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Wednesday, Feb 28, 2024

SD500: Special Edition

If one were to do a sort of reverse-engineering of the San Diego economy, you would end up with these key players, the San Diego 500.

The San Diego Business Journal tapped its staff, its sources and even a few recommendations to assemble this all-star team playing under the following categories: civic, education, finance, health & science, leading industries, lifestyle, professional services, real estate, technology and icons.


San Diego’s active civic leaders have a big presence in the San Diego 500 and in the lives of those they serve.

CEO Kimberly Becker of San Diego County Regional Airport Authority is responsible for the airport which was expected to serve 23 million passengers last year. It is not an exaggeration to say that one runway may be the most important piece of land in the county.

Ruben Garcia district director of the Small Business Administration hasbeen helping qualified businesses to get government contracts, opening doors that had been closed to some.

Peter Callstrom CEO of San Diego Workforce Partnership is trying to give workers the necessary skills to participate in today’s opportunities while emphasizing the need for even greater workforce education to meet coming demands for a skilled workforce.

Cheryl Kilmer CEO of TERI Inc. aims to help those who are thrilled to join the workforce, but may have run into obstacles or limitations due to disabilities.

The stories of these civic leaders are of needs and needs met.


One used to hear that San Diego had an uphill fight in attracting investment, venture capital. Who wanted to go south when everyone knew the gold was in Silicon Valley and San Francisco? Those days are on the way out. Chased out by innovation, opportunity and cash created by San Diego companies.

Alison Long Pettine is part of the change as founder and president of Crescent Ridge Partners. The company provides seed funding to early stage startups. Long Pettine also formed — with two partners — Ad Astra Ventures to support women entrepreneurs in leadership roles.

Terry Moore, managing partner of Moore Venture Partners invests in local companies like Take Lessons and Cloudbeds in various funds.

The finance group includes banks, credit unions, wealth management, VC and more.

Ashish Masih, CEO of Encore Capital Group, found a revenue stream in buying and selling debt. Encore conducts business in the U.S. and the U.K.

CEO Mary Ann McGarry of Guild Mortgage is riding the wave of recovery in mortgage lending. She has been CEO since 2007, seeing some ups and downs. Guild now has 344 offices, 4,000 employees and annual loan volume of $16 billion.

Even Qualcomm is part of the financial sector here. Quinn Li vice president and global head of Qualcomm Ventures oversees a $1 billion global venture investment portfolio.

In a world where it is often the extra zeros that add up, there is also room for those starting on the entrepreneurial path. Accion San Diego’s CEO Elizabeth Schott makes loans and provides education to small business owners, a needed service that can change lives and even communities.

Leading Industries

The Leading Industries category is a good one to show off the diverse pursuits of the local economy. Ashok Kamal executive director of the Tech Coast Angels San Diego has energized the group, making it the most active angel investor group in the country.

Kimberly Herrell, president of Schubach Aviation is a great example of San Diego women who step up to fill what once were traditionally male roles. Herrell helped modernize and upgrade Schubach’s fleet of aircraft.

Greg Koch does what he always does as co-founder of Stone Brewing Co. making new beers and creating experiences for customers around the country and around the world.

Talk about making a splash, Kevin Graney president at General Dynamics NASSCO seems to have a calendar full of christenings for new ships.

As CFO of Taylor Guitars, Barbara Wight’s duties include overseeing the company’s Tecate, Mexico, plant as well as sales and distribution in more than 60 countries.

From bass guitars to biotechs; AI to IPA the diversity of the San Diego economy is a huge strength for the region.


In San Diego, it is no longer what are you going to do when you get out of college, but what are you doing while you’re in college. Pradeep Khosla, chancellor of the University of California, San Diego, sees those opportunities up close and is adding to them with a massive expansion plan.

Michael Cunningham, chancellor of National University System is also looking to make additions. A recent $350 million gift from philanthropist Denny Sanford should help. In 2020, National University will become Sanford National University.

The university said the gift will advance efforts on affordability as well as develop a “best in class, high-tech, high-touch student experience.”

