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Wednesday, Feb 28, 2024

This Year’s 40 Honorees Follow Interesting, Varied Career Paths

Nearly 90 nominations were received this year during the Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 search for the top young professionals in the area. The nominations came from readers and other top businesspeople. Out of the nominations, 40 people were chosen as “honorees” who were featured at a recent Business Journal event. Their profiles are featured here. Because there were so many worthy nominations and only 40 honorees, several of the other nominees are featured as sources in other stories in this special report. J. Bilal “J.B.” Abdullah District Manager, North Valley Community Wells Fargo Bank Age: 36 Behind every great man is at least one great woman, the saying goes, and for J. Bilal Abdullah, known at Wells Fargo as J.B., it’s at least doubly true. While modesty would prevent him from agreeing to be called “great,” he does count his wife, Warna, and his mother as two of his most important influences and supporters. “My wife is probably one of the most incredible people I’ve ever met or ever will meet,” Abdullah said, “and I attribute a lot of my success to the way my mother raised me. She was a single mother who raised several children and my wife has been a great role model on how to be a very effective parent and good friend and leader.” Growing up in the Midwest also contributed to his work ethic, he added. Abdullah was raised in the rural community of Waterloo, Iowa, and completed pre-law studies at university in Minnesota. It was during his college years that he started his financial career. He truly worked from the ground up, joining Wells Fargo 15 years ago after graduation. “I started in a modest role in ‘distribution services,’ which is just a fancy term for the mailroom,” said Abdullah. Since then he has moved up through the ranks, relocating to California in 2001 and now reports to Vince Liuzzi, president of the Wells Fargo region that Abdullah works within. “His work ethic is really phenomenal,” said Liuzzi. “”He was working full-time, going through his MBA program and all of this additional training we put our executives through at the same time. So he was coaching his kids at night, staying up and studying until two in the morning to complete his MBA.” That would be his three children and his nephew who are all now teenagers, with ages ranging from 14 to 17. Liuzzi also cited Abdullah’s participation in the community, and particularly his membership on the board of directors of the nonprofit MEND, as one of the ways he fulfills Wells Fargo’s mission of helping within the communities they serve. “The North Valley community is vitally important to Wells Fargo and under J.B.’s leadership we have seen that business grow exponentially,” said Liuzzi, “and we have seen him also develop more leaders to be promoted into other parts of the company.” When asked what he would like others to know about him, Abdullah also cites his work with MEND. His particular area of focus is supporting the Council of Executives. “That’s a group of executives across the San Fernando Valley community that we have asked to help contribute not only in dollars but in their influence to get more participants to work with MEND,” said Abdullah. Given all of the above, it doesn’t seem like hyperbole when Liuzzi states, “J.B. is truly one of the most motivating and engaging individuals I’ve ever met.” — Linda Coburn Andrew Apfelberg Partner Rutter Hobbs & Davidoff Age: 37 In a field where 10 percent annual growth can garner headlines, Andrew Apfelberg, 37, partner in the Century City-based law offices of Rutter Hobbs & Davidoff, has grown his individual business volume by an estimated 50 percent each of the last three years. He’s credited with the firm’s second-largest earnings book. “I wish we could find a few more like him even one more,” said fellow Rutter Hobbs & Davidoff partner Marc Petas. Promoted to partner and chair of the firm’s marketing committee in 2006, Apfelberg, a Sherman Oaks resident, has earned the highest “AV” rating on the Martindale-Hubble online legal directory, which uses a peer review process to rate lawyers from around the world on ethics and effectiveness. The legal industry journal, “Law & Politics,” has also rated Apfelberg a “Super Lawyer” for outstanding performance five years in a row. Petas says Apfelberg demonstrates a deep understanding and respect for the concerns of his clientele, generally comprised of middle-market companies. “He ‘gets’ it Andrew has the wonderful ability to balance business projections with legal issues,” said Petas Apfelberg’s business savvy is rooted in his youth, when he intended to become an investment banker. As a teen, he read “Atlas Shrugged,” Ayn Rand’s seminal work. Inspired by an “Atlas” character, Apfelberg set his sights on banking. “I thought, ‘If that guy can do it, I can too.'” He studied business and finance at USC, where he graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in 1993. But Apfelberg, who grew up talking shop at the dinner table with his attorney father, who raised him as a single dad, realized he needed more human interaction in his work so he ventured to Boston College, earning a law degree with honors in 1996. With investment banking, Apfelberg noted, “you can have a very intense, in-touch relationship with a client during a deal, but then not talk to them again for maybe months, until they need your help again.” Now, Apfelberg said, he speaks with many of his clients daily, relishing every opportunity he has to strengthen his relationship with them. “Working as an attorney requires legal knowledge, business skill, all of my ability as a human being,” said Apfelberg proudly. “I can’t point to a building and say that’s my legacy, but I can point to a company and show my daughter what I’ve helped build, the relationships I’ve established.” — Erik Derr Oliver Ariztoy South Valley Metro District Manager Wells Fargo Bank Age: 33 Oliver Ariztoy has accomplished a lot in just over a year with Wells Fargo Bank. “It’s been remarkable to see him join our organization and in short order emerge as one of the leading business executives in the region,” said Vince Liuzzi, president of the Wells Fargo region in which Ariztoy works. “He rolled up his sleeves and got busy not only with his Wells Fargo team but also with his customers and the important community organizations he’s involved with.” Ariztoy recently joined the board of directors of VICA the Valley Industrial and Commerce Association and was team captain for the Walk of Ages which Liuzzi said raised more than $10,000 for the nonprofit Jewish Home for the Aging in December. The move to Wells Fargo followed a 12-year career with Bank of America. After rising through the ranks to lead and manage 34 banks in the West Los Angeles market, Ariztoy continued up the ladder, most recently as manager of B of A’s Central California/ Northern Nevada region which had more than 2,400 associates, 231 retail branches and $29 billion in deposits. He grew up in Bakersfield and Fresno, the son of a shepherd and a housewife who emigrated to the U.S. from the Basque region of Spain. Ariztoy’s parents spoke only Spanish at home and he didn’t start learning English until elementary school. He went on to complete his bachelor’s degree in human resources at California State University, Bakersfield, and an MBA from the University of LaVerne. Being bilingual has been helpful in Ariztoy’s career, particularly when he was working more closely and directly with customers than he does today. “Now my time is spent managing the store managers, so at work I never really use my language anymore,” said Ariztoy, “whereas when I was a branch manager I used it all the time.” Currently, the Sherman Oaks resident splits his time between managing 254 team members at 10 outlets in the Valley, completing his graduate degree from the Retail School for Bank Management at the University of Virginia, and helping to raise his two children, ages 1 and 2. “Really, I’m the most boring person,” he said. “When I’m not working, or doing schoolwork, I’m spending time with my family.” — Linda Coburn Andy Begun Partner Alston & Bird LLP Age: 39 It took an extended visit to Capitol Hill, three years in law school, a new wife, the impending birth of their first daughter and a personal jump start from his father before Andy Begun even considered practicing real estate law. Now, he’s a transactional attorney and partner in the law firm of Alston & Bird LLP. And Begun has not only discovered the “adrenaline rush” that comes from making a deal, but a way to keep his business thriving, even in the roughest of times. Begun, who graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1992 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and George Washington University’s law school in 1997, spent much of the last several months conferring about the economic downturn with his clients, many of whom have suffered sobering losses. “It has been just a brutal year,” he said. Yet, amid all the extraordinary gloom, Begun closed about $250 million in 2008, an estimated 25-percent increase in his overall revenue over the previous year. The way Begun tells it, he simply stayed the course, doing all the things he’s always done to attract and keep clients. Then again, when the dynamics of the downturn limited his flow of business to a trickle, he discovered more time to network, re-connect with existing clients and introduce himself to potential new ones simple but effective tricks of the trade often overlooked “when you’re just crazy busy.” Carrie Deck, an associate lawyer at Alston and Bird, asserts that Begun, before everything else, is an “extremely honest person .in a day and age when honesty is generally a lost virtue.” Begun’s clients, said Deck, “come back time and time again because they know they’re not going be taken for a ride, they’re not going to be screwed over. “He’s a genuinely nice guy .who gives it that extra something.” When he was in law school, Begun was pretty sure he’d never find that extra something in real estate law. He distinctly recalls glancing over at a buddy during an extended discussion about property easements and wondering how anyone in their right mind could find such minutia the least bit interesting. Such were the musings of a 20-something who was halfway through an exciting stint first as a Congressional aide and then as a government affairs representative for the Clinton Administration. Begun, like so many in D.C., was enamored with the goings on of the Capitol. “The whole experience of being there .I loved it. It was exciting, fascinating, intoxicating. It was an electric environment in which he and his new wife, Karen, planned to live for an extended while. But, when they found out they were expecting their first child, and Karen decided living close to family trumped everything else, the couple returned to the Los Angeles area and Begun immediately started looking for employment. At about the same time, a real estate attorney who worked in the same building Begun’s father worked as an executive headhunter, put the word out he needed help with his work load, pronto. Even though Begun’s father as a rule never handled lawyer referrals, he jumped to arrange a meeting between the real estate attorney and his son, who was was less than thrilled the first time he heard about the job. But with a wife and new one to feed on the way, Begun took the job. Actually, he had to convince the real estate attorney to give him a chance, despite his lack of experience. So, he got his shot and it didn’t take long for Begun to decide real estate law was a good fit after all. Maybe more than anything else, Begun’s success comes from believing he’s where he’s supposed to be, doing what he was meant to do. “I don’t have any dreams of being the best or the most successful,” he said. “I just want to be good at what I do.” — Erik Derr Zach Behrens Editor LAist Age: 28 While many traditional news media, including the Los Angeles Times and New York Times, have shuttered their local news coverage for lack of community interest, Zach Behrens leads a thriving Website that focuses on little else besides L.A. Behrens is editor of LAist.com, an Internet blogging site whose small army of about 40 regular and occasional contributors cover a wide variety of news, events, food, and entertainment from throughout the greater Los Angeles area. One of 13 similar, city-oriented sites operated by New York-based Gothamist LLC, LAist.com generates approximately 1.4 million page hits —- or, is visited by nearly 300,000 readers — each month, according to quantcast.com, which monitors online traffic. Behrens stays ever mindful of the kind of stories his readers want, and don’t. “It’s not about you (the blogger),” he said. “We’re about L.A informing people about living in L.A.” Behrens edits LAist.com with a deep interest in urban community that took root only after he migrated from Chicago to study