2015 Entrepreneur Of The Year® — Orange County

For 29 years, EY has celebrated the entrepreneurial spirit of men and women pursuing innovation and entrepreneurial excellence in their businesses, their teams and their communities. We are excited to announce that this year the program received 65 entries from some of the Orange County and Inland Empire’s most deserving entrepreneurs.

The blood, sweat and passion they’ve poured into their businesses and the triumphs they’ve achieved stand as a testament to the role they play as visionaries, leaders and innovators. EY founded the Entrepreneur Of The Year® Program to recognize this passion for excellence and to build an influential and innovative community of peers.

We have gathered here tonight and in 25 other cities in the U.S. throughout the month of June to welcome the men and women who are award recipients into EY’s entrepreneurial Hall of Fame and to toast their commitment to succeed. We applaud them for launching their companies, opening new markets and fueling job growth.

So let’s celebrate their achievements, their perseverance and their tireless pursuit of business excellence.







John Belli
office managing partner
EY, Orange County

2015 Entrepreneur Of The Year Orange County

Quick links:

Healthcare Products & Services: Mike Mussallem, Edwards Lifesciences | Dr. Amir Neshat, LIBERTY Dental Plan | Dan Rodrigues, Kareo
Consumer Products: Andrew Peykoff, Niagara Bottling, LLC | Steve Sather, El Pollo Loco | Steve Schulze and Alexis Schulze, Nekter Juice Bar Inc.
Biotech / Technology: James Dunlop and Charles Dunlop, Ambry Genetics | Brian Meshkin, Proove Biosciences, Inc.. | Michael Burdiek, CalAmp Corp.
Financial Services: Joseph Duran United Capital Financial Advisers, LLC | Anthony Hsieh, loanDepot LLC | Jeffrey Seabold and Steven Sugarman, Banc of California
Wholesale & Retail: Jeff Walker, Alliance Entertainment| Jarrod Dogan, Hybrid Apparel, LLC | James Conroy, Boot Barn
Community Contribution: Kimberly Cripe, CHOC Children’s
Lifetime Achievement Award: Vernon O. Underwood, Young’s Market Co.

Healthcare Products & Services

Edwards Lifesciences, award recipient






Mike Mussallem
chairman and CEO
Edwards Lifesciences

Mike Mussallem has been chairman and CEO of Edwards Lifesciences since 2000 when the company spun off from Baxter International. His career at the company began in 1979, when Edwards was a division of American Hospital Supply. Within these companies, Mussallem held a variety of positions with increasing responsibility in engineering, product development and general management.

In the 1990s, Mussallem led a team at the then-cardiovascular division of Edwards to explore and later implement a spinoff into an independent company, with the goal of creating a more nimble organization that could aggressively invest in research and development, delivering important innovations more quickly to patients around the world. As this vision became a reality in 2000, Mussallem was named chairman and CEO of the independent, publicly traded Edwards Lifesciences.

This entrepreneurial spirit that motivated Mussallem and others to pursue independence has persevered within the last 15 years, and delivered remarkable growth for the company, including double-digit sales growth over the past five years fueled by product innovation. Edwards is committed to providing innovative solutions that address the unmet needs of patients with structural heart disease and the critically ill.

Despite that success, the company entered 2014 with uncertainty given the unpredictable nature of regulatory approvals of its own next-generation technologies and new competition in the U.S. and Europe. With Mussallem’s leadership and dedicated employees universally focused on the goal of helping patients, Edwards ended the year exceeding expectations.

In just a year, the company witnessed its market value as a public company double. This success was driven by the results of its focus on developing and investing in technologies to better address patient needs. As it moves into and through 2015, Edwards is well-positioned to continue strengthening its global leadership by providing therapies that create enduring value.

Read more Smart Business coverage of Mike Mussallem and how he has fostered a culture that drives profitability and growth.

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LIBERTY Dental Plan, finalist






Dr. Amir Neshat
founder, president and CEO
LIBERTY Dental Plan

Dr. Amir Neshat greatly admired his father’s ability to impact the lives of people through his work as a physician and business owner. The enjoyment and satisfaction he witnessed in his father had a profound impact on him, subsequently driving him into the health care industry.

Neshat earned his doctor of dental surgery degree and opened and ran multiple dental practices. While he thoroughly enjoyed providing dental care to his patients, a desire emerged to contribute more to the dental industry — LIBERTY Dental Plan was born.

