San Diego Business Journal

Find a need and fill it. That basic premise of business has built fortunes. It applies to old names in business — think of banker J.P. Morgan — and fairly new names such as Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com or Bill Gates of Microsoft.

It’s no different in San Diego. This issue of the San Diego Business Journal profiles the wealthiest San Diegans and ranks them on The List. All of these people have benefited from filling needs — basic human needs, business needs, national needs.

Gwendolyn Sontheim Meyer, for example, has the No. 2 spot on the List with her stake in Cargill Inc. Cargill produces food, and everybody needs to eat.

Irwin Jacobs, who ranks fourth on The List, and Andrew Viterbi, at No. 13, have filled needs in the ever-developing telecommunications sector. As two of the founders of Qualcomm Inc., they laid the groundwork for high-speed wireless communications.

Defense Contracting Focus

Twenty-four of San Diego’s wealthiest residents are profiled in this issue. The top spot on this year’s List is occupied by J. Neal Blue, who has worked to fill needs for the U.S. government and industry. Blue is chief executive of General Atomics, a privately held company involved in a variety of defense and high-technology work.

Blue’s wealth is estimated at $3.3 billion. His brother, Linden S. Blue, is vice president at General Atomics and ranks seventh on the list with estimated wealth of $1 billion.

The brothers bought General Atomics in the 1980s. Nuclear reactors — as well as related equipment and research — continue to be one part of the business. GA is developing components for an ambitious nuclear fusion reactor experiment in Europe, which could yield secrets on how to make fusion a viable source of electricity.

Technology for the U.S. Department of Defense, however, is a bigger focus at GA. One project is building the electronic aircraft catapult for the U.S. Navy’s newest aircraft carriers. An affiliate of General Atomics, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. builds and supports the Predator family of unmanned aircraft for the U.S. military and for allies overseas. The aircraft gives militaries an eye in the sky as well as a way to deliver missiles.

Family Fortunes in Food, Retail, Technology

As mentioned previously, Gwendolyn Sontheim Meyer of Rancho Santa Fe has the No. 2 spot on The List. Her wealth was handed down to her through the generations. Her one-ninth share in the Minneapolis-based agribusiness giant Cargill is estimated to be worth $3.1 billion. Privately owned Cargill, which dates back to the era following the American Civil War, reported $114.6 billion in revenue last year. In her volunteer work, Sontheim Meyer oversees the board of Feeding San Diego.

Success runs in the family for several members of The List. Robert E. Price, at No. 22 (with estimated wealth of $180 million), is the son of the late retailing legend Sol Price. The elder Price had successes with FedMart and warehouse club store Price Club. In a twist on the business model, Sol and Robert Price founded PriceSmart (Nasdaq: PSMT) in 1996, bringing the warehouse club concept to Central America, the Caribbean and Colombia. The business now runs 47 warehouse clubs. Robert Price serves as chairman of PriceSmart and is involved in his family’s philanthropic endeavors.

Walter C. Zable, at No. 24 on the list, also follows in his father’s footsteps. He is the son of Walter J. Zable, founder of Cubic Corp. (NYSE: CUB). Like the Blue brothers, the Zables filled the U.S. government’s need for specialized technology. Part but not all of Cubic’s work is defense contracting. In all, Walter C. Zable spent 54 years at the company, stepping down from the chairman’s role in 2018. His net worth is estimated at $130 million.

Electrical Engineering and Insight

Several fortunes in technology can be traced back to Qualcomm Inc. The largest, at $1.5 billion, belongs to Irwin Jacobs, one of the company’s co-founders and its longtime CEO. He has the No. 4 ranking on The List. Jacobs and spouse Joan Jacobs have spent recent years making San Diego into a more vibrant cultural center. The San Diego Symphony, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and San Diego’s central library in East Village are but three of many organizations that have benefited from their support.