musical composition and percussion at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. A summer internship with the City of Santa Clarita’s arts commission sparked in him such a fascination with urban issues that Behrens ran for election to Sherman Oaks neighborhood council when he moved to the area a few years later. He currently serves on the council’s public safety committee. “Zach’s inquisitive nature is infectious and inspiring,” said Lindsay William-Ross, who shares editorial duties with Behrens on the weekends. William-Ross says Behrens’ fair-minded and open — but nonetheless diligent — leadership style has given the staffers and contributors at Laist.com a renewed sense of mission. “It is so much fun working with him. He challenges us and makes us better,” and, in turn, “we try to cover all of it!” Improving LAist.com’s readability and Internet traffic are Behrens’ primary goals at this point. But, if there’s one thing he hopes the site encourages visitors to do, it’s become more involved in the world around them. “A lot of what I like to do has to do with personal empowerment show how to be a more informed citizen, said Behrens. — Erik Derr Justin Brauer Vice President Union Bank of California Age: 30 At just 30 years old, Justin Brauer, vice president of Union Bank of California in Woodland Hills, has frequently heard that he’s too youthful-looking to be such a successful banker. After all, in the financial industry, having a few gray hairs is practically de rigeur. Consider this precocity a testament to Brauer’s laser focus, rigorous work ethic, and dedication to customer service. “You have to know how to structure deals in different ways,” Brauer said. “It’s about working with customers, accountants, insurance brokers and attorneys to put financing arrangements together that are acceptable for both the banks and the client. You have to pay attention to potential prospects and learn about their businesses. You need to provide a resource that people might not otherwise have.” Responsible for a book of 20 middle-market clients, Brauer was named one of the bank’s top producers of 2008 in its middle market division. Despite the long hours he clocks in at the office, Brauer devotes a significant portion of his time to networking and charity work. An active member of the Freemasons, the Shriners and I Provisors, Brauer regularly volunteers at the Shriner’s Hospital, and the Shrine Circus, which raises money for children and hospitals. Brauer’s clients rave about his work ethic, honesty and dedication to maintaining relationships. “[Brauer] is one of the most motivated bankers I’ve ever met,” said Ron Waldman, senior vice president/partner of Glendale-based, Ryan Miller & Associates. “With his personality and intelligence, he can win over any client. He’s likeable, funny, and charismatic, but more importantly, he does his due diligence prior to meeting with a client. He’s always well-informed and is just an outstanding person.” Regarding the future, Brauer aspires to stay within the banking realm, hopefully attending banking graduate school and ascending into upper management. In his rare free time, Brauer also pursues a passion for cooking, attending culinary school. “I love that cooking moves at a totally different pace of life. You have to employ different thought processes, different environments, and different sets of rules and boundaries,” Brauer said. “But it’s the same as banking in that you have to have the same intense focus to make the outcome come out correctly.” Jeff Weiss Nate Dakar President MINDYS Cosmetics Age: 36 Nate Dakar was just a child when his parents launched the award-winning Sonya Dakar Skin Care brand in the 1970s. Today, at the age of 36, Nate Dakar is president of MINDYS Cosmetics, the San Fernando-based maker of the skincare line, which includes celebrity clients such as Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow. Sonya Dakar products have received a steady stream of praise. Not only has the skincare line been featured on television shows such as “Access Hollywood” and “Paula Zahn Now,” last year both Allure and Men’s Health magazines also gave Sonya Dakar accolades. While Allure honored the skincare line’s acne products, Men’s Health gave it an award for men’s grooming. With Nate Dakar as company head, MINDYS has grown annually. The company typically generates $10 million in revenues each year. The country entering a recession last year didn’t manage to stop MINDYS from growing. In 2008, the company achieved 5 percent growth. And in the years before, when the economy was stable, MINDYS typically grew by as much as 50 to 100 percent annually. “People need to feel good about themselves, even in an economy that’s a little bit stuck,” Dakar told the Business Journal about the company’s success. But Dakar also believes that Sonya Dakar Skin Care has thrived because it specializes in problem-skin products. In addition to acne products, the Sonya Dakar line features items that address skin discoloration, wrinkling and other issues. People believe that these products aren’t wants but needs, Dakar feels. “That’s what set us apart from all the rest of them,” he continued. “We got people to become results-oriented. Then, we morphed into total-body specialists, so the whole body is in shape.” His confidence in the product line is evidenced by the fact that this year MINDYS will debut six new Sonya Dakar items. “Even in a tough economy, [consumers] are willing to pay for [our products],” Dakar said. When the company began, products were mixed in a blender in the family kitchen and sorted on the dining room table because the Dakars had yet to move into the 64,000-square-foot facility that MINDYS now calls home. “In 1999, we began to take the products more seriously,” Dakar remembered. The company moved first from a Beverly Hills garage to a North Hollywood building and then to its present grounds in San Fernando. Although Sonya Dakar Skin Care is the brainchild of his parents, Israel and Sonya Dakar, Nate’s rise to the head of the company wasn’t simply a case of nepotism. “Nate was running the operations side,” his sister Mimi Dakar remembered of the company’s early days. Dakar also developed the company’s website. But Dakar doesn’t deny that his parents and siblings were instrumental to the company’s well-being. He said that they have been innovators in skin care and push him to succeed. “All of us were pieces to the puzzle,” he said. — Nadra Kareem Stephen W. Davis First Vice President of Investments, Financial Advisor Merrill Lynch Age: 38 Since Stephen Davis was 10 years old, reading stock quotes to his grandfather, he’s always been fascinated by the fast pace and intellectual challenges posed by the stock market. Of course, nearly 20 years ago the nation was mired in a bear market, so maybe it’s little surprise that even in the adverse economic conditions of today, the first vice president of investments and financial advisor for Merill Lynch’s Woodland Hill’s office has managed to successfully safe-guard his client’s retirements in the midst of the brobdingnagian challenges facing those in his line of work. Indeed, while many people are ruing the state of their 401K’s, Davis’ clients lavish approbation on him. “[Davis] is a very professional financial advisor and has done a great job for me despite these tough economic times,” George R. Kingsley, of Encino-based, Kingsley & Kingsley said. While Davis readily admits that there are no panaceas for even the best financial gurus, one can gain an edge on the competition by listening closely to their clients goals and vigilantly monitoring the market at large. “You need to understand and monitor your clients’ goals and objectives for the long term,” Davis said. “I need to stay on top of the entire financial situation and am constantly attempting to stay informed on all aspects of the ever-changing financial markets. Sure, the conditions make my job more difficult, but that’s why you need to do even more research.” Yet Davis’s clients assert that his uniqueness extends far beyond financial acumen. Howard W. Dicker, a partner at Dicker & Dicker LLP, maintains that it is Davis’s personal qualities that help illustrate why he’s so good at his job. “My firm has worked with [Davis] for a good period of time and have received advice that has yielded great success,” Dicker said. “Such success is directly related to his careful and truthful statements. His honest and frankness is a huge asset that I appreciate. We’re also blown away with his knowledge and attributes and feeling and obligation to duty.” — Jeff Weiss Tiffany DeVall Regional Director of Internal Communications Providence Health & Services California Age: 33 Tiffany DeVall began working for Providence Health & Services when she was just 23. In the ten years that has followed, DeVall has quickly moved up the ranks, transitioning from a marketing and PR specialist to associate director of the department to regional director of internal communications. Today, she oversees communications for five Providence hospitals, not to mention several ambulatory sites, a high school and a medical group that are affiliated with Providence Health & Services locally. Last year, DeVall faced the biggest challenge of her career when Providence acquired Tarzana Medical Center. It was DeVall’s job to manage communications related to the acquisition. This was no easy task considering that Tarzana’s former operator, Tenet Corp., is a public company and the purchase had to remain a secret, lest insider trading become a problem. Adding to the complexity of DeVall’s task was that Providence had been eyeing Tarzana for four years, the length of time the hospital had been up for sale. “That was very challenging,” DeVall recalled. “It was my job to ensure that things were being communicated properly.” It was also DeVall’s responsibility to make the Tarzana staffers feel as if they were part of the Providence team from the outset. She didn’t want there to be an “us vs. them” mentality when the acquisition was finalized. In the end, “The transition went off seamlessly,” DeVall said. “When they came over, they were immediately part of the team,” she said. “It was very exciting when the (new) employees were on board.” DeVall recalled the Tarzana employees receiving their new ID badges, eating cake and punch in the lobby and the signs that were put up to welcome them. Kerry Carmody, who nominated DeVall for the 40 under 40 Award, also recalled how employees were immediately able to access information about their health benefits and other policies, thanks to DeVall. Carmody is the head of Providence Holy Cross Medical Center, one of the handful of hospitals for which DeVall oversees communications. Carmody believes that DeVall exhibits executive instincts well beyond her 33 years. DeVall, on the other hand, credits her enthusiasm for her work to her love for Providence. She considers the hospital system to be much more than a provider of health care. Instead, DeVall refers to Providence, which has a Catholic mission, as a ministry. “It offers health screenings, counseling, educational events,” she explained of her word choice. DeVall, who began her career in journalism as a news editor and staff writer for the Daily Sundial and Scene Magazine at Cal State Northridge, prefers her current field of work to that of print media. “I’ve had the opportunity to learn so much about healthcare and how politics plays into it and how having your employees committed to your organization are really the keys to success,” she said. “I love what I’m doing. I love the challenge. I don’t know what’s going to knock at the door tomorrow. I see so many opportunities for future growth.” — Nadra Kareem Kenneth E. Devore Founder Kenneth E. Devore & Associates Age: 39 It’s never easy to start a small law firm from scratch, particularly when you’re practically fresh out of professional school. Yet Kenneth E. Devore, the founder of Westlake Village-based estate planning firm, Kenneth E. Devore & Associates, did just that after having a bad experience working for another firm. “There’s less politics involved when you’re working for yourself,” Devore said. “It makes decision making quicker and more efficient. You don’t get embroiled in disputes with partners — although, of course, it’s important to have camaraderie and consult with people outside your firm. You don’t want to sit there in a vacuum and try to learn your craft.” And Devore has certainly learned his craft, molding his nine-employee firm (with one associate), into one of the largest and most successful firms in the Conejo Valley. In addition, the 39-year old attorney helped found the Conejo Valley Real Estate Planning Council and grow revenues in each year of the firm’s existence. “[Devore] is the most ethical and honest personal I know,” Steve Thomas, a financial planner, at Westlake Village-based Financialpointe, said. “He’s always telling the truth and as his client, it makes you feel like you can always trust him. When you’re an estate planning attorney, that’s