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Hot 25: Revealed

OC METRO’s annual list of Orange County’s hottest personalities is finally here

By Kelly St. JohnPublished: November 01, 2008

It’s no secret that Orange County is one of the most dynamic regions in the country, and a critical driving force behind O.C.’s long-standing success is its dynamic people: proven leaders in the business, arts, entrepreneurial and philanthropic communities.
Every year, in our Hot 25 issue, OC METRO magazine pays tribute to a group of talented individuals who have doggedly followed their dreams and worked their way to the top of their fields. We hope that you’ll be inspired by the profiles that follow.

Jason James Welsher

Owner, To Die For clothing

Age: 31
Residence: Santa Ana
Family: Single, with a dog and cat
Dream job: “Besides making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I thought about opening a dog wash and calling it Shampooch. I love animals, and what is better than hanging out with them all day?”

Jason James Welsher makes cool T-shirts.
They’re the edgy, wearable-art kind, favored by bands in the local metalcore scene. Shirts that combine the likes of the tattoos covering Welsher’s arms with the graffiti his brother and collaborator, Josh, paints in splashy murals for competitions all over the world.
So how did Welsher end up at the helm of a hot apparel brand sold in more than 300 stores worldwide?
“We don’t make it if we won’t wear it,” says Welsher, who plays drums in a band with friends. “We’re making clothing for ourselves.”
Welsher started his business at age 19, screenprinting for bands out of his parents’ garage. He later teamed up with his younger brother and today works out of a warehouse in Costa Mesa. The company opened its first storefront four years ago.
To Die For’s shirts are worn by bands like Bleeding Through, Throwdown and Poison the Well. And the company has a core of diehard fans, many of whom have gone so far as to tattoo To Die For’s logos or signature designs on their bodies. (They are in good company: Welsher has its crown logo tattooed behind his ear.)
And it is those fans, says Welsher, who inspire him to keep pushing the creative envelope.
“They know everything from A to Z about our clothing,” he says. “This is what keeps me doing this each and every day.”

Davis Krumins

President of Davis Ink
Age: 48
Residence: Costa Mesa
Family: Married, two kids
Hidden talent: “My ability to make things grow. I am a plant geek. I collect all sorts of tropical species, including bamboo, palms and flowers.”

Davis Krumins builds the places where hipsters and the who’s who of Hollywood love to party.
Krumins is the creative genius behind the interior design of some of Southern California’s coolest nightspots and restaurants. His Newport Beach firm, Davis Ink, designed the Stingaree in San Diego, named one of the hottest new nightclubs in the country by Conde Nast Traveler magazine.
He also did the interior of Hollywood’s hottest new five-story nightclub, The Kress, where cabanas in the hip rooftop lounge rent for $3,000 to $4,000 a night.   
From the beginning, Krumins’ firm stayed away from chain restaurants and other conventional projects. Instead, they look for work with a “wow factor.” That means projects like their latest venture, a boutique Hollywood hotel with a rooftop pool and multiple restaurants.
So what does it take to create a memorable hotspot? For Krumins, it means putting “unexpected surprises” throughout the environment, using highly technical lighting systems and incorporating organic elements like water and fire.
“Water and fire have an almost Zen-ish balancing effect,” says Krumins, a lifelong surfer who grew up in Newport Beach.
“It’s really important to discover new things in places you wouldn’t expect,” he adds. “We try to do totally new environments that people haven’t seen before, while keeping it fun. If you get too serious, then you lose the whole point.”

Lisa Sinatra

President andco-founder, DrapeStyle.com
Age: 39
Residence: Newport Beach
Family: Married, three kids
Hidden talent: “I listen.”

Lisa Sinatra sits at the helm of a successful business, with more than 10,000 customers in five countries and a newly opened flagship store in Costa Mesa.
And it all started when she was a stay-at-home mom who wanted to buy some drapes.
“There was Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware, or there was the high-end go-through-a-designer option that was really expensive,” says Sinatra. What she wanted was something in the middle – and she reckoned she wasn’t alone.
In 2003, Sinatra and her husband founded DrapeStyle.com and quickly grew it into one of the top high-end online retailers of window treatments. Earlier this year, the company reached another milestone when it opened its first retail store in Orange County.
Sinatra now has plans to add stores in Chicago, New York, New Jersey and Florida.
DrapeStyle, no doubt, is a trendsetter in its market. For example, this year the company launched new eco-friendly bamboo drapes.
“It’s a great way of making that contribution (to the Earth) but still having a beautiful home,” says Sinatra. “It’s only going to get more popular.”

Dusty Simington

Artistic director, Salon Gregorie’s
Age: 47
Residence: Huntington Beach
Family: Married, four kids and a baby on the way
Hidden talent: “I love to cook.”