LIBERTY originated in 2001, when the opportunity arose to lead and turnaround a bankrupt company. With a goal to improve the quality of dental health care and become an intermediary between clients, dental providers and members, LIBERTY spent its initial years building a foundation that allowed it to expand greatly overtime, led by Neshat as founder, president and CEO.

Although challenges were great, Neshat’s innovation in solving problems, and his willingness to take risks, fueled his anticipated success. He and his team quickly determined that a multipronged sales approach would be required. First, LIBERTY had to overcome funding difficulties as a newcomer into the dental insurance arena and build the capital requirement that was not initially available.

Second, Neshat had to convince and prove to potential clients that there were advantages to building a relationship with LIBERTY.

The third major obstacle was to build dental networks and convince providers that LIBERTY would bring them patients.

As a privately held company, not required to meet investors’ expectations, LIBERTY has been able to make decisions not exclusively driven by profit, but on providing customized plans that make sense for clients. This type of service is one that LIBERTY can provide at a cost-effective rate.

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Kareo, finalist






Dan Rodrigues
founder and CEO

Dan Rodrigues is an engineer by training, a problem solver and a smart risk taker. He founded Kareo, a medical software company focused exclusively on the small medical practice market, with his own funds in 2004.

While there are more than 900,000 physicians in the U.S., approximately 60 percent work in practices with fewer than five physicians. Rodrigues, CEO, chose to focus on small practices because this segment, where most people receive medical care, is among the last in the U.S. to adopt technology. Kareo is changing that through the use of a complete medical practice software as a service platform that’s easy for physicians and their staff to use.

Kareo’s software helps the medical office run more efficiently allowing more time for patient care. Rodrigues initially got interested in health care because the industry was growing rapidly despite a struggling economy. He found the complexities and issues with health care reimbursement and the regulatory compliance requirements were more than a small business could manage, so he created a company to solve these problems.

Early on, Kareo sold software to medical billing companies. His success encouraged him to target doctors directly. Though he risked competing with his billing company client base, Rodrigues decided that he could serve both audiences successfully. He was right.

He took two additional risks in 2013 when Kareo launched its own electronic health record and medical billing service despite having a substantial partner in each of the same businesses. Rodrigues also decided to acquire DoctorBase, an innovative player in the patient communications and practice marketing space.

As a result of Rodrigues’ initiative, Kareo has grown substantially, creating a fast-growing user base of more than 30,000 doctors working in 10,000 practices and 30 specialties in every state.

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Consumer Products

Niagara Bottling, LLC, winner






Andrew Peykoff
president and CEO
Niagara Bottling, LLC

Family owned and operated since 1963, Niagara Bottling, LLC started bottling high-quality, low-cost water in five-gallon glass containers for home and office delivery.

By 1994, Niagara Bottling invested in its first blow molder to produce its own bottles, which was the first major stride in vertical integration. The Peykoff family has continued to pursue cost and quality improvements associated with vertical integration, automation, high-speed manufacturing and bottle technology.

Today, Andrew Peykoff is the company’s president and CEO, but the commitment to reinvesting in the business and growing Niagara Bottling into one of the largest family-run beverage companies in the world, remains. Rising material cost, downward pricing pressure with industry commoditization and extreme capital requirements for expansion have created a bottled water market that demands an extremely efficient and innovative business model for success.

The next critical point of differentiation Peykoff created for Niagara was the process of bringing cap manufacturing in-house. He followed that by introducing environmentally friendly, lightweight bottle designs — Niagara now manufactures a 7-gram, 0.5-liter bottle.

Peykoff then switched Niagara to nested packs, which eliminated the corrugate tray, added more cases per pallet and resulted in fewer pallets through the supply chain, saving millions of pounds of carbon dioxide, millions of gallons of water and hundreds of thousands of trees and pallets.

From constantly reducing the amount of plastic used to creating faster, more efficient processes combined with technological innovation such as laser guided vehicles and automated warehousing solutions,

Niagara is always finding ways to improve and be the first to market. Niagara’s product portfolio includes a variety of teas, isotonics, sparkling beverages and sports drinks. It’s been Peykoff’s entrepreneurial spirit that has made Niagara a leading private label bottled water supplier in the country and one of the largest suppliers in the western hemisphere.

