Meet our Board: Chris Williams

Hear from EDC board member and Marsh & McLennan Agency CEO of the West Region Chris Williams on the importance of talent, collaboration, and resilience below.

Describe your “day job”?

As CEO of Marsh McLennan Agency’s (MMA) West Region, MMA’s largest region, I head up nine offices and 1,300 employees across California, Arizona, and Alaska. The beauty of my role is the number of areas of our business that I get to touch on a daily basis—whether it be working directly with clients, brainstorming and working with our HR team, or collaborating on special projects with colleagues across all of our departments. We have so many incredible people working at MMA… they are hardworking and passionate, and constantly come up with new ways to better our business and be there for our clients. I’m grateful that my position allows me to hear these ideas and help bring them to life. The days where I get to be face-to-face with colleagues, discussing their aspirations and ideas, are by far my favorite days on the job.

What is your life-changing moment—something that changed the trajectory of your life for the better?

In 1987, I graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a B.S. in Economics. Shortly after, I began my insurance career with a large national healthcare organization in a sales role. In 1991, former MMA employee Jeff Calder attempted to recruit me to his brokerage firm. I have always prided myself on being a loyal employee, so I politely declined the promotion to a regional role with a large national carrier. Jeff did not give up easily as he was convinced that a new position with leadership opportunities at his firm was the right path for me. I remained in my current position until 1993, when I finally made the decision to take a leap of faith and accepted Jeff’s offer. Through a merger with Barney and Barney and being acquired by Marsh, I have now spent 28 years building my career with MMA. I am forever grateful to Jeff for his persistence, influence, and the impact MMA has had on my life.

Of all the boards in San Diego, why EDC?

When I first moved to San Diego, as a newcomer to the region, I was eager to connect with and learn from local business leaders, civic leaders, and government leaders. Trindl Reeves, Chief Sales Officer at MMA, was on the board at EDC and encouraged me to get involved. After joining, I knew it was a great fit and perfect opportunity to become more ingrained within the community. EDC itself feels like a community. The group consists of so many amazing local leaders that have welcomed me to San Diego and inspired me to lead.

What EDC program or initiative interests you most, and why?

EDC’s talent development, attraction, and retention programs are by far the most helpful initiative right now. The current talent landscape is an incredibly competitive one, and MMA is growing rapidly year in and year out.

Our highest priority is bringing in talented, diverse people that want to stay with us. In order to achieve this, it’s crucial that we are constantly looking at ways to improve and evolve how we take care of our peoplewhether it be through our training programs, benefits offerings, company culture initiatives, or the way we find candidates in the first place.

Over the last year, our country and communities have simultaneously endured a pandemic, a social justice movement, and a time of hostile and divisive politics. What is your biggest lesson learned in the last year?

What a past year and a half it has been… By far, the biggest lesson I have learned is that society, and people, are so resilient. Every single one of us was affected by these worldwide crises, with the impact hitting seemingly overnight. I couldn’t believe the level of support, collaboration, and empathy we all showed to our fellow neighbors. It has been truly remarkable to witness and reminded me just how strong we can be when we work together.

Luckily, from a business standpoint, MMA was prepared and able to adapt incredibly fast to a virtual work environment. Many of our clients were hurting due to the shutdowns, and so many of our own people were personally affected. Yet, our colleagues powered through with such strength and worked hard to continue serving our clients and community. Everyone was apart, yet working together, in a way I had never seen before. This experience will leave a mark on me, for sure.

Favorite quote:

I learned from my Grandfather: Expectations only create disappointment. I taught my kids: Never bet on what you can’t control.

Follow along with Chris on LinkedIn.

Meet the rest of EDC’s board of directors

Meet our Board: Dr. Steven Jones

What do leaders at Qualcomm, SDG&E, and the NBA have in common? They’ve all made a commitment to have difficult conversations about how patterns of racial, gender, and other forms of biases are hijacking the potential of their workforce. That’s where JONES steps in. San Diego-based consulting firm JONES has helped create work environments for these companies, and many others, that bring out the best in people through leveraging trust, inclusion, and diversity for the past 25 years. Check out this spotlight with new EDC board member and JONES CEO Dr. Steven Jones to learn more about the firm’s leadership.

Describe your “day job”?

