree in industrial engineering from Georgia Tech. But now he can’t imagine doing anything else. “I love to see things that I’m associated with turn into a tangible product, and I love to make a difference,” he says. Susan Eigenbrodt Owner Too Fun Sue’s Drawing Between the Lines Both the Small Business Administration and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce recently gave Sue Eigenbrodt awards – and it wasn’t for the clever name of her Sherman Oaks graphic design business either. It was because of her advocacy of and lobbying on behalf of small business and, more specifically, home-based businesses. In recent years, Eigenbrodt has lobbied in both Sacramento and Washington D.C. on issues that concern companies run by sole proprietors: local business taxes and insurance-related concerns among them. But what about that company name? “Well, Too Fun Sue’s the name I’ve had since college when a boyfriend gave it to me,” she said. “And Drawing Between the Lines is what I try to do for my clients.” A veteran magazine designer, Eigenbrodt went to work for herself 12 years ago because she wanted more. That more has meant everything from three-dimensional graphics to the traditional brochures and catalogues for clients. But it has also included an entire miniature city made out of plastic for the Los Angeles Recycling Committee and hand props for the daytime soap opera, “The Bold and the Beautiful.” “My theory is, when something I’ve done is sitting on a table, I want people to pick it up,” she said,” and ask, ‘What is it?'” Fred Gaines Attorney & Managing Partner Gaines & Stacey A former president and current member of the San Fernando Valley Bar Association, Fred Gaines has been involved in a number of organizations and advisory boards involved in local issues. As executive vice chairman of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, Gaines works on issues affecting local business such as business tax reform and land use. And as a veteran attorney, Fred Gaines knows a good case when he sees one. So when community members came calling about improving their Sherman Oaks community, Gaines gladly joined them as a member of the Sherman Oaks Town Council. As the group’s president, Gaines helped push to beautify the area and help residents and merchants alike with their city-related problems. “I’m just glad to help,” Gaines said. Saul Gomez Director of Economic Development Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley As economic development director for the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley, Saul Gomez, a Granada Hills resident and former administrative services manager for the city of San Fernando, has his finger firmly on the pulse of economic trends and business potential in the Valley. “I work closely with Valley business folks to help facilitate business projects,” Gomez said. “I help them wind their way through the maze of red tape for getting established here, expanding or retaining their business as is.” The companies Gomez has helped range from Health Net to RobinsonsMay, bringing in or retaining roughly 4,000 jobs in the last two years. Jolene Koester President California State University Northridge To some people, a university isn’t just a place to get a degree, it’s an “engine that drives the economic, cultural and human life” of a region. And if you haven’t heard that before, you haven’t spoken to Jolene Koester, president of Cal State Northridge since July 2000. The Minnesota native speaks passionately about her still relatively new role as she ticks off the list of accomplishments for CSUN since her arrival: accolades for the school’s film program, a victory for the basketball team over UCLA and a trip to the NCAA finals, and a 10th-place win for the engineering department in a nationwide contest to construct a steel bridge. And, although she wasn’t around seven years ago, she is overseeing the final stages of completion of repairs of damage caused by the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, devastating to the CSUN campus. What’s next? “It is my intention to improve and enhance the critical role of CSUN in the community over the next decade,” Koester said. Mee H. Lee Partner DGLM Consulting Group If redevelopment is the way to re-invent Los Angeles as the city of the future, you might say that Mee H. Lee stands at ground zero in that process. Through a succession of affiliations, including a long-standing association with Douglas, Emmett & Co., Lee has developed a special expertise guiding infill projects from the early planning stages to construction. In addition to her role overseeing the massive Sherman Oaks Galleria renovation, managing everything from entitlements to the team of architects, builders, engineers, electricians, plumbers and crew, Lee has served on the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles and overseen the master plan expansion for Warner Bros. A half century ago, when the San Fernando Valley was first being built, her job would have been easy: pull the entitlements, gather a crew and supervise the process. But today, with no raw land available, Lee’s job is much more difficult. Redevelopment, unlike construction on vacant land, must take place within an established community. It’s not enough to know how to build an attractive project, neighbors, the city and other special interests must see a