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El Pollo Loco, finalist






Steve Sather
president and CEO
El Pollo Loco

El Pollo Loco started in 1980 with a single Los Angeles neighborhood restaurant and an authentic recipe for chicken. Freshly prepared ingredients and a welcoming atmosphere were the cornerstones for a unique dining experience. El Pollo Loco has grown and evolved in the past 35 years, but its commitment to fresh, authentically prepared food, inspired by the kitchens of Mexico, has remained unchanged since inception.

Steve Sather, a restaurant veteran, came to work at El Pollo Loco as the senior vice president of operations in 2006. In August 2010, he took on the responsibilities as president and CEO. Sather’s arrival came at a dire time for El Pollo Loco. The company sorely needed strategic vision and leadership, sales were rapidly declining, expansion efforts were floundering and the burden of significant debt obligations loomed at a level that threatened bankruptcy.

Sather took immediate action, crafting a comprehensive strategic vision to save the company from the brink of bankruptcy. Devoted to his plan — and to turning around the company — Sather secured the trust of sponsors and financial investments. With his strategic vision and his relentless focus on operations and quality, Sather was able to successfully turn the previous 14 quarters of declining sales into positive growth.

He did so by revamping the culinary team and the restaurant’s menu. The restaurant design also didn’t appeal to the broader market, so Sather hired a design firm to create a new restaurant prototype, which would also serve as the basis for an extensive remodeling plan.

With his strategic vision and his relentless focus on operations and quality, Sather successfully took El Pollo Loco public in 2014. Since going public, the company has seen its shares soar, making it the fourth best IPO of that year, and opening countless opportunities for future growth.

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Nekter Juice Bar Inc., finalist






Steve Schulze
CEO and co-founder






Alexis Schulze
CVO and co-founder
Nekter Juice Bar Inc.

Five years ago Steve and Alexis Schulze embarked on a journey that began with a green juice. That juice inspired a community to live a more balanced, positive and healthier life. It was their belief that this green juice would have kids and adults embracing the power of healthy living. Thus, Nekter Juice Bar Inc. came to fruition.

Alexis, CVO and co-founder, created the Greenie in her home kitchen. Motivated by the lack of choices for fresh juice made with real, whole ingredients, instead of the processed, sugar-laden ones typically found in grocery stores, the Greenie combined nutrient-rich vegetables and great taste.

Steve, CEO and co-founder, knew Alexis had an idea that could represent the start of a trend. No juice bar had offered a true, raw juice experience that encouraged people to incorporate them into their morning routine. While Alexis worked to concoct the foundation for Nekter’s menu, Steve began to map out a blueprint for a successful business.

The first Nekter location opened in October 2010, and has since grown from its small start in Costa Mesa, to a thriving business built on community, passion and the goal to inspire people to live a more healthy and positive life. As Nekter grew, the Schulze’s brought in experts to their executive team.

The couple recruited two district managers from Starbucks and Chipotle whose efforts were focused on the operational implementation at the store locations, allowing Alexis and Steve to focus on expanding the infrastructure for growth through both corporate-owned and franchised locations.

The Schulzes have since joined forces with organizations to bring nutrition-based programs to schools throughout the country, bringing Nekter’s message and green juice to a new generation. The Schulze’s are working to reinvent juice the way Starbucks reinvented coffee.

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Biotech / Technology

Ambry Genetics, winner






James Dunlop
co-founder, president, CCO
and interm CEO






Charles Dunlop
co-founder and CEO
Ambry Genetics

It’s not uncommon to hear stories of guys getting out of college and not wanting to get “real” jobs. That’s what Charles Dunlop thought too. It’s more unusual, however, that the guys who don’t want “real” jobs dive into DNA sequencing.

With a background in biology, mathematics, economics and history, co-founding Ambry Genetics in 1999 with his brother James wasn’t out of Charles’s realm of expertise. In addition to being co-founder, Charles serves as CEO of the medical diagnostic company, which specializes in next generation gene sequencing, while his brother, James, a co-founder as well, serves as president, CCO and interm CEO.

Initially a genetic testing laboratory, Ambry’s first test sequenced the gene that causes cystic fibrosis. Today, its test menu has grown to become one of the most comprehensive in the genetics industry, offering more than 200 tests for a variety of conditions.

As a company built by scientists, genetic counselors and physicians, Ambry has become a trusted resource for clinicians, is accredited by the College of American Pathologists, licensed by the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments and has its own in-house medical technologist training program.

Ambry’s scope of clients encompasses national and global research projects with some of the world’s most respected academic institutions and small to large pharmaceutical companies.