a critical skill.” As conventional business logic dictates: it’s all about building a brand, and Devore’s blend of honesty, hard work and integrity seems as rock-ribbed as they come. “How you brand your firm really reflects the kind of person that you are. I’ve tried to structure my practice so that the themes of the firm reflect my values and my personality,” Devore said. “I’m going beyond just trying to be profitable, but also looking at firm culture, firm values, and making sure the people that work here adhere to them and live those values.” Regarding his firm’s future, Devore hopes to build a practice that will one day outlast him, expanding the firm to include several more associates and ultimately, hoping to stand out as a leading estate planning firm within the region. A former member of a college rock band, Devore’s hobbies include playing guitar, cooking and tennis. — Jeff Weiss Jason Feffer CEO/Co-Founder Sodahead.com Age: 38 Conventional logic would dictate that staying with 56,000 employee, billionaire-backed behemoth Myspace.com would’ve been the safe move for Jason Feffer. After all, the serial entrepreneur had risen to become the social networking site’s vice president of operations and served on its executive committee of overseeing advertising, after having been with the start-up since its birth (he was the site’s fourth member). But never one to rest on his laurels, Feffer jumped ship, piqued by the idea of starting the opinion-based networking community, Sodahead.com, with long-time childhood friend and fellow 40 Under 40, Michael Glazer. The move turned out to be wise, as the company’s stock dropped 75 percent after he left. “People think working at a large company is the safe route, but that isn’t always the case. Newscorp cashed us out and I’d already learned a lot from Myspace,” Feffer said. “When I had the opportunity to do something big on my own, the entrepreneurial spirit in me said now is the time. The timing was right, [Glazer] and I had the resources and we leapt at the opportunity.” Feffer’s logic paid off in spades, as Sodahead took off rapidly. Launched in just 2007, Sodahead already has 1.2 million registered members and receives over 2 million unique monthly visitors. Additionally, the site has raised 12.7 million in financing, with the latest infusion, an $8.4 million round of venture capital led by Mission Ventures. Unlike most social networking sites that have struggled to reconcile their massive traffic numbers with advertising sales, Sodahead doesn’t even have a sales team, relying only on Google ad sense and ad networks. Yet according to Feffer, they’re making ten times what the competition is doing. Essentially, the site works in web 1.0 fashion: with scads of user-generated free content, much of which is editorial and news driven. Sodahead bills itself as the ideal space for those with something to say; accordingly, its denizens discuss everything from their favorite colors, to presidential politics, to whether you prefer minivans to convertibles. David DiPilato, the vice president of performance media at Photobucket Inc. has known Feffer since their days at Myspace and speaks incredibly highly of his business savvy and intelligence. Feffer’s success at Sodahead doesn’t surprise him, DiPilato said. “Jason has the passion and tenacity that every good entrepreneur must have; pushing hard to get things done and delivering on what he promises,” DiPilato said. “To successfully lead an Internet company you must have a solid understanding of the technical components and a strong business acumen, Jason has both.” — Jeff Weiss Gabriela Fernandez Controller Bobrick Washroom Equipment Inc. Age: 33 Balancing the demands of raising a young son, a marriage and a rapid rise throughout the corporate ranks is no simple task, but Gabriella Fernandez has done so with aplomb. In her five and a half years at venerable Valley manufacturing firm, North Hollywood-based, Bobrick Washroom Equipment Inc., Fernandez has ascended from internal auditor, to running accounts receivable, to manager of corporate accounting, then finally controller, a promotion nearly equivalent to one station each year. Fernandez’s rise is attributable to both temperament and talent, said her boss, Jerald Otchis, the vice president of finance and administration at Bobrick, “[Fernandez’s] very poised and calm under pressure,” Otchis said. “She has a good vision of the finish line, what her goals are, and she’s goal oriented. She’s shown the ability to interact with other people and solve problems in non-threatening ways.” While working as controller for a company as large as Bobrick would be a difficult task under any circumstances, Fernandez has been saddled with the particularly onerous task of helping the company absorb firms that it has acquired,as well as deal with helping to manage the financial intricacies of numerous international locales. “I’ve had to learn how the new companies do things and see how we can improve on them, as well as integrate and consolidating all the locations,” Fernandez said. “You have to make sure you’re consistent on how we do things. You have to learn how they do business and simultaneously let them know how we do it ourselves.” Like many of her fellow 40 Under 40s, Fernandez has ran into occasional reverse age discrimination, with people shocked at her youth in relation to her job status. Yet as the youngest child in her family growing up, Fernandez was prepared well at having to prove her bona fides. “I’m really proud of being able to be at my age; seeing who the majority of people at this level are, you quickly realize they’re typically much older,” Fernandez said. “It’s certainly been a bit of a challenge. Sometimes, people look at me as, ‘the young one.’ But I think I’ve been able to prove that I belong.” — Jeff Weiss Julie Fonseca Director of Economic Development Valley Economic Development Center Age: 28 When Julie Fonseca was hired to be the VEDC’s director of economic development, she filled a position that hadn’t existed prior, something that she says was a huge asset, as there were no shoes to fill and wide-open parameters. Only in her early 20s then, she was immediately met with a massive task: establishing a Federal Credit Union Charter for the Pacoima Development Federal Credit Union, the first of its kind in the Pacoima community. “I had to raise funding, figure out a location, get the charter, it wasn’t easy,” Fonseca said. “But there’s something to be said about not having to follow any preconceived notions or boundaries. You’re not aware of the obstacles, you just move forward. Of course, we found obstacles: the city told us no, there were many meetings with attorneys who told us that we had a good cause, but still gave us reasons not to progress.” Yet progress Fonseca did, with forward motion that eventually yielded an 11,000 square foot project that had a huge impact on a Pacoima community that had been formerly covered with check cashers. The lessons learned have served her well on her current project: a 17,000 square foot. entrepreneurial and training center in Pacoima. Fonseca’s boss, VEDC President Roberto Barragan, has high praise for the USC M.B.A. “Having grown up in Boyle Heights and with an extensive background in real estate and economic development, [Fonseca] understands first-hand the struggles and obstacles of small business owners, such as immigration, language, and access to capital,” Barragan said. “She’s the epitome of both dedication and inspiration at VEDC. You often find her working into the middle of the night.” Currently, with getting a small business loan more difficult than it has been in recent memory, Fonseca has helped lead the VEDC to an even more vital position. “When we lost a bid contract a few years ago, it made us look inward, we learned what we were doing right and wrong, what our strengths were and what our weaknesses were,” Fonseca said. “When times were good, anyone could’ve gotten a loan, but now that times are tough people are looking to us. We’ve already given out a year’s worth of loans in the last month. The demand has been outrageous.” — Jeff Weiss Lee Fossey Regional Director Manpower Age: 36 When Lee Fossey arrived at Manpower several years ago, he was beset with several obstacles: locally, the firm didn’t have the finest reputation in the world, and it was primarily known for light industrial staffing and other blue-collar type employment. Under his aegis, he’s solidified the international staffing firm’s presence in the Valley, in the process expanding people’s perceptions of the firm’s capabilities,to include everything from clerical administration to permanent and direct job placement. In just the last two years, Fossey has helped create and develop a new state-of-the-art “brand experience” branch for downtown Los Angeles, grow the firm’s permanent placement division from five to 20 employees, and implement new leadership programs that allow branch managers to take ownership of their branch’s production and success. Fossey himself has recruited many of those managers, who have gone onto become some of the industry’s top branch managers, a fact that has spurred fiscal growth at nearly all of the 12 branches Fossey is responsible for. “I attribute it to competitiveness I learned growing up playing soccer in England,” Fossey said. “You can’t find anything more competitive than that and it gave me a real cutting edge. Manpower is a very successful organization, a $22.7 billion company in 80 countries; when you leverage that type of exposure and backing into the marketplace in the Valley you open eyes.” But it has also opened the eyes of his employees, who have nothing but gushing praise for their boss. “[Fossey’s] my direct manager and I’ve learned a lot about leadership from him. Other managers and directors always pay attention to him and his opinions are always listened to and valued at corporate headquarters,” Paul Byrne, who works with Fossey at Manpower, said. “I look to him for advice and am regularly inspired by his leadership. He has great vision.” Indeed, in addition to the aforementioned achievements, Fossey has produced and negotiated several deals to get his region involved with “green” staffing. According to those within the company, the green push has provided a new direction for Manpower and allowed it to become the sole staffing partner of the Los Angeles 2008 Green Expo. Fossey also serves on the Board of Directors for VICA and the Valley Economic Alliance. In the future, he hopes to continue ascending through the Manpower ranks and duplicating the successes he’s had in the Valley, with other regions. — Jeff Weiss Jessica Freude Economic Development Associate City of Santa Clarita Age: 30 In January, the City of Santa Clarita set a filming record. The number of shoots there increased by 265 percent compared to a year ago, making a record-breaking economic impact of $2.3 million on the city. While a number of factors are responsible for the boost in filming, Santa Clarita’s economic development associate Jessica Freude surely shares much of the credit. “Jessica has built working relationships with production companies and industry professionals as well as done a great job of utilizing marketing tools to highlight Santa Clarita’s distinctive locations, crew base, quality film-related businesses and film-friendly approach to production,” said Jason Crawford, the city’s marketing and economic development manager. Freude’s efforts to make Santa Clarita a destination for film production in Southern California is just one of her achievements. In the four years that Freude has overseen film and tourism economic development in the city, Santa Clarita become home to major events such as the Amgen Tour, the Italian Feast and the Valley Fair as well as new hotels such as the Embassy Suites, La Quinta Inn and Suites and Courtyard by the Marriott. Participating in travel shows, promoting upcoming events as current events unfold and leaving promotional materials about city events in regional airports and welcome centers are the methods Freude uses to bring tourists to Santa Clarita. While Six Flags is undoubtedly Santa Clarita Valley’s premier destination, Crawford credits Freude for drawing attention to the additional attractions the area has to offer. According to Crawford, Freude single handedly expanded the Santa Clarita Valley Tourism Bureau from 10 members into a 40-member public-private partnership which identifies travel trends, markets area businesses and works collectively to promote Santa Clarita as a whole rather than just Six Flags. Despite the advancements for which she is responsible, Freude said there is no one achievement she values most. Instead, she is proud of her entire body of work as a young professional and continually strives to be a better manager. — Nadra Kareem Sheri Grossberg Partner Solomon Ross Grey & Co. Age: 34 It’s not clear when Sheri Grossberg’s parents realized they were raising a future accountant although they probably were suspicious when their young daughter