need for the project and feel certain that it will not drain the resources of the existing infrastructure. “You have to present the project and get all their concerns and questions talked through, so everyone knows what you’re doing,” Lee says. Fernando Lopez Vice President and General Manager KVEA-TV Fernando Lopez saw nothing but a challenge when he took on the leadership just last year of KVEA-TV, a perennial runner-up in the world of Spanish-language television. By swiftly revamping programming and adding new novellas, or soap operas, during his first 10 months on the job and emphasizing its news operation with the addition of 16 hours of news programming in January, the station has rapidly grown into a contender in the all-important TV ratings race. Now regularly running a close second among Los Angeles’ four Spanish-language television stations to the top-rated KMEX-TV, KVEA-TV has the leader working harder for its ratings and looking over its shoulder. Lopez’s success comes after winning an Emmy Award while with the KCBS-TV news department. Alex Padilla Los Angeles City Council Two years ago at the age of 26, Alex Padilla became the third youngest city council member in the city’s history. Today, Padilla is fast becoming one of the city’s most visible elected officials, and one of its most popular. Representing the Northeast San Fernando Valley, Padilla has taken his “can-do” attitude to the City Hall and flourished. “When I see something needs fixing, I try to fix it,” said Padilla, who has taken on city government in an effort to rid some of the poorest areas in Pacoima and surrounding Valley communities of blight. Born and raised in the Valley, Padilla says he’s keenly aware of the problems facing his district. So it was no surprise when he helped secure $9 million to fund the Valley Youth Initiative, a job training program for unemployed youths. He also helped push for the establishment of a branch of the Los Angeles Children’s Museum at the Hansen Dam Recreation Area. Brent Reinke Managing Director Clark & Trevithick Rapid growth notwithstanding, the companies along the 101 (Ventura) Corridor have long toiled in the shadow of Silicon Valley. That will soon change if Brent A. Reinke has his way. Reinke last year founded Gold Coast Venture Forum, an organization to provide education and networking opportunities to emerging, high-growth companies from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara. In the process, he has begun to shape the scattered gaggle of businesses into a cohesive community. Reinke about five years ago began to realize more and more of the work coming to him at his Westlake Village law office involved emerging growth companies, many, but not, all high-tech. “I started to talk to a number of people from Silicon Valley Bank and local investment bankers, and it became apparent there was a real need to develop a vehicle whereby we could try to organize the emerging growth,” Reinke says. The Gold Coast Venture Forum’s first annual conference, held in May, drew more than 100 attendees. And the forum is fast gaining a broad base of interest. “We’re finding tremendous interest from the business community and quasi-government agencies,” Reinke says. “We’ve become the hub of the effort to organize the area, and we (plan to) coordinate with other organizations.” Omar Rodriguez President Bluestreak Aerospace Omar Rodriguez insists that if it hadn’t been for an ambitious salesman 21 years ago, he wouldn’t be president of a company that now manufactures and supplies parts to clients like British Aerospace and Boeing. In 1980, Rodriguez had just finished high school and was operating a small 500-square-foot machine shop in North Hollywood. One day, that salesman appeared on the scene, showed him what he could do if he had a bigger, better machine and said, “Sign here.” Before Rodriguez knew it, he was the owner of a $120,000 piece of equipment, making payments of $3,500 a month. “I didn’t sleep for a couple of months,” he said. Instead, he worked. Today, the company Rodriguez founded just months after he finished high school has 26 employees, making landing gear and structural aerospace parts out of 10,000 square feet in two buildings in Pacoima. “These days everything is robotics,” Rodriguez said, “but I remember when we got our first Apple computer. That was a huge breakthrough.” Randy Roth Managing Member Sunquest Development Watch closely and you will very likely soon see a blighted Northeast Valley trash heap transformed into a 650,000-square-foot industrial complex. Look even closer and you’ll find Randy Roth, owner of the four-year-old Sunquest Development, which has managed to obtain rezoning permits for the Brandford Landfill in Arleta, and could very well be one of the driving forces behind a new era for growth in that long-neglected part of the Valley. Roth’s development company focuses on projects with environmental concerns somewhere in the subtext. It’s a company that’s also into books. Recently, Sunquest signed on with the Mayor’s literacy program and regularly provides for funding for reading programs and other teaching tools for under-served local schools. Jim Sherman President & CEO West Hills Hospital and Medical Center Like so many with outstanding careers in the health care industry, Jim Sherman has achieved success in recent years by steering his institution