When Charles first started Ambry, he realized quickly that there is no impure motivation. Some people want exceptional patient care, others love new technical gadgets, some want simple and elegant systems, some are economically motivated, others are perfectionists, some want it to be known they work at one of the highest-tech biotechs. At Ambry, everyone is welcome, with the realization that it takes all kinds of people and perspectives to build a well-rounded company — a core element that makes the company unique.

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Proove Biosciences, Inc., finalist






Brian Meshkin
president and CEO
Proove Biosciences, Inc.

Brian Meshkin founded Proove Biosciences, Inc. in December 2009, creating a company with a vision to realize the potential of personalized medicine. Having worked at the leading edge of the pharmaceutical and diagnostic industries, Meshkin designed a business model that was focused on innovation, profitability and patient care.

For the first 18 months, Meshkin not only served as the founder of Proove Biosciences, a molecular diagnostics company, but also the investor and sole employee. He researched and developed his first test to help solve the societal epidemic of prescription pain medication abuse. He convinced a lab to setup and perform his testing while he handled the billing, sales, customer service and test reporting.

By 2011, Meshkin, president and CEO, had exhausted all of his financial resources. With his initial customers in California, Meshkin and his family drove cross-country from Maryland to expand the company.

Later that year, Proove Biosciences hired its first employees. The next year, Meshkin hired more, launched a second test and bought a lab. In 2013, he hired again, and to date the company has a third test and another in the pipeline.

Proove Biosciences leads the industry in sales and research of pain medicine genetic testing. It has amassed the world’s largest practice-based evidence database in personalized pain medicine with more than 70,000 subjects.

In this database, Proove analyzes patient data from the health record, patient assessments provided by the patient, assessments performed by the physician, wide-scale genetic analyses and billing data from insurance companies. This data has allowed Proove to develop unique algorithms that present volumes of original research that have led to more than 50 tests.

Meshkin’s plan for future growth is to leverage this data to expand into other areas of health, as pain patients often have psychiatric, cardiovascular and other health issues.

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CalAmp Corp., finalist






Michael Burdiek
president and CEO
CalAmp Corp.

Michael Burdiek may not have started CalAmp Corp. from his garage, but he’s not just another “hired guy” either. Before Burdiek, CalAmp’s existing satellite products were commoditized and there were only two principal customers.

In 2006, Burdiek joined CalAmp, a company that delivers an extensive machine-to-machine solution through its portfolio of intelligent devices, scalable cloud-based service enablement platforms and targeted software as a service offerings for the burgeoning M2M communications marketplace. Through his resourcefulness and entrepreneurship, Burdiek brought CalAmp back from the brink of financial ruin.

A make or break moment for CalAmp occurred in 2008 when its satellite business plummeted in the course of a year after losing one of its two main customers. The company previously relied on satellite profits to fund acquisitions, but was now left with zero satellite revenue, significant debt and a massive product recall liability.

Seeing those risks, the company embarked upon a series of debt financed strategic acquisitions to broaden the product portfolio and customer base. With his recent success in turning around Telenetics, Burdiek was initially recruited to CalAmp to oversee the new acquisitions and manage the company’s wireless division. Instead, Burdiek became president and CEO and transformed CalAmp from a one-dimensional company in default on its loans to a leader in its industry with a diversified product and service portfolio.

Burdiek realized the key to the future was to shift the company’s focus toward its newly acquired divisions and pivot from a product approach to a market approach, focusing on those products with the best return on investment. Burdiek’s focus on results and a pragmatic approach to addressing challenges has fueled CalAmp’s success, while his vision has enabled the company to transform itself in a dynamic marketplace.

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Financial Services

United Capital Financial Advisers, LLC, winner






Joseph Duran
United Capital Financial Advisers, LLC

Joseph Duran’s motivation to build United Capital Financial Advisers, LLC came from an unlikely source — his mother-in-law. When she received a small inheritance she turned to Duran for a referral to a financial adviser. Getting feedback on her interviews of potential advisers, he realized there was a problem and an opportunity.

Duran wanted to know the meaning beyond money. He was convinced of two things. First, people have biases that affect how they think and feel about money. Second, most people don’t take the time to understand what truly matters to them. This revelation occurred in 2005.