Dusty Simington is one of the hottest hairstylists on the West Coast – wait, make that the planet.
The man who last year won the Oscars of the hairstyling industry sees some 25 clients per day, and each one drops between $400 and $500 with every visit to the Newport Beach salon where he works his magic. Oh, and many of those clients also happen to be celebrities.
Now, Simington is poised to launch a new product line of anti-aging hair care products called Kronos, and he’s working with Universal Studios to develop a reality show.
“I take what I do very seriously. I’m not there to play,” says Simington, describing the reality show concept. He is cast as the mentor and tough guy who teaches young hairdressers in a high-pressure environment. “They want me to do a ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ type of thing.”
Simington discovered his passion for hairstyling when he was a teen, after his older sisters took him to a salon for a haircut. It was a career choice that never sat right with his father, who worked in construction and development.
“It’s kind of funny to tell your dad you want to be a hairdresser,” says Simington. “He would introduce me to other people as, ‘This is my son. He’s a barber.’”
Barber, indeed. During his career, Simington has won three times at the North American Hairstyling Awards, the industry’s equivalent of the Academy Awards. And last year, he was named North America’s Master Stylist of the Year.
Working in Newport Beach, Simington says he is “jaded” about beauty. In the hands of a talented hairstylist, there is no reason for any woman not to look her best.
“I work around beautiful people all the time,” he says. “If you are sloppy and unattractive, it’s your own fault because there’s so much out there. There’s so many ways you can look great.”

Tanya Hutchison
Winner, “She’s Got the Look,” and founder of Phenomenal Women
Age: 46
Residence: Trabuco Canyon
Family: Married, five kids
Most memorable “first taste of success” moment: “When I was hired by Giorgio Armani to model in his collection and was paid an unbelievable salary for one day!”

There’s no question that Tanya Hutchison has “the look.”
This summer, the mother of five won the inaugural season of “She’s Got the Look,” a reality show in which women over age 35 compete to become a supermodel with Wilhelmina Models in New York. Hutchison beat out 19 other women, earning a spread in SELF magazine.
But anyone who thinks of Hutchison as just a pretty face is missing the big picture.
Hutchison has had to overcome tremendous odds, including a life-threatening knife attack at age 14. She now travels to Africa for missionary work and is the founder of Phenomenal Women, which empowers women to become their personal best.
The show addressed the idea of beauty and age, and Hutchison says that getting older has given her a more mature perspective.
“As you age, you’re willing to expose yourself more,” she says. “You’re a little more open to being authentic and open to risk” instead of worrying about hiding every flaw.
While attending casting calls as a model, Hutchison is focusing on becoming host of a show about other remarkable women.
“My special gift is I enjoy working, but I like spotlighting other people,” she says. “I would love to have a show where we find new, fresh stories of phenomenal women, phenomenal people, and share their journeys, too. That’s truly what life is about.”

Keith Bohr

Real estate developer and  Huntington Beach City Council member
Age: 47
Residence: Huntington Beach
Family: Married
Dream job: “I’d like to be a rock ‘n’ roll superstar and world activist/philanthropist like Paul Hewson (aka Bono).”

Talk about a big year to become Surf City’s mayor.
If Keith Bohr is re-elected to the Huntington Beach City Council this November (he is favored to win), the real estate developer will lead the community in celebrating its centennial. He’ll get a spot on Surf City’s float in the Rose Parade and will oversee events marking the city’s 100th anniversary.
Of course, civic leadership is about more than parties. And for Bohr and Huntington Beach, these are dynamic times.
With the construction of three waterfront hotels – including Orange County’s first “W” – Huntington Beach is poised to become a destination resort. The new properties will double the city’s revenues from the local transit occupancy tax, upping them to $15 million a year.
Bohr, a managing partner with TEAM Companies, found himself in the national spotlight when he led a failed effort to have the city adopt a mandatory spay and neuter ordinance. Now he is pushing for other city improvements, including the replacement of portable trailers on the pier with permanent buildings and the installation of modern restrooms along the beachfront.
Still, today’s Huntington Beach is a big change from the Surf City of 1987, when Bohr completed graduate school and joined the city’s redevelopment staff.
“When I first moved here, there were boarded up retail shops right on Main Street,” he recalls. “We’ve come a long way.”