They say when you love what you do you never have to work a day in your life! Career counselors often advise others to identify their passion and turn it into a career. I have had the opportunity to live my passion every day and do what I love in my role as the CEO of JONES. JONES has recently been named one of the Top 10 Diversity and Inclusion Companies in the United States by Manage HR Magazine. For the past 25 years, I have been blessed to lead, learn from, and work with a phenomenal group of team members at JONES. Every day we help committed leaders at companies such as Toyota, Honda, Qualcomm, the NBA, SDG&E, Sony Music, Viacom CBS, SoCal Edison, Rady Children’s Hospital, the Getty, and many more, create work environments that bring out the best in people through leveraging trust, inclusion, and diversity for business success. Guiding culture change, providing executive coaching, conducting unconscious bias training, facilitating bilingual meetings, and supporting clients in having difficult conversations about how patterns of racial, gender, and other forms of biases are hijacking the potential of their workforce are daily menu items in life at JONES. As a CEO who is also a DEI Global Thought Leader and Organizational Psychologist, my ‘day job’ means guiding a team that helps companies unlock the people potential in their organizations.

What is your life-changing moment—something that changed the trajectory of your life for the better?

In the summer of 1987, I packed my Toyota Corolla with all my belongings, which included a suitcase, TV, and a boom box, and headed on a road trip from Louisiana to my new home in San Diego, CA. The destination was my first professional job as a Resident Director at Olmeca Hall on SDSU’s campus. I was to become the first African American/Black person to run a residence hall in the history of the university (a trail I would repeat blazing at the University of San Diego in 1990). In my second year at SDSU, my boss “voluntold” me that he and I were going to conduct a diversity training for 150 student leaders. I was pursuing a master’s degree in Computer Science at the time and had never conducted diversity training before, so I was confused by his request. Two weeks before the training, I learned he was leaving the university and insisted that I still conduct the training, but solo. I continue to be grateful for Dr. Jesus Nieto and Kasimu Harley, two social justice warriors on SDSU’s campus who helped me organize the agenda for the training. The experience was amazing. There were lots of insights gained, lessons learned, and skills practiced by student leaders. At that moment, I knew my life would never be the same.

Of all the boards in San Diego, why EDC?

I have been impressed by the authentic leadership of Mark Cafferty and Janice Brown, along with San Diego Regional EDC’s commitment to economic inclusion. I was moved to join the EDC’s Board because of its work with the Brookings Institute, which identifies economic inclusion as “crucial” to San Diego’s success. The need for San Diego employers to act in a way that closes the minority-achievement gap, equips small businesses to compete, and to recruit/retain diverse talent in our community are personal passions of mine. JONES supports organizations large and small to become employers of choice—ones that recruit, select, develop, promote, and retain a diverse workforce who thrive. We are excited to join the impressive group of business and community leaders on EDC’s Board of Directors who are also committed to work environments where that diversity drives innovation through high levels of trust, psychological safety, equity, and belonging. With all of us working together, we can do this!

What EDC program or initiative interests you most, and why?

The need to enhance the San Diego community so it leads the world in creating an equitable and inclusive ecosystem that exists across our impressive corporate, small business, educational, military, tech, life sciences, hospitality, and other industries is very interesting to me. We have work to do to make “America’s Finest City” great for all its constituencies.

Over the last year, our country and communities have simultaneously endured a pandemic, a social justice movement, and a time of hostile and divisive politics. What is your biggest lesson learned in the last year?

One thing has been made abundantly clear to me: it is essential that each of us take collective action to keep one another safe. Each of us was challenged to reevaluate our individual and collective versions of normal. Every aspect of our lives shifted—how we worked, how classes were taught, whether we traveled, socialized, and the amount of time we spent with nuclear and extended family, etc. We understood that we needed collective action on a global scale to defeat COVID-19, a battle we are still fighting.

Simultaneously, the world moved into action to defeat our second global pandemic, Systemic Racism, which also continues today. Protests and marches were held around the globe to demand that we increase the lengths we are willing to go to keep each other, especially members of our BIPOC communities, safe and alive. We battled over “all lives matter” vs. “blue lives matter” vs. “black lives matter.” Many people realized how interconnected these three statements are while others refused to reexamine the history that impacts the deeply rooted inequities sustained in our present-day systems. Unless we find a way to come together, we will lose the fight against COVID-19, Systemic Racism, and all their variants… it is essential that each of us take collective action to keep one another safe.

Favorite quote:

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” —Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Follow along with Dr. Jones on LinkedIn.

Meet the rest of EDC’s board of directors

Investor Spotlight: PCL Construction

San Diego Regional EDC is a 501c6 nonprofit organization supported by investment from nearly 200 companies, public agencies, and private organizations. EDC provides direct services to help companies grow and thrive in San Diego, and leads initiatives to enhance the region’s recovery and resilience. 

We sat down with new EDC investor Lucas Mallory, San Diego Area Manager at PCL Construction, to discuss the company’s culture, current projects, and why PCL loves the San Diego business community. Check it out!


