Click here to download the 2020 SD 50

Extraordinary times reveal extraordinary leadership.

That sort of leadership stands out in the inaugural SD 50, presented in this issue of the San Diego Business Journal.

With the SD 50, the publication turns its focus toward influential leaders who made positive impacts during these unprecedented times. They helped both the people who work for them, and the community as a whole.

Many leaders had to pivot their businesses and adapt to new work environments. Others had to find ways to continue to lead with their businesses temporarily shut down.

Whatever they did, the leaders also needed vision. They had to see potential where others saw nothing remotely resembling it. And then they had to convince others that the potential is real.

From making face masks to feeding the hungry, executives on the SD 50 list were not just concerned with their own businesses, but immediately reached out to those in need both professionally and personally.

Several stepped in to build up the supply of medical ventilators. Elsewhere, factory lines were adapted to making hand sanitizer. Most of these leaders helped people adapt to their newfound job circumstances. All gave of their time and organizational skills. Many tapped wide networks of contacts.

Some literally saved lives. All did what they could to make circumstances better.

Here are the people that readers will find while paging through the inaugural SD 50:

John Alessio, managing partner at Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch LLP, approached the COVID-19 pandemic as it hit his office. He protected the health of over 350 attorneys and staff by shifting them remote work, making the transition look seamless. At the same time, he recognized the economic threat faced by clients and worked meet their needs.

That stands in contrast to James (Jamie) Awford, principal at BNBuilders, Inc. Awford had to consider both the office environment and the construction site. He has oversaw a senior management team responsible for maintaining operations on nearly all San Diego construction projects during the pandemic, keeping staff employed with minimal disruption.

Steve Bernstein, San Diego market executive at Wells Fargo Commercial Banking, led an effort to reach out to 100% of Wells Fargo customers to check on their safety. Bernstein also serves as chairman of the board for the Jacobs & Cushman SD Food Bank and helped raise money to serve more than 700,000 meals per week.

Gerry Borja, diversity and inclusion head of veteran and military spouse programs at Oracle, started thinking differently about his work. He was able to open a military internship program to civilian military spouses and immediately had to switch to a 100 percent virtual program. He added free certification programs and multiple networking opportunities for the interns. At the end, 90% of the interns received offers to remain at Oracle.

Speaking of veterans, Stephanie Brown, CEO and founder of The Rosie Network, launched a COVID-19 online Small Business Resource Center and provided no-cost business financial management/cash projection software to over 3,000 veteran and military family-owned small businesses.

Finances play a large role in how people are dealing with COVID-19. Teresa Campbell, president & CEO of San Diego County Credit Union, worked to help people by extending relief to customers on March 20. That included a 90-day deferral option on all consumer loans, including real estate, auto, credit card and personal loans. Business loan and commercial real estate deferment relief was also offered.

Adela de la Torre, president, San Diego State University, took a leadership stance to close the campus to on-campus classes and moved rapidly to enable faculty to teach virtually. These decisions were costly, but helped to preserve the health of students, faculty, and staff in this critical period in March 2020.

Paul Downey, president & CEO, Serving Seniors was instrumental in ensuring that hundreds of low-income and homeless seniors continue getting the free meals they need to survive during this pandemic.

One of the more unique relief efforts came from the medical device sector. Michael “Mick” Farrell, CEO of ResMed, led his company in quickly responding to the global demand for ventilators and shifted manufacturing resources in January to triple its ventilator output and scale up mask production tenfold.

Mike Fasulo, president & COO, Sony Electronics was the champion sponsor of an initiative whereby Sony was able to distribute 21,000+ N95 masks to first responders at hospitals in California, New Jersey, New York, and Baja California.

Bradley Feldmann, chairman, president and CEO, Cubic Corporation, helped Cubic repurpose its manufacturing capabilities to produce face coverings for customers and also donated them to hospitals, employees and their families. In response to a shortage of ventilators, Cubic developed a prototype ventilator and a game-based training program for ventilator operators.

Jim Floros, president & CEO, The Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank has led the San Diego Food Bank and its North County chapter to meet the huge demand from families impacted by the pandemic.

Taking the more scientific approach was Pradipta Ghosh, director and professor with the Center for Network Medicine, UCSD. She immediately deployed two of the center’s assets to conduct research that provides a computational framework to identify targets and human-like lung models for real-time outcomes to validate predicted compounds that can potentially reduce the loss of lives.

Guy Halgren, chairman of Sheppard Mullin authorized the development of a COVID-19 task force to help clients deal with the many issues created by COVID-19 and he encouraged pro bono service and authorized financial contributions to help battle the pandemic.