into a financial turnaround. As president and CEO of West Hills Hospital and Medical Center for nearly three years, he has kept a close eye on both the bottom line and the future as his hospital, the community it serves and the industry it is a part of have undergone massive changes. Nevertheless, as a native of the San Fernando Valley (a graduate of Birmingham High School and holder of two degrees from Cal State Northridge), Sherman said he has a vested interest in seeing that local health care entities continue to “coordinate their financial resources at the same time they improve access for the residents of the Valley.” Joel Simon Attorney & Partner Alperstein, Simon, Gillin & Scott Joel Simon isn’t just an attorney. He’s an educator and an active member of the Valley business community with interests in political science, history and constitutional law. As a partner in Alperstein, Simon, Gillin & Scott, Simon has tackled tough cases involving business law, real estate, civil litigation and commercial transactions. But his work in charitable planning has helped his clients give to non-profit foundations. Having served as an instructor on legal research and writing at Whittier College of Law, Simon says he most enjoys teaching and inspiring his students to pursue careers in the law. A member of several professional organizations, Simon often lends his expertise through pro bono work with municipal and superior courts in civil matters, small claims and other issues. Maurice Vanegas President Transit Systems Glendale native Maurice Vanegas has many irons in the fire these days, but what do you expect of a trained structural engineer who has chosen instead to make his living running a local transit firm? The 10-year-old Transit Systems is not just a local shuttle firm either: the company is deeply involved in the community, where it regularly donates part of its fleet of 41 buses and shuttles to local schools and charities. “I do a lot,” Vanegas said as he remembered to mention that he also frequently buys “fixer-upper” homes. Then, with the help of local investment groups, the houses are repaired and he allows his own employees to live in them, mortgage-free.Call the company any day of the week and Vanegas is as likely as anyone to answer the phone. “I’m still pretty much in a growth mode and I don’t often take a lunch. I enjoy that.” Alvaro Villa Chief Executive Officer AVG Productions A master in building animatronic robots, Alvaro Villa still relishes the assembly process to make his works come to life. “I’ve always been fascinated by electronics,” said Villa, a Colombian immigrant who founded and leads AVG Productions. Today, Villa’s business is booming. His robots have found their way to Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Universal Studios Hollywood and numerous other amusement parks across the country and around the world. The dinosaurs at Disney’s EPCOT Center and a robotic Benjamin Franklin at Disneyland are but a few of his noted creations. As a Walt Disney Co. engineer, he helped mold that company’s leadership in the world of animatronics. But his departure to build his own company has only added to his list of accomplishments. Today, Villa is making his mark with creations on television, in films and at a growing number of theme parks here and overseas – even in his native Colombia where he has created a musical revue with animatronic orchids – Colombia’s national flower. Stuart Waldman Community Activist A one-time high school dropout and eventual law school graduate, Stuart Waldman has crammed a lot of politics and community involvement into a relatively short number of years. While his business experience – so far, at least – is limited to a private-sector position he held with a Woodland Hills pension firm during his college and law school career, it was interrupted by the Northridge Earthquake and, like so many others in the Valley, he was forced to scramble to help an organization quickly resurrect itself under the most difficult of circumstances. Then, shortly after the 1996 election, Waldman joined the staff of just-elected State Assemblyman Robert M. Hertzberg. By 1998, he was Hertzberg’s senior field representative and, following Hertzberg’s election as Speaker of the California Assembly, Waldman became a special assistant to the speaker. Last year, he resigned that position to pursue his own campaign for a seat in the California State Assembly. Mel Wilson General Manager of Real Estate Operations Re/Max Centre Mel Wilson is known for his business savvy as well as for his dedication to the Valley business community. As a realtor, Wilson has closed more than 500 transactions and earned a number of awards, including the San Fernando Valley Association of Realtors’ Distinguished Realtor of the Year Award in 1991. Wilson serves on the Los Angeles Board of Fire Commissioners, the Cal State Northridge President’s Advisory Board and the Interim Joint Powers Agency San Fernando Valley Transit Zone Board of Directors, among others. He served on the county Metropolitan Transportation Authority from 1993 to 1997 and was president of the United Chambers of Commerce of the San Fernando Valley in 1988-89 and the Pacoima Chamber of Commerce from 1983 to 1985. Wilson was a member of the 1975 Kodak All-America Football Team.

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