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Business Women Know No Boundaries

The San Diego Business Journal presented a dozen dynamic executives with Business Women of the Year honors during a virtual ceremony.

The program’s Lifetime Achievement Award went to Lidia S. Martinez, who recently retired from a 30-year career at Southwest Airlines. Martinez helped launch Southwest Airlines’ national Multicultural Community Affairs Department, and has been at the forefront of the company’s corporate social responsibility initiatives.

The Nov. 19 ceremony marked the 27th year that the San Diego Business Journal has honored Business Women of the Year.

Winners were chosen by a panel of judges: Chris Bryant, past president and CEO of the San Diego Employers Association; Iris Garcia, president and chairwoman of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Debra Rosen, president and CEO of the North San Diego Business Chamber; and Ronson Shamoun, CEO and founder of RJS Law.

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Sponsors for the event were Kaiser Permanente, Sony Electronics, Union Bank and Wells Fargo.

A Mentor’s Help

Leading off the program was an in-depth discussion of mentors and mentorship, and how women can help other women further their careers. Cheryl Goodman, head of corporate communications and corporate social responsibility at Sony Electronics, moderated the discussion.

A mentorship does not have to be part of a formal program to be effective, Goodman observed when speaking with panelist Carrie Vilaplana, vice president and private wealth advisor with The Private Bank of Union Bank. Vilaplana said that in her experience, the individuals showing her the ropes, the people who made the most significant impression, may not have known they were mentoring her. Those mentors were simply members of her team who showed how they interacted with people.

Krista Goryl, senior vice president and regional manager for Wells Fargo Advisors, recalled starting her career in finance, a male-dominated profession. She soon crossed paths with a successful woman in her office, asked how she got to where she was, and asked for her help. The relationship flourished. The mentor gave her projects that were challenges, brought her to meetings “I had no business being in” and helped her create her brand. The experience repeatedly took Goryl out of her comfort zone — but at the same time gave her vital career skills.

Another panelist, Marie Zappia-Kuzmack — chief administrative officer of the Southern California Permanente Medical Group, affiliated with Kaiser Permanente — spoke of two memorable mentors, including a charge nurse who taught her “structure with compassion.” Advice from her mentors came with a healthy dose of constructive criticism. “You don’t know what you don’t know, until you have a mentor who takes the time to invest in you,” Zappia-Kuzmack said. That comment struck a chord with the other panelists, who nodded in agreement.

Bending the Needle

The program then moved on to honor Lidia S. Martinez, whose career included a time as Southwest Airlines’ ambassador to the nonprofit world. Like the other speakers, Martinez spoke about the importance of mentorship, particularly for people in underrepresented groups. She also recalled “years of helping to bend the needle toward the philosophy and the practice of corporate social responsibility that Southwest has become known and beloved for.”

Among those congratulating her for her award was Elizabeth Fitzsimons of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and LEAD San Diego.

“Southwest could not have asked for a better ambassador for all the positivity, generosity and optimism that Lidia spreads wherever she goes and in everything she does,” Fitzsimons said. “What sticks with me most about Lidia is that generosity — as a friend, as a mentor and as a partner. She invests in people …. She sees potential in people, and then she dives in. She has this deep reservoir of knowledge and skill and strategy — and boy, is she sharp — and she gives it away so freely and joyfully. There’s no guarding, no hoarding of all this deep knowledge, just abundance, always abundance with Lidia.”

Rising Stars and Small Business Successes

Announcements of awards rounded out the program. Further details about the winners are in this issue’s special section devoted to the Business Women of the Year Awards.

Samantha Anderson, co-founder and president of Origin 63, won in the Rising Star category. The arrival of COVID-19 affected her small business, and she shared how her company successfully pivoted from being a marketing and lead generation firm to a provider of HubSpot support.

Honoree Danielle Fontanesi, another Rising Star, shared the personal story behind the foundation of her own legal practice. “It was not an easy path to get to where I am today,” she said. More recently, she founded a nonprofit called Covid Act Now.

Rounding out the Rising Star category was Catherine Rells, CEO of Gene Tox Lab Solutions, which helps large and small healthcare organizations manage their patient populations through specialized lab testing, informatics, and education. She has brought values, faith and a warrior spirit to her job.

Winning in the Small Company category was Elizabeth Barrie of Barrie + CO. The success of her 6-year-old business has shown the design and construction industry that Barrie has the technical and business acumen to be a major player in San Diego’s competitive construction management market.

Kim Folsom also won in the Small Company category. As CEO of Founders First Capital Partners LLC, as well as the nonprofit Founders First Community Development Corp., she helps underserved and underrepresented business owners. Folsom described how the support of family members got her to where she is now, and how their example sustains her.

Serving, Teaching, Breaking Boundaries

The final Small Company winner was Alessandra Lezama, who made her way through the male-dominated tech industry to win four CEO jobs before founding her new venture, TOOTRiS, a tech-enabled service centered on the delivery of child care. Women “need to continue to stand together,” she told viewers of the awards ceremony.

Honoree Megan Storer won in the Medium Company category. She is chief of staff for 2-1-1 San Diego, the social-service equivalent of a deluxe concierge service. When COVID-19 hit, the county activated 2-1-1 to respond. Calls increased by 400% and Storer did not miss a beat.

Nancy Maldonado, CEO and president of the Chicano Federation, met the onset of the coronavirus pandemic head-on, shifting her organization’s focus to better meet families’ emerging needs and challenging elected officials to be better allies for the Latinx community. She, too, is an honoree in the Medium Company category.

The third winner in the Medium Company category was Stacey Anfuso, founder and CEO of La Jolla Logic. Her company has made significant strides in improving the U.S. Navy’s cyber posture on its enterprise networks. La Jolla Logic has been recognized nationally for its fast growth.

Teresa Campbell, honoree in the Large Company Category, is president and CEO of San Diego County Credit Union. She has grown the business substantially over the last decade. In 2020, she followed the credit union’s principle that People Come First and Profits Second to guide SDCCU’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Professor Priya Kannan’s vision is to transform every student at the University of San Diego into an ethical, entrepreneurial leader. Further, she asserts that the entrepreneurial mindset can help minorities, underserved populations and immigrants create better life conditions. Kannan, winner in the Large Company category, denounced gender stereotypes and urged women onward in her acceptance speech.

Also receiving honors in the Large Company category was Sony Electronics Inc. executive Cheryl Goodman — a fierce proponent of lifting other women up in technology as well as other STEM fields. Goodman has made it her personal mission to increase awareness around cognitive diversity, gender equity and the unique role each individual can play.

There were more than 300 nominations for this year’s event.

Video of the entire event is available on the sdbj.com website. 


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