Tony Hall, founder and CEO, Torrey Holistics, has donated over 10,000 N95 face masks and over 20,000 hand sanitizers to various health centers, local organizations, customers and staff since mid-March.

Vince Hall, CEO, Feeding San Diego, leads the organization in holding emergency drive-through food distributions every Saturday for families affected by COVID-19.

James T. Harris, president, University of San Diego collaborated with county leaders to establish USD as a free COVID-19 testing site, an action centered around supporting underserved and underrepresented populations in the local community.

Rob Henderson, senior VP of operations, Westmont Living, used his leadership skills to adopt all measures by the staff so that the company has had extraordinary results including the fact that both San Diego County Westmont communities of La Mesa and Escondido experienced no COVID-19 infections from residents or staff. Overall, company-wide they experienced cases at two communities but were immediately identified and isolated so to not create any further harm.

Ingo Hentschel, VP of field operations, Cox Communications helped Cox Communications adapt the Connect2Compete program for families and students by offering free internet and computers to households while remote learning is in affect during the pandemic.

Baron Herdelin-Doherty, president & CEO,YMCA of San Diego County led the team to create a “Virtual YMCA” almost overnight which has been serving thousands of San Diegans -with free enriching programs for children, social activities and physical and mental health programs for all ages, and a special focus on engaging the vulnerable senior population.

“Leadership is creating the conditions for others to accomplish great things in the face of uncertainty,” said Kathryn Lembo, the president and CEO of South Bay Community Services. Lembo led her organization in providing emergency COVID response in the South Bay. Notably, she secured hotel rooms to temporarily house families and transition-age youth affected by the virus.

The next several people helped San Diegans and their extended families. They include Alessandra Lezama, CEO and founder of TOOTRiS. The business is the first and only technology service provider that enables parents to reintegrate into the workforce, particularly after COVID-19, knowing that their child is safe and enjoying high-quality, curriculum-based Child Care in small group settings.

Betzy Lynch, CEO, Lawrence Family JCC | JACOBS FAMILY CAMPUS, reimagined a new business model, restructuring agency to position for sustainable future. Vision and proactive management lead to expedited receipt of SBA PPP loan. Successful fundraising strategy and implementation helped fully employ staff two additional months.

Kevin Mattson, president and CEO ,San Ysidro Health, transformed its system of care to telehealth visits for all, especially their most vulnerable neighbors.

Helping clients pivot quickly was one of the most pressing jobs for Neal McFarlane, president and CEO, McFarlane Architects, Inc. He had to expand design and production capabilities to assist several of its clients grow their manufacturing and R&D facilities because they are at the forefront of the scientific fight against the COVID-19 virus. Multiple clients have received FDA approval of their products and McFarlane Architects has had to lead the design efforts at record speed to get these new facilities built.

Miles McPherson, lead pastor, The Rock Church and The Rock Church mobilized thousands of volunteers to refurbish 300,000 N95 masks, which needed the elastic replaced, for frontline workers. His heart for the frontline workers led to partnerships with restaurants to donate 1,350 meals for law enforcement and nearly 10,000 meals for hospital workers around the city.

Brian Milton, head of retail banking and deposits, Union Bank and the Union Bank leadership team drove significant fee waivers, mortgage loan forbearance and other assistance for clients in need.

A.J. Moyer, president and CEO, C3bank, created and led C3bank’s CARES team, which was formed to help our local businesses secure pivotal SBA PPP loans. Under A.J.’s leadership, C3bank funded PPP loans for around 500 local businesses.

Larry Nishnick, corporate and securities partner at DLA Piper LLP, was part of the national DLA task force assigned with assisting clients with the CARES Act programs including advising and counseling on available government programs such as the Main Street lending program and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

Eric Northbrook, managing director /partner, Voit Real Estate Services helped the local Voit office raise more than $3,000 to provide more than 250 lunches from Freshii to workers at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla, Sharp Grossmont Hospital and Sharp Memorial Hospital.

Keith Olmo, CEO, Jan-Pro of San Diego began supplying the office and independently owned franchisees with Electrostatic sprayers and hospital grade disinfectants. He kept all full time employees on payroll even with a 30% decrease in revenue due to shutdowns.

Lisa Ordóñez, dean, Rady School of Management UCSD, spearheaded The Rady School Business Recovery Coalition, which provides consultation, education, and insights to local entrepreneurs and helps businesses in the San Diego region navigate the unprecedented challenges faced by COVID-19.

Mark Payne, VP, division manager, Swinerton hired a full-time employee to clean/sanitize high traffic areas, common spaces, conference rooms, touch points, restrooms, etc. during business hours, 5 days a week. There have also been office protocols in place to keep all employees safe.