Driven to create a financial advisory firm to address these shortcomings, Duran boot-strapped the first phase of United Capital and by 2010 was confident enough to develop the brand and strategy for his company as a consistent enterprise. By 2013, Duran was eager to take United Capital to the next level, making client experience a focal point. Today, Duran, CEO, has United Capital ready for a major brand expansion, redefining the category of wealth management, switching it to financial life management.

Under this umbrella, United Capital will reach consumers with an entirely new way to think about how life and money intersect. What Duran and United Capital know is more than 70 percent of consumers stress about money, even when they have an adviser. Wealth management is old language for a model that is losing relevance to people.

With a goal to grow the company exponentially, Duran’s larger goal is to influence the industry so that helping people with their lives, not just money, is what advisers do. With Duran’s leadership, United Capital expects to continue its high growth trajectory and has its sights on becoming the largest independent advisory firm in the U.S.

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loanDepot LLC, finalist






Anthony Hsieh
chairman and CEO
loanDepot LLC

In the 1980s, Anthony Hsieh took a job with a friend at a local mortgage company and quickly became its top banker. He bought that firm in 1989, transforming it into America’s first online lender, LoansDirect.com, while also introducing an innovative direct-lending model. In 2001, E*TRADE Financial acquired LoansDirect.com.

In 2002, Hsieh founded HomeLoanCenter.com, America’s first online lender to offer a full spectrum of home loan products with live interest rate quotes and loans tailored to individual borrowers. In 2004, LendingTree acquired HomeLoanCenter.com.

Hsieh then launched loanDepot LLC with a handful of people in one business center, laying the groundwork to grow into multiple product lines from multiple facilities across the nation. From the start, Hsieh, chairman and CEO, purposefully built the company for scalability.

Today, loanDepot is a market leader operating retail, wholesale, consumer-direct, affinity and servicing divisions from four national business centers and numerous local branches. Since loanDepot was born during the 2009 housing crisis, Hsieh faced skepticism for his decisions to start a home loan company. He had, however, thoroughly assessed the landscape and knew that with the bad players absent from the post-crisis market the field would be open to him. Hsieh also had a record of resilient success and a reputation for keen market timing, integrity and ethical lending that would earn the trust of investors, consumers and his team.

Hsieh launched loanDepot with his now popular centralized, technology-enabled, direct-lending model. He reinvested in the company by acquiring two complementary brands focused in purchase loans. The strategy paid off when market conditions shifted, proving loanDepot is sustainable in all market conditions.

Today, Hsieh is leading loanDepot into offering unsecured personal loans, again innovating on his own business model and breaking barriers between mortgage and non-mortgage lending.

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Banc of California, finalist






Jeffrey Seabold
president and chief lending officer






Steven Sugarman
Banc of California

After effectively guiding previous entrepreneurial efforts through the depths of the financial crisis, Jeffrey Seabold and Steven Sugarman saw an opportunity to fill a niche. In 2009, in the aftermath of the banking crisis, billions in business lending disappeared from California’s financial landscape. Seabold, Sugarman and a team of investors saw an opportunity to fill this void in Southern California.

Acting upon this shared goal, the two initially sought out and raised capital to buy and invest in a bank. In 2010, they recapitalized Pacific Trust Bank and joined the board of directors in 2011. From 2011 to 2014, the bank acquired Gateway Business Bank, Mission Hills Mortgage, Beach Business Bank, The Private Bank of California, CS Financial, Renovation Ready and the Southern California assets of Banco Popular, all of which became Banc of California. Seabold assumed the role of president and chief lending officer, and Sugarman became CEO.

When the two set out to build a management team, they wanted people who weren’t afraid to treat their branch or division of the bank as their own small business. Following these requirements, the two created a dynamic management team whose members had either founded or owned their own businesses. Seabold and Sugarman found like-minded people and entrepreneurs with similar backgrounds who helped build a corporate culture that has been instrumental to the bank’s success over the past five years.

While many in the financial world were busy counting losses, Banc of California sought new opportunities where most thought none existed. A diverse, scalable and flexible business platform with expansive banking and lending core competencies delivered through 11 distinct business units has helped Banc of California become the largest bank headquartered in Orange County. The next goal is to become the top full-service bank in California.

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Wholesale & Retail

Alliance Entertainment, winner






Jeff Walker
Alliance Entertainment

In 1990, Jeff Walker opened a CD listening bar. Starting out with just one music store and one employee, Walker turned what is now known as Alliance Entertainment into an international wholesaler and retailer of music, movies, consumer electronics and licensed products.