Andrew Viterbi is a second Qualcomm founder who has done well. His estimated net worth is $600 million, putting him at No. 13 on The List. Viterbi made a place for himself in electrical engineering history by developing the Viterbi Algorithm. As for Qualcomm, the rest is history. From its founding in 1985, it has continually developed more capable wireless communications technology. Today’s state of the art is fifth-generation, or 5G technology, which is expected to fill people’s needs for fast data rates, more bandwidth and solid connections on their wireless devices.

Life Sciences Create Wealth

The life sciences community has its own set of multimillionaires and billionaires who have been able meet medical needs. Osman Kibar, ranked third on The List with an estimated net worth of $2.9 billion, is chief executive of Samumed LLC. The business develops anti-aging therapies; it describes itself as a clinical-stage biotech company developing therapeutics based on RNA alternative splicing. Kibar’s earlier business ventures included Genoptix and E-Tenna.

Another name from life science is Jay Flatley, who has the No. 21 spot with an estimated net worth of $185 million. He is chairman of Illumina (Nasdaq: ILMN). Between 1999 and 2016, Flatley was the company’s chief executive. Illumina’s specialty is the fast growing area of gene sequencing. Flatley’s other board commitments includes the Salk Institute, Coherent Inc., Denali Therapeutics Inc. and the Wellcome Trust Leap Fund, among others.

Software and Real Estate Development

Software produces billionaires, including the No. 6 person on The List, Frederic Luddy. His company is ServiceNow Inc. (NYSE: NOW), which offers software to improve workflows at other businesses. Since 2018, Luddy has been chairman, having previously contributed to the company as CEO and chief product officer. His estimated net worth is $1.2 billion. Luddy also spent two decades at a landmark San Diego software provider, Peregrine Systems, where he was chief technology officer.

Software, real estate development, finance and baseball: those are the various pursuits of John Moores, who has the No. 12 spot on The List with an estimated net worth of $625 million. BMC Software of Texas was one of his businesses, as was Peregrine Systems. Moores owned the San Diego Padres baseball team from 1994 to 2012. One of his more tangible achievements is visible in downtown San Diego: Moores played a major part in redeveloping East Village with the construction of the Petco Park baseball stadium and adjacent projects.

Talent, Mass Appeal and Mass Media

Athletes and artists satisfy people’s needs for entertainment — even a desire to live vicariously. Phil Mickelson’s aptitude on the golf course has gained him many fans in San Diego and beyond. That skill, as well as endorsement income, has put him on The List of San Diego’s wealthiest residents. With an estimated net worth of $400 million, Mickelson has the No. 16 spot.

One of the famous fortunes with a presence among the wealthiest San Diegans is that of the Hearst family. David Hearst Jr. has the No. 9 spot on The List, with an estimated net worth of $900 million. Family patriarch William Randolph Hearst was a trailblazing publisher as the 19th century turned into the 20th. His company evolved to take in cable television networks, internet properties and specialty media and publishing (Fitch Ratings) as well as a medical information business.

Publishing, albeit more on a local scale, helped Robert S. Howard create a fortune. Howard has the No. 15 position on The List, with estimated net worth of $400 million. He led Howard Publications, which owned 19 media properties including the major newspaper in San Diego’s North County region. The Howard family has since left the media space and is now involved in oil and gas as part of Howard Energy Co.

Medical advances helped put San Diego County philanthropist Darlene Marcos Shiley on The List. Shiley has the No. 17 spot, and her net worth is estimated at $400 million. Shiley’s late husband, Donald Shiley, was co-inventor of the Bjork-Shiley heart valve and went on to found Shiley Inc., a business that was sold to Pfizer. Darlene Shiley’s philanthropic efforts extend to health care (including Scripps Health and UC San Diego), public television (KPBS), education and the arts.

Success in Finance

Finance is the specialty of Charles Brandes, retired founder and chairman of Brandes Investment Partners. Brandes’ net worth is estimated at $1.3 billion, giving him the No. 5 spot and making him one of eight billionaires on The List. Founded in 1974, the Brandes firm was among the first to invest globally using a value approach — that is, investing in quality companies’ stock undervalued by the market.