Tell us about PCL Construction.

PCL is a group of independent construction companies that carries out work across Canada, the United States, the Caribbean, and Australia. PCL is one of North America’s largest construction general contractors with diverse operations in the civil infrastructure, heavy industrial, and buildings markets.

PCL is 100 percent employee-owned. Tell us how your “culture of ownership” drives your success.

The value of employee ownership at PCL is that everyone has a stake in our collective success. We come to work each day knowing that we can choose to make a difference for our clients, our communities, and each other. This mindset promotes a culture of continuous improvement and provides opportunities to reap the rewards of ownership. Our culture also fosters a sense of responsibility to serve as employee, community, and industry advocates. As such, we invest in employee development, participate in activities that make a positive social impact, such as beach clean-ups and food drives, and ensure our people feel valued. We recognize that to be the best, diversity of thought, demographics, and status are critical components for strengthening our business. Initiatives that support these commitments aren’t for show. We truly believe in their importance. Building people, communities, and legacies are part of our core values.

Learn more about how employee ownership might be a good fit for your business here.

What is the office and job site culture like for employees?

Construction is a business full of excitement, challenges, and constant changes. We set up a working environment that encourages having fun. Whether cleaning beaches, exploring San Diego hiking trails, volunteering for food and blood drives, bringing in breakfast burritos from the Stars and Stripes Taco Shop on Miramar Road, or playing in a softball or soccer league (pictured right), the team likes spending time together. The mere fact that our PCLers softball team lost every one of their games this season, yet we still came back for more week after week, is a testament to the employee spirit at PCL in San Diego! And PCL Construction is currently hiring! Check out our open positions in San Diego.

Tell us more about the exciting projects you are currently developing in the region.

It’s an exciting time for PCL in San Diego! We have a diverse market focus with projects that are positively impacting the communities where we build. For instance, we have two design-build projects for the County of San Diego with the Southeastern Live Well Center and Lakeside Library. Both projects bring very meaningful services to the local community that make our job as builders a bit more impactful. The Southeastern Live Well Center also includes a significant cost commitment to the local community through specific zip code subcontracting and workforce opportunities. Its a vehicle for economic growth in the region with impacts beyond just this project.

We are also very active in the bluetech industry space, which is very unique for the San Diego region. We’re currently leading the Marine Conservation and Technology Facility for the UCSD Scripps Institute of Oceanography along with a private seafood biosciences facility. Each provide applied research and education to pave the way for a greater understanding of how to protect marine ecosystems and coastal environments in San Diego and throughout the world. San Diego Area Manager Lucas Mallory and two team members are pictured at the Marine Conservation and Technology Facility above.

Seismic upgrade projects are also in full swing at UCSD and strengthen the very buildings where we work. Between these and other projects, we are proud to be fostering the future and sustainability of the region. They are providing value well beyond construction.

What are some advantages to doing business in San Diego?

San Diego offers a business community that works collaboratively and strives to put the best parts and pieces together. Our business community connects people who only want the best for San Diego. While we compete against many other qualified contractors, we also partner with them to find ways to bring forward the best products and practices. Having been in the San Diego market for over 16 years, PCL has facilitated strong and lasting relationships with our subtrade and architect partners. These relationships are truly where the magic happens—where everyone is predisposed to welcome new ideas and innovations. I am proud to live in such a wonderful place where people consistently raise the bar for the industry.

Learn more: pcl.com

Twitter: @PCL_USA

Read more about EDC’s investors in our investor spotlight blog series. Or, join PCL by becoming a member of EDC.

Meet our Board: Zach Hammond

What does it take to move cross-country for your job? So you packed your home and family and moved from one coast to the other. Sunsets instead of sunrises, warm weather year-round instead of snow days, trips to the “beach” instead of to the “shore.” Now what? Some might say it takes moving to a place you truly believe in. We got the chance to chat with a board member about just that. Check out this board spotlight with Suffolk’s San Diego General Manager, Zach Hammond.

Describe your “day job”?

I often say, “Suffolk doesn’t build buildings, we build people.” As the General Manager of Suffolk San Diego, one of my most important responsibilities is recruiting and retaining the very best talent in the construction industry so we can provide exceptional client service on our projects. I take pride in my responsibility to provide our people the strong vision and leadership necessary for them to build long-term careers at our organization and “prove impossible wrong” on our sophisticated building construction projects in San Diego.

What is your life-changing moment—something that changed the trajectory of your life for the better?