charged them interest every time they were late with her allowance. “And, yes, they paid it,” laughed Grossberg, 34, a partner at Encino-based Solomon Ross Grey & Company. “They didn’t complain, I think because I got straight A’s.” It’s also likely her parents didn’t mind her early financial diligence because it hinted at the emergence of personal initiative and strength characteristics what would serve Grossberg well in the financial world. In fact, since earning a bachelor’s degree in economics from UCLA in 1996, Grossberg has taken the initiative on several industry-related issues that have set her apart as an advocate for workplace growth and change. Grossberg who generated about half of the firm’s 10 percent growth in revenue in 2008 is keenly aware that she’s a top-selling, 30-something businesswoman in a field dominated by folks nearly twice her age. The current lack of young blood in the halls of accounting power is due, at least in part, to the decision by many in Grossberg’s age bracket to pursue the immediate riches of other professions, notably investment banking. Grossberg, named a partner at the beginning of this year, does what she can to encourage younger number-crunchers, either still in school or new to the financial community. Start-up companies have become somewhat of her specialty in recent years, again a result of her more-youthful attitudes towards the rigors of helping a company develop its financial structure. Frankly, she said, an accountant can become an integral part of a start-up’s business. “You’re there to walk them through their baby steps, do a lot of hand-holding ..and you end up on call a lot, there to assist so soon as they need you.” Established accounting professionals in their 40s, 50s and 60s typically “don’t want to roll up their sleeves” and do such grunt work, she said. And, that’s fine with Grossberg, who earns up about 20 percent of her overall business with start-up auditing. “I love start-ups!” she said. Grossberg has taken the lead in developing the company’s benefit plan auditing department. And she’s also initiated a shift toward electronic record-keeping and away from traditional accounting books which eat reams of paper, but to which many accounting companies still cling. All of Grossberg’s efforts, said Fred Solomon, one of the firm’s principals, demonstrates her ability to adapt many different circumstances and seize the opportunities that come her way. “Sheri is the type who looks for opportunities .is very skilled and knowledgeable and energetic and personable,” Solomon said. Quite simply, he continued, Grossman meets all the qualities he seeks in a fellow partner “to a T .she will definitely be an integral part of our future growth.” — Erik Derr Yair Haimoff Senior Associate NAI Capital Age: 32 When Yair Haimoff was informed in January that he was one of his brokerage’s top producers for 2008, he took the news in stride. After all, he has been a member of the NAI Capital Club, the real estate company’s way of identifying the best of the best, every year for the six that he’s worked there. “This year, 2008, was a little tough toward the end, so you had to work harder for less,” said Haimoff. “We’re hustling more, doing more deals, but not getting the same income because the transactions are different. Instead of selling, it’s a lot more leasing.” To top it off, he got married on Jan. 18 to Dalila, the woman who got him started in real estate. After graduating from California State University Northridge with a bachelor’s degree in criminology in 2003, Haimoff was all set to go into law enforcement. His then-fiancee, a developer, suggested he try commercial real estate. “It’s still high-stress, but safer,” Haimoff told the Business Journal in an interview last year when he was selected by the paper as one of the region’s outstanding commercial real estate brokers. “Basically, he’s probably one of the hardest working brokers we have,” said one of his mentors, Tim Foutz. “Because of his knowledge and drive (he) has been able to make a tremendous amount of money.” It’s that drive that Haimoff sees as being necessary for carrying him through this time of economic uncertainty. “You just have to do more deals,” he said. “I had more volume in the three months of November, December and January than the past 12 months, which was completely different.” There is a lot of movement in the market, said Haimoff, with some companies taking advantage of lower prices to expand and others needing to downsize. “Also, a lot of companies are moving to the San Fernando Valley from the Culver City area, the Santa Monica area for cheaper rents,” he said. “Then some people from the San Fernando Valley are moving to the Santa Clarita Valley for cheaper rents. Even right now we’re very busy.” He credits his mentor, Foutz, with contributing to his success, and with the teamwork he enjoys in the Encino office at NAI Capital out of which he operates. “Whenever I get awarded a project, automatically I get a team on that project,” said Haimoff. “Every project is different: it just depends on where the project is, what type of product is it ” Now that his Maui honeymoon has ended, Haimoff has rolled up his sleeves and is digging into business again. “I think brokers will just have to work a little harder because of all the demand and all the fluctuation in the market,” said Haimoff, “We’re going to have more listings but we’ll have to work harder on those listings to get them done.” — Linda Coburn Jenna Hardy Director, Partner Reporting & Management Warner Bros. Interactive Age: 38 It strikes some as odd that Jenna Hardy took her educational background in language and turned it into a career bridging finances and technology. But as the 38 year old explained there are similarities between language and finances. Both are systems where the individual parts go together to tell a story. First at The Walt Disney Co. and now at Warner Bros. Interactive Hardy has shown her value in overseeing special projects that improve efficiencies in automated processes. “I look for patterns, how things fit together in a story,” Hardy said. The Colorado native describes her career as not one that easily fits into any box considering how it incorporates elements of accounting and information technology. She can’t close the books and she can’t write code for software but shows enough savvy to know the needs of an accounting department and an IT department and how to make them function together. While at Disney, for example, Hardy worked on an $800,000 general ledger system and managed a team that implemented a $900,000 web-based financial consolidation and reporting system. The positions she had at the Burbank-based entertainment and media conglomerate are ones Hardy described as hybrids. “While these hybrids jobs are critical they are not the most obvious ones to fill because they take a unique combination of skills,” Hardy said. As Hardy’s former boss on two occasions at Disney, Kristina Smith got to see firsthand how well Hardy could translate between the tech world and the finance world. Hardy is results oriented and carved out a unique role for herself that the company was comfortable with because she produced results, Smith said. “The thing she brings is an innovative view of business how do you make it better, faster,” Smith added. “She can operate in two specialties at once.” In her job at the videogame division of Warner Bros. Hardy uses the skills honed at Disney in working with third-party game developers and managing their financial and operational reporting. “It is not limited as to finance, accounting and IT as the other jobs,” Hardy said. “Now I get to do sales and marketing.” — Mark R. Madler Melissa Harman Senior Manager Moss Adams LLP Age: 33 Melissa Harman might have always enjoyed crunching numbers, but her love for accounting took the most shape in the roughest neighborhoods of New York. That’s where she saw how much her skills could help others. Harmon, 33, is a senior manager at the offices of accounting firm Moss Adams LLP, where, thanks in great part to her efforts, the firm’s regional not-for-profit book has grown from a single client in 2001 to comprising about 10 percent of the office’s annual business. Back in 1998, Harman a Missouri native who attended and graduated from Hawaii Pacific University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration followed her Marine husband to his new station in the Big Apple. Soon she was hired by a regional accounting firm that specialized in auditing not-for-profits. Harman worked frequently in the field, often visiting the strained neighborhoods her clients served. But, instead of feeling intimidated by those experiences, as some of her co-workers did, Harman felt inspired and forever changed. “My work wasn’t just calculating numbers,” she said. “I ended up feeling really passionate about what they were doing.” Harman had the opportunity three years later to export her interests to Los Angeles when she again moved with her husband, who by then had left the Marine Corps for a position with the California Highway Patrol. The couple settled in Santa Clarita and Harman was hired at Moss Adams, where the firm’s outreach to not-for-profits was just starting to take shape. But, unlike the family support programs Harman worked with in New York, Moss Adams was looking to cultivate not-for-profits such as the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California, one of its current clients, and other private higher-education and secondary school organizations. Southern California’s educational community was sprawling and diverse and represented a dramatic strategy for Harman, whose previous not-for-profit contacts were comparatively much more closely-knit. Nonetheless, Todd Van der Wel, Moss Adams’ regional managing partner, remembers Harman definitely wanted to return to the not-for-profit arena. “Melissa knew what she wanted to be,” he said, “and she laid out a plan to get there.” Moss Adams Partner Jay Azar, who directly oversees development of the 10-member not-for-profit marketing team, says Harman has absolutely helped the not-for-profit initiative move forward. “She’s kept us together .helped us stay like a team, work as a team.,” he said. At the moment, Harman is committed to navigating the financial downturn with her clients, some of whom “have seen a 50 percent drop in their endowments,” she said. She feels optimistic, though, that Moss Adams will increase its not-for-profit resources substantially in the not-so-distant future. “I really do love the clients I work for,” she said. “This is making a real difference in lives of children, in the lives of students.” Said Harman: “I can sleep at night.” — Erik Derr Melissa Lalum Publisher, The Daily Sundial California State University, Northridge Age: 38 When Melissa Lalum traded the bustle of the Daily News newsroom for the publisher’s chair of The Daily Sundial at California State University, Northridge, she didn’t stray far from what she loves about a workplace. “So much of what I enjoy is working with people and nothing is better than seeing my students improve,” Lalum said. It was the same at the Daily News where Lalum rose to managing editor, the number two editor position at the paper. She left last summer after nearly 12 years to oversee the Sundial and lecture in the CSUN journalism program. Existing ties with the university through setting up internship programs eased the transition from major daily newspaper to academia. All the while, Lalum watched as fellow reporters and editors at the Daily News and other papers lost their jobs to budget cuts. The lessons learned from the industry’s dire circumstances leads Lalum to impart to her students the need to think critically, be lifelong learners and not be comfortable with what they know. At the same time, the shift to new ways of disseminating news and information shouldn’t be discouraging. “It is really exciting to be empowering students to let them know they are part of the change,” Lalum said. A graduate of University of California at Santa Barbara, Lalum worked at smaller newspapers in Northern California before landing at the Ventura County Star. She joined the Daily News in 1996, left for a brief time to handle corporate communications for Kinko’s and then returned to the Daily News. While at the Daily News, where she was a copy editor, page designer, Sunday editor and assistant managing editor, Lalum said she was never conscious of being a leader. She sees herself as someone who could make good decisions that resulted in promotions. As managing editor she was responsible for hiring and recruiting, a learning process if there ever was one. “Taking on those responsibilities definitely helps you grow,” Lalum said. She gives credit as well to those she worked with, particularly former Daily News editor Ron Kaye who taught her more than anyone in her career about news and copyediting. Lalum was the gentle antidote to his bombast in the Daily News newsroom, said Kaye. As her journalistic skills grew, Lalum was