Arthur Nicholas holds the No. 14 spot on The List with an estimated net worth of $580 million. Nicholas is co-founder and partner of Nicholas Investment Partners. The Rancho Santa Fe resident was previously co-founder of asset management company Nicholas-Applegate Capital Management, where he served as chairman and CEO. Nicholas-Applegate was sold to Allianz in 2001 for more than $980 million.

Martin Wygod, who holds the No. 19 spot on The List, founded a brokerage early in his career, at age 23. Since then Wygod has been part of the pharmacy-by-mail business, running Medco Containment Services. With the rise of the internet, Wygod offered the WebMD medical website. Wygod has an estimated net worth of $320 million.

In the legal realm, William Lerach made a mark as an attorney pursuing lawsuits on behalf of shareholders. Lerach has the No. 18 spot on The List with an estimated net worth of $360 million. In his most famous case, he pursued a class action suit against Enron Corp. and its auditor, Arthur Andersen. His client was awarded more than $7 billion. Lerach has also pursued human rights litigation, many stemming from the events of World War II.

Telephones and Car Alarms

Telephone call centers helped build the fortunes of Gary and Mary West of Rancho Santa Fe. The couple has the No. 11 spot on The List, with an estimated net worth of $640 million. The Wests are considered pioneers in the call center space. As philanthropists, they are particularly concerned with healthcare. The nonprofit Gary and Mary West Foundation is dedicated to lowering the cost of healthcare to enable seniors to successfully age in place.

Consumer electronics built the fortune of Darrell Issa, who has the No. 20 spot on The List with an estimated net worth of $280 million. He founded Directed Electronics, which has been a leader in the car alarm space. Issa took on even more prominence in local and then national politics by being elected to the House of Representatives — not just in one, but in two districts, most recently in East County. The Republican Issa holds the distinction of being one of the wealthiest members of Congress.

The Possibilities of Real Estate

It should come as no surprise that in San Diego, real estate development is the specialty of several on The List.

Douglas Manchester, in the No. 8 spot with an estimated net worth of $1 billion, can take credit for redeveloping a large swath of the downtown San Diego waterfront near the convention center. Manchester was behind the San Diego Marriott Marquis & Marina hotel development, as well as the two hotel towers of the Manchester Grand Hyatt. More recently, he got redevelopment going at the Pacific Gateway site — the former U.S. Navy warehouse facilities at the foot of Broadway. The Pacific Gateway project gave the Navy a new downtown headquarters building, and laid the foundation for what is expected to be developed into a major biotech center. In the past few decades, Manchester Financial Group can take credit for developing more than $5 billion in assets worldwide.

Ernest Rady, at No. 10 on the list with an estimated net worth of $900 million, has more than 50 years of experience in real estate management and development. He is currently chairman of the board, president and CEO of American Assets Trust (NYSE: AAT), a real estate investment trust which has commercial properties in Southern California, Northern California, Oregon, Washington, Texas and Hawaii. The business had net income of $45.7 million on revenue of $367 million in 2019. Rady — who has also done business in insurance, banking and financial services — has been a benefactor to several San Diego institutions, including Rady Children’s Hospital and the Rady School of Management at UC San Diego. He is also a trustee of the Salk Institute.

Providing a Place for Government to Work

Michael P. Ibe, at No. 23, has an estimated net worth of $130 million. With his real estate background, Ibe works to fill the facilities needs of the federal government. He co-founded Western Devcon Inc. in 1987. The business leases to the federal government’s General Services Agency. Ibe also serves as a director, vice chairman of the board and executive vice president for development and acquisition at Easterly Government Properties (NYSE: DEA). The company, based in Washington, D.C., serves the building needs of federal clients. It generated $222 million in revenue in 2019. According to its website, it focuses primarily on the acquisition, development and management of Class A commercial properties that are leased to U.S. government agencies that serve essential U.S. government functions. Nearly all revenue comes from leasing properties to such agencies.