Before the company became what it is today, Walker and his partner, Bruce Ogilvie, ran a company called Super D. Walker expanded Super D from just two retail stores into wholesale distribution back in 1995 when there were more than 12 established music wholesalers. Over the years, the entertainment industry faced a good deal of adversity with extreme competition, fluctuation, changes in direction and consolidation.

Walker watched as wholesalers went out of business, allowing Super D to acquire more customers and sales. By 2010, Super D and Alliance were the only remaining music wholesalers, and a lot of talk circulated over which company would be the last music stop standing. Walker’s plan was to grow his business through strategic acquisitions, and sure enough, Alliance eventually went up for sale and Walker had his eyes on acquiring it.

In September 2013, Walker and Ogilvie orchestrated an acquisition between Super D and Alliance. By October 2014, Super D was consolidated into the operations of Alliance. Walker took a big risk rolling a perfectly good business into a competitor, but his 200-day consolidation plan lead to a smooth transition.

Walker immediately stepped into the role of CEO and began implementing his plan. The news of Super D acquiring Alliance brought with it future uncertainty for hundreds of employees at both companies. Walker’s leadership over the first year following the merger resulted in a combined team of all-stars and exceptional business results. Today, the company now operates four brands and eight websites.

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Hybrid Apparel, LLC, finalist






Jarrod Dogan
CEO and president
Hybrid Apparel, LLC

Jarrod Dogan, CEO and president of Hybrid Apparel, LLC, came to the U.S. from Johannesburg, South Africa, and landed a job at an apparel company. Before the likes of Forever 21, Zara and H&M, Dogan started his own fast fashion T-shirt company in 1996.

Dogan knew the apparel model needed diversification in multiple categories to be sustainable, and came up with the name Hybrid. The business started with men’s T-shirts, but over the years continued to invest in infrastructure. Now, 19 years later, Hybrid is a powerhouse apparel organization.

Dogan’s philosophy of taking calculated risks, diversifying the portfolio and constant investment in technology and operations has kept Hybrid going. The company is defined by three key business units: SBU 1 male core, which is the heritage unit, consisting of licensed apparel, private label and priority brands; SBU4 women’s core, which is much like the men’s division; and the global brands division, which holds exclusive rights to Levi tops.

By 2014, growth had been driven organically and Dogan and his team knew that between the changing retail environment and the continued margin compression in current retail channels they had to evolve. He researched case studies to see how he wanted to move Hybrid forward, and was inspired by VF Corp. and Zara, both of which Dogan thought Hybrid could emulate.

Following a deal with Fox Racing, the vision for Hybrid over the next five years includes owning priority brands, building a global supply chain and focusing heavily on the action sports world. With current acquisitions of Dakine, Mervin snowboards, Huf, Brixton and Girl/Chocolate, Hybrid is well on its way.

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Boot Barn, finalist






James Conroy
Boot Barn

Having just left his role as president of Claire’s Stores, a girl’s accessories retailer, James Conroy wasn’t looking for a new position. In fact, he was enjoying a nice summer with his family, spending quality time by the swimming pool. When he received a cold call from a recruiter describing a company called Boot Barn, he took what seemed like a brief interruption to a relaxing sabbatical and turned it into an opportunity that transformed his life and Boot Barn.

A family founded business, Boot Barn opened in 1978 as a regional retailer of western-style apparel with stores in the western part of the U.S. Before Conroy joined Boot Barn, he visited five Boot Barn stores and 20 of its competitors to understand the western lifestyle. Once he joined the company, Conroy worked in the retail stores, stocked the backroom with inventory, learned about the product and talked to customers. He wanted to know and embrace the lifestyle before taking his role as CEO.

In the more than 2.5 years, Boot Barn has opened in new markets, doubled revenue, grown the number of stores, gone through two acquisitions and an IPO. Conroy recognized the potential of the company to become a national lifestyle brand. He developed a new strategy, a new set of business practices and hired a talented group of professionals to complement the team already in place.

As a leader, Conroy encourages a fun and supportive work environment — employees enjoy coming to work every morning. Employees appreciate the Boot Barn product, the lifestyle and the customer. Each year since Conroy joined the company a big event has taken place — in 2012 and 2013 there were acquisitions, and in 2014 the company went public.