Cheri Pierre, CEO, Computers 2 Kids, San Diego engaged the help of and forged relationships with community leaders and businesses to ensure C2K had the resources to meet the 12,000+ applications from families who need a computer to minimize the educational disruption and facilitate the continuity of learning.

Victor Ramsauer, CEO, president, shareholder, LevitZacks, Certified Public Accountants has been transparent by starting virtual employee meetings with a “state of the firm” discussion. His leadership has given the staff has strong feelings that the firm is doing right in dealing with the pandemic.

Robert Robinson, managing partner, Hickman Robinson Yaege LLP recognized there was a dire need for his firm’s assistance among small business owners. He opened up his schedule, largely on a pro bono basis, for small business owners, spending hours each day on the phone counseling small business owners on how to survive, adapt to and/or thrive through the Covid-19 crisis.

Nathan Rogge, president and CEO, Bank of Southern California saw an opportunity to support local businesses and help get the economy back on track. The bank opened its doors to both customers and non-customers and provided PPP loans for 2,200 businesses.

Nancy Sasaki, president & CEO, United Way of San Diego County created the Workers’ Assistance Initiative for low-wage workers who experienced job loss or wage reduction due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Jim Schmid, founder/CEO, Chelsea Investment Corp., has led the Chelsea team to be able to continue financing and completing affordable housing on schedule, despite the market uncertainty and delays associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ronson Shamoun, CEO and principal attorney, RJS LAW owns several commercial properties throughout San Diego. Many of his tenants were immensely affected by COVID. In an effort to assist his tenants, he waived rent payments for many months in an effort to help them stay in business and keep their heads above water.

Beth Sirull, president and CEO, Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego has helped to increase grants into the community by over 25%, to address the needs resulting from the pandemic.

Mark Stuart, president & CEO, The San Diego Foundation joined with partners including Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, SDG&E and others to establish the COVID-19 Community Response Fund at The San Diego Foundation.

Tony Teravainen, CEO & Co-Founder, Support the Enlisted Project (STEP) had his organization immediately shift gears to serve families unable to leave their homes for groceries and spouses losing their jobs, critical second income to survive in San Diego.

Paul Thiel, president, Northern Trust - San Diego Region pivoted Chairman’s Roundtable to meet rapidly developing community needs in helping businesses survive the pandemic in a radically restrained economy by expanding services to include non-profit as well as smaller businesses that would not normally qualify for CRT mentoring.

Tonya Torosian, CEO, Promises2Kids –focused on creating stability for current and former foster youth during the crisis.

Elizabeth Valenzuela-Banker, CEO, Shore Solutions Inc. has led Shore Solutions in making 10,000 reusable masks available for community members, and has donated 250 masks to the Chula Vista Police Department. Shore Solutions has also worked to provide reusable masks to people affected by homelessness in San Diego.

Deacon Jim Vargas, president and CEO, Father Joe’s Villages led the frontline efforts of Father Joe’s Villages’ staff to provide life-saving care during the pandemic.

Caitlin Wege, president, Tech Coast Angels – San Diego, has crafted and implemented TCA’s 5-point plan: continuing investing activity, supporting portfolio companies, donating to vendors, advocating for the CARES act nationally, and spreading TCA’s message of HOPE - Hold On, Pain Ends.

David Wellis, CEO, San Diego Blood Bank made it possible for SDBB to collect convalescent plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients (CCP), currently the only FDA-approved therapy for COVID-19.

Steven Yeng, co-founder, Skrewball Spirits helped spearhead a campaign, which used social media to generate awareness of the impact of COVID-19 on hospitality industry workers affected by layoffs. Through this campaign, Skrewball received over 215K shares across social platforms and donated $500K to multiple organizations.

Finding Incentives to Keep Moving

Many of these leaders lifted their communities’ spirits, particularly when it seemed that progress was ephemeral.

“Rebuilding is always faster/easier if we never stopped building at all, or did whatever we could to stop a complete collapse,” said honoree Dr. Pradipta Ghosh, director and professor with the Center for Network Medicine at UC San Diego.

There is still plenty left to do. Every new day has a way of challenging assumptions.

“We will have more challenging weeks ahead, but with strong resiliency and by working together as a team, we will prevail,” said honoree A.J. Moyer, CEO of C3 Bank.

Members of the SD 50 are helping their communities see the silver lining in the clouds.

Honoree Victor Ramsauer, president of the LevitZacks CPA firm, said it well: “As we lock arms virtually and try to help one another in the ways we can, our vast world now feels a lot more connected.”