I have had the benefit of many personal and professional life-changing moments. From a career standpoint, joining the Suffolk family nearly 14 years ago certainly changed the trajectory of my professional life because of the many growth opportunities this organization has offered me. One of those opportunities includes my move from Boston to San Diego to lead this incredible team of curious, innovative, and passionate construction professionals. Managing this team and our Suffolk operations in San Diego has been one of the greatest and most transformative experiences of my life and has been a game changer for my family and me. When I was offered the opportunity, I jumped at the chance. It didn’t take me long to fall in love with this place. San Diego is one of the most beautiful places in the country, if not the world, with friendly, community-driven people who are passionate about their region. I also view San Diego as a place of great opportunity for my company and me. San Diego is a dynamic and evolving city with huge potential for economic and developmental growth. I believe San Diego has an incredibly bright future, and I am very excited to be a part of it.

Of all the boards in San Diego, why EDC?

Suffolk has been a strong community partner in San Diego for many years, and there are many exciting organizations that have made unique and indelible marks on this community. We chose to partner with EDC because if provides us opportunities to lend our voice and dedicate resources toward programs, causes and initiatives that are important to us, including the advancement of an inclusive economic development strategy to help elevate San Diego’s competitive positioning for investment and talent. We believe a rising tide should lift all boats. Our partnership with EDC is important because it is an organization that shares our values and vision for the future of this community.

Favorite quote:

“It’s amazing what you can accomplish if no one cares who gets the credit.” – Harry Truman

What EDC program or initiative interests you most, and why?

EDC offers San Diego business leaders so many opportunities to collaborate and make a positive impact on the future of the region.  Suffolk leans into the chance to contribute to the region’s economic growth and development. To be an important player in this community, leaders and organizations must have an in-depth understanding of the unique needs of San Diego. EDC provides an opportunity to listen closely to other key community and business leaders from different sectors, learn from them, and gain a better understanding of how we can partner with them so that together we can create a strong and sustainable San Diego for today and the future.

Over the last year, our country and communities have simultaneously endured a pandemic, a social justice movement, and a time of hostile and divisive politics. What is your biggest lesson learned in the last year?

We are all in this together. We must remember so many of us share the same values. We must take care of each other. People above all.

Meet our Board: Lisette Islas

In recognition of Women’s History Month, we are publishing a series of blogs about the women behind EDC—our fearless leaders, our board members, our executive committee, our guiding lights. To close the month, we are featuring a woman that San Diego is lucky to have. The Executive Vice President and Chief Impact Officer for MAAC, a community organization that provides services and advocacy to some of the most vulnerable members of our community, and one of Mayor Todd Gloria’s Women of Distinction, Lisette Islas.

Tell us who you are and what you do. Why did you choose your career?

I am the Executive Vice President & Chief Impact Officer at MAAC, a nonprofit that works in the areas of health, education, economic development, housing and advocacy. Every year, MAAC supports more than 70,000 people across San Diego County, most of whom are facing severe economic and social hardships when they walk through our door.

I came to this work through a winding path. My intention was to become a university professor; I had dreams of teaching courses and doing research in the areas of sociology and ethnic studies. I love learning. To this day, I stay up way-too-late reading books and articles, so in my early 20’s the idea of spending life as a researcher seemed very appealing. During graduate school, I realized that I was most fulfilled when I was working directly with community members to solve problems and create new opportunities. So, I changed the plan and found a career that would place me in the midst of efforts to transform communities and uplift families. In the two decades since then, I have learned that I’m good at building partnerships across sectors, bringing unlikely groups together to find new solutions to old problems, and driving organizational and community change.

At my core, I am a mom, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend who feels a sense of commitment to the community that raised me and who is trying to do my part to leave the world a little better for the people that come after me.

Other things to know about me: I grew up in Imperial Beach, am a proud Cal grad, look forward to dance parties in the living room with my little girl, and have a pretty loud (and frequent) laugh. I think in English but often dream in Spanish, so I’d say that makes me truly bilingual. Most importantly: I love to cheer for people doing good in the world.

What does your involvement in EDC mean to you?

I joined EDC just as the Inclusive Growth Initiative was taking shape. Serving on the EDC’s Executive Committee quickly became one of the top honors and joys of my workdays. The committee members all come from different industries and our world views and personal histories run the full spectrum of possibilities. That diversity of thought and experience is exactly what makes us successful as we look for new strategies to develop the economic strength of our region. We listen deeply, are always open to learning, and talk through things until we land on the right solution. Plus, we genuinely enjoy each other’s company!

When I walk away from an EDC meeting, I always feel like I am taking something with me that will make me a better leader at the office—be it a new idea, a partnership opportunity, or data that can help me make better decisions. And, just as importantly, I also feel that I have contributed to efforts that are going to meaningfully improve the lives of San Diegans. I will never meet most of the business owners and community members whose lives are touched by the work we do at EDC, but I feel immensely proud knowing that I am collaborating with a group that is genuinely committed to the betterment of San Diego and is championing strategies that will impact our region for generations to come.