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Community Contribution

CHOC Children’s, winner






Kimberly Cripe
president and CEO
CHOC Children’s

Kimberly Cripe joined CHOC Children’s in 1991 to assist with CHOC’s strategic and marketing plan, and was soon promoted to COO and executive vice president, before eventually being appointed to president and CEO in 1997.

Cripe entered her current role during a time when CHOC was struggling with massive financial losses and the very survival of the children’s hospital was at stake. With the support of the board, Cripe resolved to not only eliminate losses, but invest in new services, program development and infrastructure to deliver new levels of excellence in pediatric medicine. She completed her five-year turnaround in just three years.

Cripe attributes much of her success to her team that not only supports, but takes ownership of the vision she has led for CHOC. Cripe made it a point to recruit the best and brightest individuals. In a matter of 13 months, she turned over her entire executive team, creating a diverse group of individuals not all versed in the health care industry. While the turnover initially created challenges, it also created a team with fresh ideas and new visions. Eventually, the turnover brought CHOC to a high standard, relentlessly staying true to its mission of caring for children.

Cripe has managed to take CHOC to progressive new heights, most notably through the construction of the new 425,000-square-foot patient care tower, built during the country’s most recent recession, completed under budget and ahead of schedule. With the new tower standing as a beacon of excellence and innovation, CHOC is now nationally recognized for quality and patient safety.

Cripe doesn’t plan to stop there. She wants to continue to partner with other facilities that will keep CHOC at the top of children’s medicine.

Read Kimberly Cripe’s four points that will help you create an extraordinary customer experience

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Lifetime Achievement Award






Vernon O. Underwood
Young’s Market Co.

Vernon O. Underwood did just about everything there was to do at Young’s Market Co. when he began working there back in 1955. His father, Vern Sr., wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“My father firmly believed that there was no substitute for hands-on experience,” Underwood says. “So during my first several years, I worked in virtually every job that Young’s had. It was a valuable experience that has served me well over the years.”

Underwood, chairman, was particularly impressed with the warehousemen at Young’s and the dedication they brought to their work each day.

“My first thought was, ‘How do you get a promotion around here?’” Underwood says. “Seriously, I came to understand and respect the hard work that Young’s warehousemen do and the dedication with which they do it. There obviously was no automation in those days and the warehouse equipment was far inferior to the equipment that you find today in the warehouse. But I learned that a warehouseman is a dedicated and loyal employee who fills an indispensable role in our company.”

Underwood would later become the fourth generation of his family to lead the business when his father passed away and he was elected chairman of the board and CEO in 1990. But back in 1955, he wasn’t thinking about such lofty goals.

When he was promoted to truck driver, Underwood learned that “delivering cases of wine and spirits was as physically taxing as working in the warehouse.”

“On some days, I thought it might be my last step at Young’s, but luckily for me, it was not,” Underwood says.

Respect and integrity

Young’s Market is one of the oldest continuously operating, family-owned companies in the U.S. and has become a leader in the wholesale and distribution of wine, spirits and selected beverages.

It was founded in 1888 when John G. Young, eldest of the five Young brothers, opened his first retail store at 171 W. Jefferson St. in downtown Los Angeles. The company was incorporated in 1906 by the Young brothers: John, Peter, William, George and Charles.

In 1925, the famed Young’s Market Co. headquarters at Seventh and Union Street opened and soon became a city landmark for the elegant shopper.

Integrity and respect are two bedrock principles that have provided a strong foundation for the company’s growth over the years.

“The company has tried very hard over the years to treat employees fairly and with respect,” Underwood says. “As a consequence, we are blessed to have loyal, hard-working employees. That is probably the single most important key. Every business is about people and our business is no different. We ingrain in every employee the importance of integrity. No business will succeed if it or its employees lack integrity.”

Young’s Market has gone through its share of changes over the years, shifting its primary focus and rebuilding itself on five different occasions. When Underwood took over in 1990, he chose to discontinue the meat, seafood and gourmet divisions to concentrate on wine and spirits.

Four years later, the company moved its corporate headquarters to Orange County. The revolutionary warehouse facility can load 74 trucks at once rather than six, which was the industry standard at the time.

“The company has invested heavily in technology over the past 20 years,” Underwood says. “We have state-of-the-art warehouses and ordering equipment. Our ordering system is entirely electronic. We also invest heavily in training. As a consequence, all of our sales people are totally conversant with the state-of-the-art tools we provide to them and are knowledgeable about the ever-changing array of products that we sell.”

Read how Young’s Market endures by always keeping the needs of its people in view

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