able to get the most out of the reporting staff and get them to take direction and feel good about it, Kaye said. “I could not have had done the things I wanted to do to be true to my own beliefs without Melissa,” Kaye added. “We were able to create a newsroom that had an honest and real energy that came from (the staff).” — Mark R. Madler Ayala Levinson Director Tiffany & Co. Westfield Topanga Shopping Center Age: 37 For more than 13 years, Ayala Levinson climbed the corporate ladder at Tiffany & Co, starting her career at their exclusive Beverly Hills store in corporate sales, and on occasion, she would act as the sales or operations manager. For most of that time, though, Levinson was the advocate, within the organization, for Tiffany to open a store in the San Fernando Valley. “I would talk to anyone who would listen or lobby anyone who had influence to make it happen. Of course, part of it was for selfish reasons. I wanted to stop commuting and work closer to my home in Woodland Hills,” she admits. In April of 2008, her wish came true when Tiffany & Co. opened their store in the newly remodeled and expanded Westfield Topanga Shopping Center. Levinson became the store director and she oversees her own management team and staff. Nellie Seddigh, vice president at Tiffany has been Levinson’s supervisor and mentor over the years and finds her to be a dynamic leader and mentor to many women in the organization. “She rose through the ranks due to her deep commitment, professionalism and recognition of our superior service standards. She is a consummate leader with strategic thinking and clear vision” As a longtime resident of the Valley, Levinson is happy to see so many more opportunities like Tiffany & Co appearing in her growing community and they are pleased with their new location, according to Levinson. “One of our traditions is to partner with area groups and maintain a strong presence working with other businesses, donating auction items or hosting community events. This way Tiffany gets the opportunity to combine their traditions with the community.” She recently hosted a breakfast for the board of the Valley Economic Alliance at the store and looks forward to being actively involved in a variety of wonderful causes that will come to her attention through her store’s business contacts. Levinson received a Bachelor’s Degree in English and considered a career in law for a while, but when she found an opportunity with Tiffany & Co, she decided to go for it. “I knew that it was a strong quality brand. I find that I really enjoy the company, the product, my coworkers, and helping our clients celebrate special occasions.” Besides her passion for Tiffany, Levinson stresses the importance of spending quality time with her family and participating in her children’s’ activities. As a member of the Woodland Hills/Tarzana Chamber of Commerce, she is involved in supporting her children’s schools, Woodlake Avenue Elementary and JCC preschool in West Hills. She is an active member of Temple Aliyah. — Jo-Ann Cubello Nick Lymberopoulos Chief Financial Officer Providence Tarzana Medical Center Age: 38 For most of Nick Lymberopoulos’ tenure as chief financial officer of Providence Tarzana Medical Center, the hospital was for sale. In mid-2003, when Lymberopoulous assumed the role of CFO, the healthcare facility was one half of Encino-Tarzana Regional Medical Center. By early 2004, Tenet Corp., the medical center’s then owner, announced that it was putting the hospital on the market. During the more than four years it took for both halves of the healthcare facility to find buyers, Lymberopoulos had the task of managing it with no capital budget. “I think the biggest obstacle was just trying to keep operations going,” he recalled. That task may have proven daunting for others in his situation, but Lymberopoulos persevered, hitting his budget target 48 out of 55 months. Lymberopoulos’ success is no surprise, considering the achievements he made before his time at Tarzana. At Lakewood Regional Medical Center, for example, he increased net revenue by $1 million. Also, as CFO of Community Hospital and Mission Hospital of Huntington Park, he reduced bad debt expenses from 8.7 to 4.7 percent of net revenue. “One of my strengths in management and getting the job done is the integrity of the books,” Lymberopoulos said when asked to name his standout qualities. “I try to keep the books with high integrity and ethics.” Lymberopoulos never set out to have a career in healthcare-related finance. A dual business and economics major, he began his career as an accountant. He then became a controller and, after that, a CFO. Eventually, “I just fell into a place where I knew I wanted to work in the financial healthcare industry,” he said. Lymberopolus believes that this segment of finance offers more challenges than other sectors do. “Every day is a new day,” he explained. “You can’t plan your day out. There’s perpetual change, and, when you go to work, you’re going to be hit with something new. [You] take a step back and handle it and address it.” Thanks to his expertise, Tarzana Medical Center CEO Dale Surowitz credits Lymberopoulos with finessing the hospital’s transition from Tenet to Providence ownership in an $89 million deal finalized in September. Because he so expertly managed the hospital’s finances when there were few resources to draw on, Surowtiz , who nominated Lymberopoulos for the 40 under 40 Award , believes that the young CFO is suited to ably manage the hospital’s finances as Providence Health & Services makes major investments in Tarzana related to equipment upgrades and seismic retrofitting. Despite the enormous undertakings he’s faced at Tarzana, Lymberopoulos declined to pinpoint one specific achievement that has defined him professionally. “I would say I was proud of being the chief financial officer for 11 years,” he said, referring to his time at Tarzana and other medical centers. “There’s no single accomplishment.” — Nadra Kareem Ben Marcus Co-Founder JetAVIVA Age: 26 As a salesman and flight test engineer at Eclipse Aviation, Ben Marcus learned a lot of what can make a company successful. But he also saw firsthand what missteps a company can make, such as how Eclipse, now under bankruptcy protection, could make airplanes but fell short in its customer service. So when Marcus and long-time friend Cyrus Sigari started their very light jet management and services company JetAVIVA the pair made it a priority to treat their customers with a high level of respect and integrity. “We are in business because of our customers’ happiness,” Marcus said. A love for aviation was planted early for Marcus, who grew up next to the Santa Monica Airport. He and Sigari were in their teens when they drew up their first business plan a charter flight service to Catalina Island. It would take another decade until the pair founded JetAVIVA. In between Marcus graduated from Purdue University and worked in the flight department for United Technologies and then as a Cessna salesman before recruited to work at Eclipse in Albuquerque. An engineer by training, it was at Eclipse where Marcus received his business education. He saw first hand how to market, balance cash flow and bring in future investment. The experience also planted the seed for JetAVIVA. Marcus saw how and met many people who were taking ownership of a very light jet for the first time and frankly needed some assistance. JetAVIVA, located at Van Nuys Airport, started out as an aircraft management company but then expanded into other services, such as flight training and the jet acceptance service that Marcus supervises that will put an aircraft through its paces before the owner takes delivery. There are other aircraft brokers out there but JetAVIVA is unique because of its focus on owner pilots flying very light jets. Jan Gerritse, who has purchased two jets with the assistance of JetAVIVA, called Marcus very trustful and a great instructor when he and Marcus flew one of the planes from Florida to New Mexico. “He was honest with me about the risks,” Gerritse wrote by e-mail from his home in The Netherlands. His youthful age has never been an issue and Marcus is not aware of losing business because of it. In fact, he finds his age to be a benefit because people like doing business with someone young and clients will take on the role of mentor. “Anybody who buys a jet is typically an experience businessperson and all of our customers enjoy sharing (that experience) with us,” Marcus said. — Mark R. Madler Evan Masyr Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Salem Communications Inc. Age: 37 Becoming a media giant was farthest from Evan Masyr’s mind the first time he stepped into the offices of Camarillo-based Salem Communications. Almost a decade ago, Masyr who now serves as the media company’s Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, was looking for a change from the management position he held for seven years with PriceWaterhouseCoopers. “It was less about what the company was doing, more about the challenge,” Maysr said. Whatever new position he found, he needed it to feel “more than just a job, more than a career.” The suggestion of a neighbor led Masyr to Salem where he became the controller when the media company had just gone public and beginning its rise as one of the country’s leading broadcasters, online providers and publishers of Christian content. Masyr recalled entering an accounting department where many of its imperative processes had stalled. Problem areas included internal reporting, payroll, accounts payable and public filings, the latter of which was immediately transferred back in-house. “A lot of this internally needed to be fixed,” Masyr said. After Masyr had effected the necessary organizational adjustments, the company embarked on an aggressive expansion plan that has left Salem today operating 95 radio stations, 58 of which are in 23 of the nation’s 25 top markets. The company also syndicates almost 200 hours of original programming a week to more than 2,000 affiliate stations in 305 North American markets. Joe Davis, president of Salem’s radio division, said that while Masyr’s financial acumen pushed Salem forward when it needed to grow, he has kept the company secure during the economic downturn. “Evan is extraordinarily bright and hard-working,” Davis said, and has improved the company’s work environment, sense of teamwork and spiritual mission. Maysr’s professionalism and personal ideals embody everything that Salem represents, said Davis, setting Salem’s “gold standard” for company success. “Evan,” Davis said, is a “light to all, whether they’re Christian believers or not.” — Erik Derr Geoff Matthews Assistant Group Manager Comerica Bank Age: 34 By his own admission, there’s nothing sexy about banker Geoff Matthews. He’s the father of three children, all under the age of six, (with a fourth on the way in May) and his primary extracurricular activity would be golfing, if he had time to get on a course. “I always laugh when I hear the term ‘banker’s hours’,” said Matthews, without a trace of bitterness. “I haven’t seen ‘banker’s hours’ since the day I started.” An alumnus of the University of California, Santa Barbara who majored in economics with an emphasis on accounting, Matthews has worked in the accounting and banking fields since graduation. He won a competitive internship with Coopers & Lybrand in San Francisco that resulted in his being offered a job and a signing bonus before starting his senior year of college. “For a 21-year-old, that’s a dream,” said Matthews. He worked with Coopers and then Price Waterhouse after their merger, but was getting burned out by the fast pace of business in the Bay Area during the late ’90s. A referral to an Imperial Bank executive led to Matthews’ move into banking and he became a member of the Comerica Bank roster after the latter acquired the former. Transferring to the Valley office in 2001, “just before 9/11,” Matthews settled in nicely, according to his boss, Ray Boyadjian. “Geoff has been the most successful, I would say, loan officer in terms of his growth,” said Boyadjian, group manager of the Valley region. “He’s brought in more business than most of his peers throughout Comerica.” Working with middle-market companies, those with revenues between $20 million and $500 million, Matthews has doubled his portfolio of business in just the last two years. When asked for an anecdote to illustrate what it is about Matthews that might cause that to happen, both Boyadjian and Matthews provide the same example. “His largest client is in a very unique type of industry that has a complex technical component to it,” said Boyadjian, citing confidentiality in not revealing particulars, “and Geoff did an incredible job of learning about the business, understanding the business and he did a fantastic job in underwriting the credit.” Learning about the various businesses is what Matthews enjoys the most. “I just love meeting the CEOs and CFOs and learning all about why they’re in