What role do you see women playing across the San Diego region in the next five years?

It has been very inspiring to watch the number of women in significant leadership roles grow across San Diego over the last few years. There have been ceilings shattered in visible and not-so-visible positions, and a lot of intentionality in making board rooms and other decision-making seats much more equitable when it comes to gender. Just in recent months, we have seen the first Latina be elected to the County Board of Supervisors, a Filipina appointed to the Southwestern College Board, and a Black woman selected at as the first Chief Innovation Officer for the City of San Diego.

My stats? As the second in command at MAAC, I am the highest-ranking woman in the organization’s 55-year history, and I’m the first Latina appointed to the EDC’s Executive Committee.

Though we have made significant strides, we can’t get comfortable. Among the many things we have learned since March 2020 is that all the gains we have made towards gender equity at home and in the workplace can quickly disappear. In the last 12 months, across our country, 2.3 million women have left the workforce. The story is not much brighter for those that remain employed: men have been promoted three times more than women during the pandemic. And, of course, sustaining pay inequity, with women earning 82 cents on the dollar compared to men, and that number drops to 70 cents for working moms. There is work to be done: women are hold a disproportionate number of low-wage jobs; there aren’t sufficient affordable, high-quality childcare options; and retirement savings are virtually nonexistent for one in five women. As a region, we have to wrap our arms around some really complex issues. EDC’s work provides very important tools to do so.

Share with us your favorite quote.

“If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.” –Maya Angelou

This quote sits in a frame, in my office at work so I don’t forget to bring my full self to any situation – including all the uncommon parts of my personal and work history. I’ve learned not to hide them because they are what gives me the unique leadership perspective I have today.

What advice do you have for women in business?

Growing up, my mom often told me that there will always be people that have more than us and others who have less. I think about that often when I look back at my career, taking stock of what I’ve done and what I have yet to accomplish. There is always someone that has gone before me, that I can learn from and be inspired by. Likewise, there is someone that is following in my footsteps, who can benefit from the lessons I’ve gained and things I’ve experienced.

So how does that tie into my advice for women in business? Four words: lift as you climb.

Follow along with Lisette on Twitter: @lisetteislas1

Meet our Board: Tonya Cross

In recognition of Women’s History Month, we are publishing a series of blogs about the women behind EDC—our fearless leaders, our board members, our executive committee, our guiding lights. Below you’ll learn more about Tonya Cross, SVP of people and corporate operations at Lytx. Tonya talked to us about the importance of doing what you love, and trusting that it will take you in the right direction.

Tell us who you are and what you do. Why did you choose your career?

Born in San Diego but raised in a tiny Arizona town, I always knew I belonged in my hometown. After high school graduation, without a plan, I drove to San Diego and haven’t looked back. My 17-year-old self would’ve never imagined I’d be a lawyer turned SVP, People & Corporate Operations for an amazing company.

It’s so fun being part of the Lytx team, building a market-leading company in the video telematics space. With our technology, we help save lives on our roadways every day. Since joining, I’ve had the pleasure of helping Lytx grow from fewer than 100 employees to nearly 800 – we’re hiring.

My career journey is a winding path because I gravitate toward what allows me to do what I love. I’ve had fantastic mentors who guided me in career choices and believed in me more than I believed in myself at the time. Starting as a legal secretary, I was encouraged by Amy Wintersheimer and fellow EDC Board member, Heather Ace, to attend law school. Flash forward, I’m a USD Law graduate practicing employment law at DLA Piper.

I loved law – but hated litigation’s contentious nature. Wanting to invest my energy in moving people forward in positive ways, I turned to HR. I love HR because I get to empower others and help employees advance their careers.

To follow what I love meant having the courage to leave what wasn’t right for me – even if it meant stepping back in title or compensation.

What does your involvement in EDC mean to you?

Working with the EDC is an opportunity to give back to the community I love, particularly with my involvement as HR forum co-leader. I feel fortunate to be in this role and part of an incredible group of community leaders, especially during COVID. Our leaders guide companies and employees through this global pandemic and make difficult decisions in an unprecedented environment. We have navigated this scary time as a collective group. It never felt like we were doing it alone because we had each other.

What role do you see women playing across the San Diego region in the next five years?

I believe women will play an even more significant leadership role, not just in the community side of things but also in leading businesses. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, women have had a lot coming at them – both from a family perspective and a work perspective. I watched many women step up and lead through this uncertainty with empathy, compassion, and strength. I believe these women will carry that leadership forward into whatever fuels their passion, take on leadership roles, and drive positive change.