The community college avenue is in the good hands of Constance Carroll, chancellor of San Diego Community College District. A recent $1.55 billion bond is being used for unprecedented expansion in the district.

These leaders make sure that education is a priority in the region. They and their institutions are often given credit when new companies decide to relocate to San Diego. Having an educated workforce is must for any region that hopes to participate in the coming opportunities.

Health and Sciences

The health and sciences category could provide 500 qualified candidates in and of itself.

There are amazing things being done on both in San Diego.

One has to mention Francis deSouza CEO of Illumina Inc., the crown jewel in the biotech crown. With its $48 billion market cap and a world of targeted and precision medicine, it would seem that the only way to lose would be weak leadership. Illumina seems to be in good hands.

Saundra Pelletier CEO of Evofem Biosciences may soon find rewards for her company’s hard work in women’s health and contraception. Evofem recently raised $30 million in a private placement followed in June by a second tranche for $50 million.

When hearing her discuss workplace issues at an event, what stood out was her concern for employees and a calm strength of someone who knows the priorities of life.

Jane Finely SVP and area manager of Kaiser Permanente is one of the steady hands at the helm of a care provider. It appears that good, competent care is available around the county at various providers. Kaiser itself cares for more than 627,000.

Speaking of competency, Mick Farrell CEO of ResMed Inc. successfully moved his company into a data driven diagnostic era. For first quarter earnings’ results in November, ResMed posted $681.1 million in revenue, a 16% year-over-year increase.

Carin Canale-Theakston should take the last bow for recently selling Canale Communications Inc. in a deal with UDG Healthcare worth up to $31 million.


When it comes to lifestyle, San Diego has a full dance card. There are so many choices available. You can join Barry Edelstein artistic director at the Old Globe for Shakespeare in Balboa Park.

You can join Lesley and David Cohn co-founders of the Cohn Restaurant Group for a meal at one of their establishments.

From sport to entertainment, there are interesting stories here. Find out how Oliver ‘Chip’ Brewer, CEO and president of Callaway Golf, turned his company around with a good strategy and interesting acquisitions.

Professional Services

All these interesting companies in San Diego need a lot of backup which they can find in the professional services category.

Rita Steel, of Robert Half can help with staffing as president of West and Southwestern U.S. operations.

Lisa Haile of DLA Piper brings in-depth scientific experience to serving the life sciences sector.

Steven Jones of Jones & Associates consulting can help companies formulate programs for diversity and inclusion, as well as offering management consulting.

Ken Weixel managing partner at Deloitte can help companies keep track of the money as well as trends and changes that can blindside those not paying attention in a world of constant change. Professional services bring that much needed expertise to the table.

Real Estate

San Diego commercial real estate changes the old formula of supply and demand to supply and demand and more demand.

R. Michael Murphy founder and president of Murphy Development has planned or completed more than 9 million square feet of industrial and technology buildings.

John P. Case is CEO of the REIT Realty Income Corp. Case has been responsible for more than $100 billion in real estate capital markets and advisory transactions in his career.

Ben Badiee, CEO and president of Badiee Development, has made a big mark on the North County scene. His development sites include Carlsbad, Escondido and Vista.

Steve Games, CEO and managing partner at Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty, along with Brian Arrington and Nyda Jones-Church built the company into a market leader with sales volume of more than $4 billion.

The above mentioned demand keeps builders, developers, financiers and brokerages busy working the land.


Computer vision may be mopping the floor of a big-box store now, but tomorrow it could be doing major surgery on you. Technology is the category of possibilities and the home of some big San Diego players such as Qualcomm and Viasat. Steve Mollenkopf CEO of Qualcomm is leading San Diego and perhaps the world into the possibilities of 5G.

Richard Baldridge president of Viasat and CEO and Icon Mark Dankberg are helping communication flourish on airline flights as well as night patrols for our nation’s military.

Michael Fasulo, president and COO of Sony Electronics, is another major figure in San Diego technology employing 3,000 people in the region in everything from R&D to sales, marketing and customer service.

As the ambitions of the next generations work for their place in San Diego economy, they can turn to these 500 stories of work, success and service to motivate them along the way. And for that, we thank the San Diego 500.


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