their business and what they do and how they do it.” — Linda Coburn Juliet Mothershed Customer Service and Promotions Manager Westfield Valencia Town Center Age: 29 Each time Juliet Mothershed reports to work at the Westfield Valencia Town Center, her father’s advice echoes in her thoughts. A career navy man and single parent, her father reminded her to always think of others. He told her, “Whatever you’re doing, make sure you’re doing good for the people around you,” Mothershed recalled. “He told me serving my hometown, my community and country was the greatest work in life.” Of course, deciding exactly how to serve others was up to her, explained Mothershed, 29, customer service and promotions manager for Westfield, which is ramping up for its fall opening of “The Patios,” a 200,000-square-foot, open-air dining and retail expansion that will add to the shopping center’s already 1 million total square feet. The project is expected to bring 500 new jobs to the area and inject $41 million in added revenue. Mothershed arguably began training for her responsibilities at Westfield when she was a young girl, addressing the world through her pretend magical microphone. Her father was a voracious reader and taught Mothershed the value of words. “One of my favorites was Kermit the Frog, when he reported the news,” said Mothershed, who dreamed of a career where she could talk. So, after high school, Mothershed, who currently lives in Chatsworth, studied journalism at California State University, Northridge, where, among other things, she anchored morning newscasts at the school’s on-campus radio station, KCSN-FM. She has fond memories of “coming in at four in the morning, turning on the news machines and hearing them hum,” she said. Mothershed honed her media skills as a summer intern with the City of Santa Clarita, where she had a hand in producing cable broadcasts of city council meetings, developing television, radio announcements and public presentations and speaking to children, which she loved. A member of Kappa Tau Alpha, the national journalism honor society, Mothershed graduated from CSUN with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and soon after was hired as media affairs coordinator for the nonprofit Child Care Resource Center. After that nonprofit laid her off, Mothershed joined the Westfield team. Prior to making that transition, however, Mothershed worked on a growing list of private promotions projects and became an active member of the San Fernando Valley Junior Chamber Internantional (Jaycees), which she helped found. “I would say she is the most enthusiastic and dedicated person I’ve ever met,” said fellow Jaycee Heidi Mankoff, recognized last year through the Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 Awards. “You give Juliet a task and she runs with it.” — Erik Derr David Nichols Executive Vice President K-Swiss, Inc. Age: 39 David Nichols is a self-described fourth-generation shoe man. “My father and grandfather ran shoe stores in the New York metropolitan area up until I was 10 or 11,” said Nichols. “I was a senior in high school when my father bought K-Swiss.” So he can honestly claim 20 years of involvement in the business although he officially started full-time in 1995 after completing his undergraduate business degree at UCLA and his MBA at crosstown rival USC. (Ever diplomatic, Nichols said he roots for the Trojans football team and the Bruins basketball team.) It was five years before Nichols began directly reporting to his father, Steven Nichols. “I first worked for our vice president of marketing, who herself was a real seasoned marketer,” said Nichols. “She probably worked me harder to prove there was no favoritism.” That being said, “Obviously I had access and insight (to my dad) and in that sense best of both worlds,” he added. The biggest opportunity to prove himself came in 2000 when Nichols moved to Europe to take over one of the company’s divisions. “At the time (that entity) was really just high-performance tennis shoes,” he said. “It was generating roughly about $10 million in revenues.” He said it was a chance to experience being entrepreneurial, a task he took to heart, changing the whole concept of the division to target younger customers with a sport-styled casual wear shoe. Revenues grew to a peak of more than $140 million. Now it is bringing a little under $100 million but it is still a very profitable market segment, said Nichols. Nichols has the title of executive vice president, and he is also president of five initiatives: European Operations; Global Marketing; K-Swiss Direct (their online stores); Royal Elastics; and L.A.M.B. footwear. K-Swiss CFO George Powlick said he wasn’t surprised Nichols was selected as an award winner. Powlick, who has been involved with K-Swiss since Steven Nichols bought the company, said the son has evolved into “very much a businessman.” “He’s very articulate, very logical, very smart and very well educated,” said Powlick, a man not often given to superlatives. “He’s also a really nice person, a family man with two young children and a beautiful wife.” There’s been no preferential treatment from dad, said Powlick. “The boss doesn’t treat him like the boss’s son. He doesn’t have a preferential parking space here and he doesn’t have the office next to the boss — I have it.” But there is no tension between father and son, either. “There’s a great fondness there,” Powlick said. So will Nichols be grooming either or both of his two children to follow in the family shoes? “Well, since they’re five-and-a-half and three years old I can’t tell just yet,” Nichols said with a laugh. “I just want to make sure their college is paid for.” — Linda Coburn Roni Piterman Co-Founder Your Dinner Secret Age: 38 Your Dinner Secret is the company behind the ghMeals brand of gluten-free, casein-free entrees, sides and baked goods. Founded in 2006, as a subsidiary of Fix and Freeze, Inc. to capitalize on the explosive growth of the young Make and Take Assembly industry, it changed focus in 2007 to serve the universe of families concerned with autism, Aspergers, ADHD, celiac disease, and MS, believing a certain type of diet could help them. “We are finding that more and more people simply want to eat healthier food, with organic produce, all natural meat and nothing artificial,” reports Piterman. She is active with many autism support groups helping to mentor and counsel parents struggling to heal their children, and is an official GFCF mentor on the Generation Rescue website. The organization, founded by Jenny McCarthy, is an international movement of scientists, physicians and parent-volunteers researching the causes and treatments of autism to better assist families recovering their children from it. She believes the food industry is riding a trend that needs to be filled in the marketplace. “Our gluten-free foods may also help a wide array of food allergies and certain autoimmune diseases. Our company is a little different in that we offer ready to cook meals instead of dried goods, frozen or microwavable. And, we do all the hard work to provide a convenient source that is delicious and safe for the whole family.” Ari Kosmal, co-founder of Your Dinner Secret, and Piterman’s sister, says she is dedicated to their customers and responds to every e-mail and even counsels many people on diet. She takes time out of her schedule to attend autism and celiac support group meetings to present and answer questions. “Everyday, Roni juggles being a mom to my sweet 10-year old nephew who has ADHD and my 8-year old nephew, and keeps her whole family on a gluten-free casein-free diet while working full time in our business. She is an incredible leader who is highly respected by our employees, customers and vendors. She is a super star in all our eyes!” Piterman has spent more than 15 years as a public relations and marketing executive, as well as a gourmet cook. As vice president of KPR, Inc., she helped both large and small companies to hone their images and effectively market their products. “My sister and I started this business because we wanted to help people and our community. I have always been involved with food trying to find ways to help my own child. We started with a different business model by catering to busy moms who might need more customized diets due to particular health issues.” Her greatest inspiration was Piterman’s father, who raised her to be an entrepreneur. He owned KPR Inc. for over 30 years. “He taught me just about everything I know about running a business. I like to joke that I used to work for him, but now he works for me. Not really, of course. However he is our number one advisor.” They started out catering to a local clientele, but now ship nationwide. Piterman hopes to move their products onto supermarket shelves to make it more convenient for customers to buy their goods and thereby helping more families with dietary issues. “My sister and I plan to do this for a very long time. This is no longer just a business for us, it has become our mission.” — Jo-Ann Cubello Sepand Samzadeh President Valley Recycling, VRC Document Shredding Services Age: 34 Born in Tehran, Iran, Sepand Samzadeh and his family made a few detours before reaching America. When they fled their homeland in 1979, to escape the political turmoil, the Samzadeh family first landed in Marbella Spain. Eight years later, the family was on the move again, this time to Toronto, Canada. Along the way, Samzadeh learned to speak several languages and was exposed to different cultures. “I was fortunate to attend a high school in Toronto where parents and students supported and promoted education and knowledge. It was there that I ‘bloomed’ and my experiences brought out my personality, character, and cultivated a lifelong love for rugby, music, painting and education.” When his family decided to move to Los Angeles, he was relocation weary and absolutely refused to go. “All that traveling had taken its toll on me. I was steadfast in remaining in Canada, even going so far as to sabotage my S.A.T. exams.” With his family thousands of miles away, Samzadeh realized he was on his own and needed to make some “mature” decisions about his future. He enrolled at the University of Toronto and graduated with a Mechanical Engineering Degree. He accepted a job as Engineering Project Manager at a steel plant in Hamilton, Ontario. “It took me three years to realize that engineering was not my calling,” he says amused. When Samzadeh was offered the position of Vice President of Operations at Valley Recycling in Chatsworth, he welcomed the move and embraced it, while simultaneously attending Pepperdine University to complete a MBA degree. He soon learned that the center was in financial turmoil and reeling form a horrible recession. “They wanted me to increase branding, efficiency, productivity, tonnage, and revenue, as well as to reduce horrendous costs and limping equipment. It certainly was a challenge.” Samzadeh’s hard work and determinations paid off when he was promoted to President in 2003. Within a few years, he established VRC Document Shredding, a division of Valley Recycling and by 2007 they had overcome their initial challenges. “This was a result of rapid changes in the regulation of information management which was a natural progression. Our gross sales increased by 200% and our workforce increased six fold. We are now the leading recycling center in the west San Fernando Valley.” Farhad Tale-Yazdi, a shareholder and business associate, says Samzadeh’s leadership has increased their customer base by 30 percent in the last 12 months. “During this time our customer satisfaction, work ethics and productivity has improved tremendously. Sepand is a dedicated and focused young entrepreneur.” Samzadeh wants to implement new technologies to improve service in order to increase the branding of the company, but he is also concerned for the well-being of their employees. “I want them to fulfill their aspirations which will make them more productive for the business and themselves. Most importantly, I would like to improve service and reduce costs for our customers to keep our goodwill in the community.” Even with all his responsibility, Samzadeh still keeps his youthful enthusiasm for the arts. He continues to paint, compose and perform his music. Along with a friend and collaborator, Oscar Fuentes, they composed and released a CD, Days Between States, which has received worldwide acclaim. “I have an explorer’s nature and I travel a bit to absorb more culture, philosophy, and history. I’m also an avid reader and try to read about a hundred books a year, but I’m sure with my upcoming marriage that will soon change.” — Jo-Ann Cubello Ryan Schneider Community Director Insomniac Games Age. 34 At age 25, Ryan Schneider quit his job at a Los Angeles public relations firm to spend months backpacking around Europe. What drove Schneider to make what he called the best decision of his life was boredom with his life. Nine years later Schneider is anything but bored with his