Share with us your favorite quote.

“Love what you do and do what you love.” – Roy T. Bennett

What advice do you have for women in business?

Find what you love and go towards it with courage and confidence. Never put limits on yourself because your possibilities are limitless, especially when you’re doing what you love. Never doubt that you’re good enough because you are. GO. FOR. IT! If you fail, you fail. Dust yourself off and get back in the game with all the learnings you gained from the journey. No doubt it’s scary but turn that fear around into drive. When you’re doing what you love, you can’t go wrong.

Follow along with Lytx on Twitter: @lytx

Meet our Board: Toni Atkins

In recognition of Women’s History Month, we are publishing a series of blogs about the women behind EDC—our fearless leaders, our board members, our executive committee, our guiding lights. Today, we have The Honorable Toni Atkins, CA Senate President Pro Tempore representing the 39th district, San Diego!

Tell us who you are. Why did you choose your career?

At my heart, I would say I am a public servant. And I didn’t choose my career—it chose me!

I grew up in Virginia, the daughter of a seamstress and a coal miner. We were working poor. At the time, I didn’t think that government nor mainstream society saw me or understood me – not until I began studying political science at Emory and Henry College. There, I found my voice, came out as a lesbian, and began to support social justice causes, feminist rights, and the rights of my LGBTQ community.

I arrived in San Diego in 1985 and first worked as Director of Services at Womancare Health Center before my mentor, former Senator and then Councilwoman Christine Kehoe, hired me on her staff. That’s when my love of public service began. I’m so grateful to Chris for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime.

I was elected to succeed her seat on the City Council in 2000. From there, I have had the privilege of serving as Acting Mayor, State Assemblymember, Assembly Speaker, acting Governor twice—the first gay Governor of California, in fact—and now Senate President pro Tempore. I am the first woman, the first member of the LGBTQ community, and the first person in almost 150 years to lead both the Assembly and the Senate. I wish my mother was here to see it all.

What does your involvement in EDC mean to you?

I am honored to serve on EDC’s board of directors. EDC is such a dynamic agency that tells San Diego’s story in so many ways. Sharing San Diego’s tech, biotech, tourism, business, and military related Good News helps raise awareness at the state, national and international level about what our region is doing.

For much of the year, my time is spent between Sacramento and San Diego, but my Special Assistant/District Policy Director Deanna Spehn ensures we stay up to date. I enjoy my annual visit with the board to recap the legislative year and look forward to the next.

This board’s leadership has always been top notch. Mark Cafferty has put together an outstanding staff that produces impactful reports and analyses on what is happening within San Diego’s economy, what it takes to do business in our region, and what the new options are for current and future companies.

EDC always inspires me to think of the possibilities ahead, not only for our region— including Baja, California—but also for our state in terms of how we can continue to grow our economy, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I’m so proud to represent the 39th State Senate District, and EDC is a strong partner in amplifying the role San Diego plays.

What role do you see women playing across the San Diego region in the next five years?

There is no lack of talented women in San Diego. Women in leadership is not a new phenomenon. We are mothers, daughters, State Senate leaders, Secretaries of State, Mayors, Council Presidents, non-profit, healthcare and education executives. And our neighboring city of Tijuana, Mexico has its first woman Mayor, The Honorable Karla Ruiz MacFarland.

Together, we are working to bring out the best of our region. In five years, I expect our influence to spread across the State and our nation.

It is through our collaboration with organizations like EDC, who are committed to inclusivity and recognizing of the importance of female leaders, that will allow us to address barriers like underrepresentation in top business roles and pay inequity, that too many women in America face every day.

Share with us your favorite quote.

“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” —Martin Luther King Jr.

What advice do you have for women in business?

I would encourage women to continue to find ways to lead and build each other up. I am here because my mentor gave me a chance.

I want to see more women – of all communities, ages and backgrounds – included on boards, planning groups, and leading nonprofits and corporations, which is why in 2018, I served as joint author of SB 826, a bill that promoted equitable and diverse gender representation on corporate boards by requiring every publicly-held corporation in California to add women to their board of directors. Legislation is a critical component to addressing inequity in the business world, but we also need the private sector to actively recruit women and support future generations of women. I hope to do the same in encouraging more women to run for public office.

When women succeed, society succeeds – we all succeed.

Follow along with Senator Atkins on Twitter: @SenToniAtkins

Meet our Board: Laura Garrett

In recognition of Women’s History Month, we are publishing a series of blogs about the women behind EDC—our fearless leaders, our board members, our executive committee, our guiding lights. Today, we introduce Senior Vice President (SVP) of Human Resources at TaylorMade Golf, Laura Garrett—a Midwesterner turned San Diegan who reminds us to never stop dreaming of what we might be when we grow up.