life and certainly his career as the community director for video game developer Insomniac Games in Burbank. No two days are ever the same for Schneider who handles public relations, marketing and fan outreach for the studio behind the original “Ratchet & Clank” games and the single-person shooter “Resistance: Fall of Man” and its sequel. Given a green light to do what he needs to do to make the studio better is empowering for the Simi Valley native. “I’m fired up to work at a place that walks the walk when it comes to quality and culture,” Schneider said Schneider worked at an entertainment marketing firm when Insomniac founder and President/CEO Ted Price hired him away. The move was an unusual one in that game developers typically leave marketing to the game publishers who distribute the titles. Since 2004, Schneider has grown into the position and became a valuable part of the development team in the process. There are many things that wouldn’t get done if not for Schneider, Price said. Schneider conceived and co-hosts the studio’s podcast, “The Full Moon Show.” He established an online community for fans of Insomniac titles that gives feedback for improving the games and develops ancillary products such as collector editions and action figures. As Insomniac’s liaison with game publisher Sony Computer Entertainment, Schneider handles those relations diplomatically and with a deft touch, Price said. “For someone his age to make as much a difference like he has is relatively rare,” Price added. Schneider displays tenaciousness when facing both problems and new opportunities, pushing himself to mental and physical limits inside the workplace and outside by taking part in endurance sports. Also pushing him is proving his value to Insomniac. “You’re only as good as your last day,” Schneider said. “I want to outperform and show people what we do and why we are effective doing it.” Mark R. Madler Ethel See Director of Marketing and Volunteer Services Sherman Oaks Hospital and Encino Hospital Medical Center Age: 30 Ethel See has a very impressive educational background, exclusive convent school from kindergarten to high school, then on to college for a Bachelor of Science in Marketing, ending with a Master’s Degree in Business Administration, all of which she needed to prepare for her current position. “My goal since college was to have a top marketing position and at this point I can say I have attained it.” Proud of the two medical centers in her care, See wants the residents of the community to know that when bringing loved ones to her hospitals they will receive the highest standard of care and treated with compassion. “And, we pride ourselves in the fact that our centers have the shortest waiting time, less than 20 minutes,” she adds. Carrying a full schedule, See says, “so many things to do, too little time.” Even with creative new ways to solve the situation, she still finds there is not enough time and staff to do it all. “And, right now is not a good time to hire new employees, so it boils down to just prioritizing and good time management.” On the upside, See enjoys planning employee’s events, healthcare week, summer picnics and holiday parties for the two hospitals. “We have 13 facilities under Prime Healthcare Services and I can say that my events are always the most memorable ones,” she says proudly. Kenn Phillips of the Valley Economic Alliance, vice president Workforce Initiative, says he makes a point to surround himself with knowledgeable and successful people. “Ethel is one of those people. Her capable “can-do” attitude provides leadership to business, mentoring to colleagues and support to community organizations. In her life goals she always aims for achievement and, in my experience, Ethel hits the target of success every time. ” Dedicated to promoting educational community events, she would like the hospital to be more supportive of local schools. “We would like to have some sort of arrangement with them to provide us with hospital workers and we are involved while students are still in school to encourage them to volunteer and experience a hospital setting.” See reports they are trying to be more active with senior facilities because healthcare is a partnership, not business wise, but in terms of making the transition from one facility to the other more convenient and efficient. Encino Hospital Medical Center is in the process of doing more community education and See is working with their very aggressive administrator, Sid Ono, to partner with the senior facilities. “We believe this new relationship will benefit the patient in the admitting and discharge process and ensure that medical instructions are communicated in an accurate and timely manner. “Our goal is to show the community we are a hospital that will provide them with the best customer service possible. ” Life outside the hospitals for See consists of spending time watching movies with her 15-yr. old son, Brandon and life partner Neil Cabanos, enjoying long drives (as a passenger), scuba diving and whenever possible attending her yoga class. — Jo-Ann Cubello Mark Severance Director of Sales & Marketing Arxis Technologies Inc. Age: 34 A born salesman, Mark Severance has been named to the CPA Technology Advisor’s 40 Under 40 in consecutive years. But if you ask him what he attributes his success to, the 34-year old director of Sales & Marketing for Arxis Technology Inc., is quick to deflect the praise, ascribing his rise to how much he’s learned from his peers. “At Arxis, the leadership and mentoring I’ve received from my colleagues has put me in a position to learn and grow,” Arxis said. “I’ve been able to glean a lot of advice and wisdom from their experience” He also attributes the Information Technology Alliance, an industry group Severance belongs to that he says has allowed him to build a substantial network of friends and colleagues. Yet those close to him attribute Severance’s success to his inherent sales talent and people skills. “[Severance] is recognized by many as one of the best sales and marketing executives in the mid-market accounting software value added re-seller space,” Severance’s boss, David Cielak, the principle at Simi Valley-based Arxis said. “[Severance] is highly creative and insightful, with a solid sense of today’s market place for small and medium businesses. He has helped Arxis grow dramatically, both in revenues and geographic reach during his eight years at the company. Never content to rest on his laurels, Severance maintains that he’s constantly trying to adapt to the constant and dynamic shifts of technology. “You never a get chance to sit back and say you’ve got,” Severance says. “If you relax, something changes and you aren’t provided as much value as you ought to be in terms of staying successful. You’ve got to have the right products and services to clients. It’s about adding value. Accordingly, Severance devotes much of his time maintaining relationships with his customers, who frequently reward him with referrals. He maintains that it’s the strength of these relationships that allows his book of business to stay strong despite the vicissitudes of the economy. As for the future, Severance’s goals are modest: more of the same. “We’ve got a great group of folks at Arxis,” Severance said. “I want to become a strategic leader in terms of marketing and sales and continue growing revenues. — Jeff Weiss Cyrus Sigari Co-Founder JetAVIVA Age: 26 Cyrus Sigari took an interest in flying that started in childhood and made it into his career. Not that Sigari and business partner and long-time friend Ben Marcus had visions of great success when they started their company JetAVIVA. They did so because they liked to fly. “The oldest picture there is of the two of us we are holding planes,” Sigari said. JetAVIVA, based at Van Nuys Airport, provides services related to very light jets from acquisition to management to training how to fly the aircraft. Sigari leads the sales and acquisition practice with a team that has racked up $200 million in sales. Very light jets can be operated by a single pilot and seat four to eight passengers. The advantage of their size and cost is to make them available to businesspeople who might not otherwise afford a private plane. The world of private aviation is an exciting one, Sigari said, and by providing technical expertise and flight training he and Marcus get to do the “fun stuff” and travel the world. “It is hard not to be motivated and not be successful,” Sigari said. “The more we put into it the more we get out of it.” With an engineering degree from Purdue University, Sigari went to work at Eclipse Aviation, one of the first manufacturers of very light jets started by former Microsoft employee Vern Raburn. Sigari was both on the engineering and sales sides of the company before leaving to take on the new challenge of JetAVIVA. (Eclipse filed for bankruptcy protection in 2008.) Although lacking in any business experience or background, his time at Eclipse exposed Sigari to an entrepreneurial environment that would have been lacking at a larger company. So it was from executives from Eclipse and in the larger aircraft community that Sigari got advice. “We took those golden nuggets and applied them to what we were doing,” Sigari said. JetAVIVA client John Hayes described Sigari as a high energy guy who came up with a clever idea of offering services to the owners of very light jets. When he took delivery of his plane it was helpful to have Sigari available and to provide the initial training, Hayes said. That Sigari has not yet reached 30 years old isn’t an issue because of his knowledge of the planes and his flight experience, Hayes said. “That contributes to a warm comfortable feeling in doing business with him in operating one of these jets,” Hayes said. — Mark R. Madler Julie Sprengel Assistant Administrator Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center Age: 38 A registered nurse with a degree in management, Julie Sprengel prioritizes providing quality healthcare while recognizing how expenses must be coordinated to sustain a hospital. “Some of the biggest challenges in healthcare and for me is trying to balance the financial obligations, to make sure you’re financially able to provide the best care to people,” said Sprengel, assistant administrator for perioperative and cardiology services at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center. For the past year, the Pepperdine University MBA grad has served in her administrative role, making her second-in-command to Chief Executive Barry Wolfman, who promoted her to the post and nominated her for the 40 under 40 Award. According to Wolfman, Sprengel’s clinical insight, concern for patients and supervisory experience make her a valued member of Saint Joseph’s executive team. Formerly director of Patient Care Support Services for the hospital, Sprengel now oversees the operations of several departments at Saint Joseph and has trained 100 managers to improve productivity without compromising patient care. “These are human lives, people with feelings and emotions,” she said. Sprengel considers her interpersonal skills her major strength. “I’m also extremely accountable,” she added when asked to explain why she stood out to Wolfman. “If I commit to something, I make sure that I do it. I do it within a reasonable timeframe. I don’t like when people take forever. I just think especially in hospital healthcare, you really have to be able to adjust and understand and diversify yourself, and it’s not easy, but I think I do a pretty good job of that.” Wolfman believes that Sprengel has what it takes to maintain a standard of excellence at Saint Joseph as the Burbank hospital transitions from a community medical center into a regional one. The hospital chief was also impressed by Sprengel’s effectiveness during recent union negotiation talks. Throughout her career, Sprengel has played a pivotal role in brokering union talks involving nurses. Additional career highlights include reducing the vacancy rate of registered nurses by 18 percent as service line director of emergency services for industrial medicine and employee health at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center. Plus, as director of emergency medical services for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Sprengel converted stadium first aid into a team of advanced cardiac life support physicians and nurses. With such achievements credited to her, it was no surprise that Modern Health Care Magazine named Sprengel one of a dozen “Up & Comer” healthcare executives in 2008. As Sprengel celebrates her successes, she is aware of her challenges. “We face the struggle of needing to provide care and also having to be cost cautious about how we do it,” she said. “We need to find the happy medium but still keep viable.” — Nadra Kareem Kevin Sproles Founder, CEO Volusion Age: 25 The decision not to attend college was tough for Kevin Sproles to make. After all, he had every intention of continuing his education after earning straight-As while attending Royal High School in Simi Valley. But he never got to the stage of choosing colleges or sending out applications. Instead, Sproles spent a lot of time in his bedroom operating the website design company he started at the age of 16. Today that company is called Volusion, and is a developer of software used by online retailers big and small with offices in both Simi and Austin, Texas. Being a CEO at just 25 years old puts Sproles in exclusive company, especially considering the accolades he and the company have received in recent years. Volusion, for instance, was named to Inc. magazine’s fastest-growing private companies list in 2008, and Sproles himself was a finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award. As chief executive, Sproles described his role as taking the values that have gotten Volusion to this point and continue to have them live in the organization. “My job is to ensure the processes and culture is continually being improved to meet the expectations of the clients,” Sproles said. For four years after the company started, he handled not only coding of the software but also whatever marketing and advertising he could afford. Any profits made were put back into Volusion to create updated versions of the software. Volusion customer Clay Olivier was so pleased with the company’s product that he became an investor and, in 2003, a part owner and chief operating officer. Yes, Olivier admitted, he was skeptical at first about Sproles’ age but as he came to know the young man better, Olivier saw his intuitive and analytical side. Putting the entire marketing budget toward Google rather than splitting it between traditional methods and online was a smart move by Sproles that Olivier applauded. “Since his ad budget was very limited, he would have been far less successful had he diversified like traditional advertisers,” Olivier said. Being so young and running a company growing as fast as Volusion has been quite an experience, Sproles said. Assistance and advice, however, is not far away as Sproles has turned to other business leaders. He believes in hiring department directors who bring work experience from other excellent companies. — Mark R. Madler Angela Stanislawski Director of Lending VEDC Age: 30 In the ten years since she first walked into the doors of the VEDC, Angela Stanislawski has risen from college student working as administrative assistant in the lending department, to its director. Along the way, she stopped at nearly every station within the Van Nuys building, including loan coordinator, program manager and portfolio manager. As one might expect, Roberto Barragan, the president of the VEDC, has nothing but raves for his longtime employee. “[Stanislawski] is as dedicated as she is smart and has grown from a young girl to a responsible and vital young woman during her years at the agency,” Barragan said. Asked what it was about the VEDC that led her to stay and, thus, eschew the speech pathologist career that she had been pursuing, Stanislawski attributes it to the organization’s familial feel. “The VEDC environment is amazing. It’s very family-oriented, which is something I like a lot,” Stanislawski said. “Prior to the economic downturn, I’d considered going to the private sector to make more money, but I loved the environment here too much. I also love what we get to do for small businesses. It’s rewarding to give someone a loan that keeps them in business. While the learning curve wasn’t as steep as someone who hadn’t learned the ropes over the previous decade, Stanislawski admits that there were difficulties involved in learning the intricacies of the lending world. “Since I had a communications degree from CSUN, learning the actual underwriting and business terminology was tricky,” Stanislawski said. “Luckily, I was able to overcome it because of the amazing leadership and advice from people at the VEDC.” With the economy in disarray, Stanislawski’s importance to the community is magnified, as the VEDC has been beset with people looking for loans, as the banks have been chary to lend. Stanislawski says that the biggest obstacle is spreading word about the organization. “We’ve been getting great candidates because the banks aren’t giving out loans the way they used to,” Stanislawski said. “It’s about getting ourselves out there and letting people know that we’re here. The downturn gives us an advantage because we’re getting great clientele walking through the door.” — Jeff Weiss Mina Trujillo Director of Marketing Good Swartz Brown & Berns, a division of J.H. Cohn Age: 37 When the accounting firm of Good Swartz Brown & Berns LLP wanted to shore up its middle market base after a major management transition, it hired Mina Trujillo, 37, as its Director of Marketing. Last June, the Woodland Hills-based company, which posted an estimated $2.8 million in earnings in 2007, combined operations with and became a division of J.H. Cohn LLP, the largest independent accounting and consulting company in the Northeast. The move gave Good Swartz Brown & Berns access to Cohn’s technical expertise and resources, which includes Nexia International, the world’s ninth-largest network of independent auditors, business advisors, and consultants. The staff at Good Swartz Brown & Berns was left to reassure their clients predominantly small to mid-level businesses and entrepreneurs who are often suspicious of larger organizations that their new relationship with J.H. Cohn would be a good thing. Enter Trujillo, who earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Mount St. Mary’s College in Brentwood and went on to hold finance and marketing positions with Arthur Andersen and Universal Studios before launching her own cosmetics line. “The fit was perfect I bring that entrepreneurial spirit,” she said. Always open to new challenges, Trujillo showed up armed with the ability to understand “the depth and breadth” of the issues facing the firm and then “coalesce a message that helps differentiate us from our competitors,” said Scott Sachs, regional managing partner for Good Swartz Brown & Berns. Trujillo, who claims a “passion” for product branding, seeks to set Good Swartz Brown & Burns apart from other companies as the one firm able to provide “clear attention to each client.” Companies shopping for accounting services “can go to one of the ‘Big Four’ accounting firms,” she said, but they should know “you can never find a partner when you need one.” In the handful of months Trujillo’s been on the job, she’s earned accolades from her peers and is credited with helping Good Swartz Brown & Berns gain recognition as one of the “Best of the Best” by “Bowman’s Accounting Report” and one of the “Top Firms in the West” by “Practical Accountant.” Sachs says Trujillo has not only established new ways to connect with clients, but has also overcome “internal barriers among the partners” themselves. As a result, she’s “recharged” the firm’s energy and sense of direction. “Mina is driven but very practical and extremely effective truly motivated to be successful,” said Sachs. Perhaps equally important, he added, “You know how there are some people who everyone else seems to like? That’s Mina.” — Erik Derr Debi L. Weiss Director of Marketing/ Marketing Manager Crowe Horwath LLP Age: 39 When Debi Weiss left the University of South Florida in 1992, she was armed with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communication and ready to start her career as a reporter. Her first job was on Today in Florida as lead news writer only a step away from reporter. “I had always been interested in the news media, and originally thought of reporting, but while at the Fox station, I became fascinated with the marketing department,’ says Weiss. She learned how to build a brand, target a new marketplace, appeal to a specific demographic; effectively use advertising and public relations and so much more. “It set the stage for my life-long passion for marketing.” After two years with the morning show, Weiss was ready to make a move and it took her all the way to California, and to Good, Swartz, Brown & Berns LLP as their Marketing Director. “Working in this new career position, I realized it was at Fox that I learned the communication skills that ultimately prepared me to apply them in a professional service environment.” Within two years Weiss knowledge grew and propelled her into the position of Area Marketing Manager for Ernst & Young, LLP. “As Debi’s financial advisor and associate for the past 13 years, I have watched her grow into a sound businesswoman, “says Larry Haworth of Bessolo Haworth & Vogel. “She understands the business of public accounting better than many accountants. She has gained the respect of the partners that she works with and changed many partners’ attitudes about the value of marketing in a public accounting practice.” Another two years passed and Weiss was on the move again. This time she landed at Grobstein, Horwath & Company LLP as their Director of Marketing. In late 2008, the firm combined and formed Crowe Horwath, LLP, and Weiss added the title of Marketing Manager to her resume. “I have been very fortunate to have great mentors throughout my professional career. And, I’m still learning from them and my peers every day,” adds Weiss. — Jo-Ann Cubello Coline Witt Publisher Celebrity High, Inc. Age: 24 With a family that had a strong love for business, publishing and music, it is no wonder that Coline Witt was destine to make her mark in the entertainment world. At the age of 21, she created Celebrity High a magazine that features teens interviewing top celebrities and distributed on high school campuses. “I did not know exactly what I wanted to do in the industry, but from an early age I wanted to be an entertainment mogul,” Witt said. “I wanted to be a person who could make a difference, cause change and build a successful brand.” Celebrity High caters to the one market Witt feels is the driving force of tomorrow and her goal is to encourage positive achievement among teens. “CH does not promote negative or controversial topics like sex and drugs,” Witt said. “We want students to enjoy being young and a teen. It signifies the ‘you can do it’ attitude. ” Witt is thankful for partners Nick Cannon and Dorian Graham for believing in Celebrity High from the beginning. Witt is all about her business, Graham said. “(She’s) a woman that kids can look up to,” Graham said. “I believe her impact will be bigger than any athlete.” Interacting with her teen reporters is the highlight of Witt’s job and setting up the celebrity interviews. Witt wants to build a brand that attracts advertisements that are educationally involved. “When students read our magazine I want it to encourage kids to go to high school, then college or learn a trade and become the next generation of entrepreneurs,” Witt said. — Jo-Ann Cubello Enrique Wong President & CEO National Equity Advisors Inc. Age: 39 In his nearly 15 year career, Enrique Wong has brokered a staggered $350 million in successful transactions. With an initial focus on selling multi-family products in the Valley, in recent years, Wong has expanded into brokering office, retail, industrial, land and single tenant transactions on a national level. The President, CEO and co-founder of National Equity Advisors Inc., Wong has grown his firm to over 25 active commercial investment advisors, with a support staff of five. Responsible for steering the company’s overall direction, much of Wong’s time is spent shaping and molding the careers of his cadre of real estate investment agents. “Being a good manager is about not having one management style for everyone, you have to adapt to suit your agent’s personality,” Wong said. “You try to uncover what motivates each agent and what underlying fundamentals motivate people.” His partner and one-time client, Steve Resnick speaks of his friend in glowing terms. “[Wong] has an outstanding reputation for finding the best deals in the marketplace,” Resnick said. “He’s a skilled negotiator with a unique understanding into the anatomy of a commercial real estate transaction.” Though the shaky economy has obviously had adverse effects to the real estate market, Wong says his firm has overcome it by educating his agents as much as possible. “We educate them about the marketplace right now,” Wong said. “Owners and landlords want to feel sure footed, we want our clients to know they’re dealing with experts. We do a lot of training in regards to both commercial and capital markets and the overall economy. Commercial real estate is an investment that competes with other investment vehicles, it deals with the whole economy, not just the values of the Valley apartment market.” Exceptionally dedicated to his family, Wong finds the time to balance the demands of work with coaching his children’s soccer, basketball and baseball teams. Additionally, Wong is involved with the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation. — Jeff Weiss

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