Tell us who you are and what you do. Why did you choose your career?

I grew up in Ohio and still consider myself a Midwesterner at heart. Having said that, I’ve grown so attached to San Diego—its an awfully special place for far more reasons than the weather. The only thing I still can’t wrap my head around is that my kids won’t ever experience the joy of a snow day.

I currently head up the People and Culture function as SVP of Human Resources at TaylorMade Golf, which has its global headquarters in Carlsbad. As a market leader in the golf equipment and golf ball industry, we have roughly 1,300 employees worldwide.

I can’t really say that I chose my career, but rather that I chose to follow new opportunities as they came along. Despite having been on the planet for more than a half century, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Every now and then, I have a moment where I wonder things like, “Is it too late to go to veterinary school?” or “How can I keep my current job but be an urban planner at the same time?”

It used to bother me that my career path wasn’t linear, but now I’ve come to accept and even embrace it. I’ve been lucky to get to work in so many different capacities, particularly at TaylorMade where I’ve led supply chain, sales and service, manufacturing, and obviously now HR. Through that, I’ve come to the realization that I care more about who I get to work with than what I’m actually doing. Fortunately, I’m crazy about my TaylorMade team and have opportunities to laugh with them often, while also doing really meaningful work together. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now—I just need a parallel life so I can find time to be a vet too. (I’ve been making a case that we need to have a petting zoo in some excess space we have in our TaylorMade warehouse, but sadly my proposal isn’t gaining traction.)

What does your involvement in EDC mean to you?

I’m happiest when I have ways to integrate community involvement into my life—it creates such needed perspective. Being involved in EDC, especially in the inclusive growth work, ensures that I don’t lose sight of the world outside my bubble. And back to my comment about the ‘who’ being as rewarding as the ‘what’? While the work that’s being done at the EDC is certainly consequential to our region, I have to say that the caliber of the team is just first-rate; such high-quality, wonderful humans that I’m lucky to know.

What role do you see women playing across the San Diego region in the next five years?

Anything. Everything. What I can say with confidence is that we’re all better off if women are meaningfully represented in all aspects of our community. 

Share with us your favorite quote.

I realize this is where I should drop some serious wisdom, but I’m not great at serious things. Instead, I’ll lean on a quote I used in my yearbook eons ago since its one that speaks to my career evolution (not to mention my age—apologies in advance to the Gen Y and Z’ers).

“When it’s time to change, you’ve got to rearrange who you are into what you’re gonna be. Sha na na na na na na na na. Sha na na na na.”  —The Brady Six

Follow along with TaylorMade on Twitter: @TaylorMadeGolf

Meet our Board: Jennie Brooks

In recognition of Women’s History Month, we are publishing a series of blogs about the women behind EDC—our fearless leaders, our board members, our executive committee, our guiding lights. Up next, a trailblazer in the defense and artificial intelligence spheres: Senior Vice President at Booz Allen Hamilton, Ms. Jennie Brooks.

Tell us who you are and what you do. Why did you choose your career?

Born in the Bay Area and raised in San Diego, I’m a Californian at heart. After growing up in Point Loma, I didn’t stray far from home when attending UC San Diego, and later, SDSU. Throughout my life I’ve had the opportunity to travel, but there’s no greater sight than the Coronado Bridge and bay front when landing at the San Diego International Airport. I’m grateful to raise my son in this amazing community and proud to serve alongside leaders who work to uphold San Diego as America’s Finest City.

I serve as Senior Vice President at Booz Allen Hamilton, leading our San Diego office of 1,300 employees. Booz Allen is a global technology and management consulting firm, with work in data science and analytics, digital solutions, engineering and cybersecurity, spanning a range of industries including defense, civil, health, and commercial.

Booz Allen has been a great place to build my career because the values of the firm align with my own. I’m passionate about our work, helping to solve our clients’ toughest challenges, and empowering people to change the world. Dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, I serve on Booz Allen’s Women’s Business Resource Group, working to attract, retain, and develop female employees across the firm. In 2021, I’m focused on reimagining the future ways we will work and live post-pandemic, and on working with colleagues and community leaders to create a more equitable world.

What does your involvement in EDC mean to you?

At Booz Allen, we’re passionate about strengthening the communities where we live and work. Through pro-bono work, mentorships, and partnerships with impactful organizations such as the USS MIDWAY, Rady Children’s Hospital, Feeding San Diego, and Girl Scouts, I’m grateful for the opportunity to give back. My involvement in EDC provides a meaningful opportunity to help drive economic inclusion across San Diego. Our work on EDC’s Defense Innovation Voucher Program helped to strengthen small and mid-size businesses bringing innovative solutions to the military. Further, our work on EDC’s series, Measuring the Future: Artificial Intelligence and San Diego’s Economy, will quantify the impacts of AI technologies on our economy. Our partnership with the organization also provides the opportunity to work together on building the STEM talent pipeline needed for our future.

What role do you see women playing across the San Diego region in the next five years?

Women’s History Month is a great time to honor the brave women who pushed boundaries and paved the way for us to have the opportunities we enjoy today. We stand on the shoulders of giants—women who established their seat in the Board room, in the cockpit, in the laboratory, and in the halls of Congress.

While we look back at the challenges and achievements of women from past generations, we recognize we’re living through historic times and there is still a great deal of work to be done. Unfortunately, we’ve seen significant setbacks to gender equity in the workforce due to the unprecedented challenges of this past year. Families have juggled work, distance learning, and home responsibilities, while segments of industries have eroded, resulting in women leaving the workforce in record numbers since the start of the pandemic. Recognizing the invaluable contributions women make to our economy and society, as San Diego emerges post-pandemic, women will play vital roles in redesigning the workforce and creating solutions and flexible work benefits which enable women to regain and retain meaningful employment. Forums such as the ASCEND Executive Women’s Forum (produced by UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management) will continue to be key in bringing together women serving in executive leadership positions across San Diego to go beyond merely discussing the challenges they face, and continue working together to solve these issues.

Share with us your favorite quote.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” —Margaret Mead

What advice do you have for women in business?

  • Never stop learning. Keep a growth mindset and willingness to take on new roles. These will bring diverse experiences and lessons learned.
  • Don’t be afraid to push the boundaries. Women are not just participating in STEM fields but also leading, innovating, and driving the development of new technologies and solutions.
  • Use your voice. Bring your unique perspectives, experiences and insights to the business.
  • Trust your instinct.
  • Give back by mentoring. It will be valuable to those receiving your guidance and undoubtedly very rewarding to you as well.

Follow along with Jennie on Twitter: @JennieBrooksSD

Investor Spotlight: Cultura

As we continue to celebrate Women’s History Month, we sat down with Anne Benge, CEO and founder of EDC investor Cultura. Anne talked to us about company culture, the importance of office space, and why they support EDC. Check it out!


Tell us about Cultura

Creating environments for the workforce is what we do. As a business, we design and create places where people love to work. Attracting and retaining talent is the number one problem that Cultura solves for our clients.

With a name like Cultura, you must have a strong commitment to your corporate culture. Tell us about that.
We’ve built an inclusive culture. We are a family. We love where we work, and we do work we love. We live for making our clients happy. Our energy is infectious. Our core values are the foundation of our company: Influential, Inventive, Impactful and Dedicated. We hire based on them, they guide our decisions and are part of our DNA.  It’s paying off. We boast a 99 percent employee engagement rate. In 2019, we were awarded #1 Best Places to Work in San Diego by the San Diego Business Journal (image right).

As we prepare for returning to the next normal, how do you see the office environment changing?
Let’s just state it up front, Cultura is pro-office. We believe businesses need offices. After a year of articles ranging from “the office is dead” to “everyone is more productive at home,” we cannot state enthusiastically enough that your business needs an office. Your office should bring your culture together, refresh, reinvigorate, and restore your people. Our job is to create an environment that enhances productivity. We did this for more than 10,000 San Diegans in 2020 by designing and furnishing places where people work.

We’ve all experienced so much during this past 12 months. Will you share your thoughts about the last year?
Our leadership team is entirely female (image left) so we’re very aware of the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We work hard to make sure our team reflects the diversity of our community.  As our country experienced social justice movements following the death of George Floyd, we saw the importance of a supportive workplace. We learned that firsthand this year when an employee asked that we not work with an organization that failed to uphold our morals. It is impossible to keep work and personal life 100 percent separate. Recognizing bias; being self-aware and open to learning; and creating dialog in the workplace are our obligations. These practices will provide a benefit to everyone on the team.

Final thoughts you’d like to share with our investors?
We certainly appreciate all that EDC does to attract and retain talent in our region. It’s one of the reasons we invest in EDC. I learn so much from watching Mark Cafferty and EDC’s team run an organization that is focused, provides clarity, is reliable, and continues to be resilient. We look forward to working with EDC and other investors as we inspire positive change, dream ideas into reality, and grow together. #LoveWhereYouWork

Learn more: wearecultura.com

Instagram: @wearecultura