David Chavez

Industrial designer
Age: 33
Residence: Costa Mesa
Family: Married
Dream job: “Professional cyclist”

David Chavez wasted little time making his mark as an up-and-coming industrial designer. He snagged two coveted industry awards for his senior project at the Art Institute of California: a Braille wristwatch that helps the wearer accurately tell time without sacrificing style.
Chavez’s Haptica Moveable Braille Timepiece won the Bronze Idea Award at the International Design Excellence competition, as well as honors from the Spark Design Awards.
Now, the recent grad is working to bring his watch to market and onto the arms of the students at the Institute for the Blind in Anaheim, where Chavez researched his project.
A former computer programmer who bicycles 100 miles a week, Chavez is holding out for a plum job at a great design firm, while working on side projects like a new table-and-chair set for children.
“It has been rewarding to receive recognition for my work,” says Chavez, “and will be even more so if I can put a working product in the hands of those at the Institute of the Blind."

Zack Zeiler

President and CEO, VPI.Net
Age: 36
Residence: Lake Forest
Family: Soon-to-be first-time father   
Hidden talent: “I do voices and impressions. At times, it’s gotta freak out the team here at VPI.Net, but they can handle the oddities that come out of me.”

For 13 years, Zack Zeiler has been running one of the most creative, original and highly successful interactive media agencies.
VPI.Net’s list of clients reads like a Hollywood who’s who list: Ryan Seacrest, Tim Conway, Dr. Phil, Rachel Ray and shows such as Fox’s “So You Think you Can Dance” and “The Moment of Truth.”
The company also was behind Mark Burnett’s Gold Rush, an online interactive game that attracted 10 million unique visitors who competed to turn their pop culture knowledge into a $1 million grand prize. A Newsweek review of the game said if online entertainment takes off, Gold Rush “will be remembered as a stroke of genius.”
Zeiler says that being the last independent agency of its kind – with 50 full-time designers and programmers in Irvine – gives him the edge. VPI.Net also upped the ante this year by adding an in-house green screen studio and focus group facility.
“When you are independent, you are able to take more risk and deliver at a faster pace,” says Zeiler. “We challenge ourselves internally to reinvent the wheel. We’re accountable for the work we do, and we do it at warp speed.”

William Lobdell

Author, journalist and entrepreneur
Age: 48
Residence: Costa Mesa
Family: Married, four kids
Proudest achievement: “Crossing the finish line of an Ironman triathlon” (That, folks, is a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2 mile run.)

When William Lobdell began covering religion for the Los Angeles Times, he was an evangelical Christian. Over the next eight years, he became someone who, reluctantly, lost his faith in God.
Lobdell wrote a soul-baring story about that spiritual journey, which ran on the newspaper’s front page. His piece generated more e-mail to the Times than any other. Now, he has expanded that story into a full-length memoir.
“I wasn’t expecting the kindness and heartfelt nature of the reaction,” he says. “People were really moved that someone was openly discussing his doubts, because they couldn’t express doubt openly and honestly in their own faith communities.”
Lobdell’s memoir, “Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America – and Found Unexpected Peace,” will hit the bookstores in February.
Lobdell’s life is changing big in other ways. This past summer, he left the Times to become an entrepreneur and author. He also is close to finishing a novel set in Newport Beach that has religious themes.
“At 48, my lifelong dream has been to be an author,” he says. “It’s very satisfying to cross this goal off my to-do list for my life.”

Debra Gunn Downing

Executive director of marketing for South Coast Plaza
Age: 53
Residence: Newport Beach
Family: Married, one daughter and two stepsons
Favorite quote: “Let the beauty you love be what you do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” –Rumi

Hot things are happening at South Coast Plaza right now, and it is Debra Gunn Downing’s job to make sure you know about them.
Some of the top brands have recently opened new stores at Southern California’s premier shopping center. Christian Louboutin. Balenciaga. Harry Winston. Adidas Original. De Beers.
“One of the most exciting things for us this year is we’ve opened amazing new stores,” says Downing, who has directed all of the center’s marketing programs since 1999. “We truly are an international destination. I talk to tourists every day who came to Orange County specifically to go to South Coast Plaza.”
No day is ever the same when you are marketing South Coast, says Downing. One day she may jet off to New York to oversee a photo shoot with top models, another she may be buying Christmas décor in July. She juggles special events like 1,000-people parties, then helps individual retailers with their own marketing plans.
“I love what I do,” says Downing. “I work with all of the greatest international fashion and retail brands, and I work for an amazing family of entrepreneurs and philanthropists. I wouldn’t be anywhere else.”

Cameron Steele

Professional off-road racer and action sports broadcaster
Age: 40
Residence: San Clemente
Family: Married
Hidden talent: “I can tie a cherry stem in a knot with my tongue. I can usually do it faster than anyone with this same talent.”

Cameron Steele has racked up more than 20 wins in the adrenaline-packed sport of off-road racing, including one at the legendary Baja 1000 in Mexico. And that’s just his day job.
When Steele isn’t driving a truck, he’s announcing for ESPN, SPEED Channel, NBC and ABC. In the last 11 years, he has made live calls from events ranging from the X Games to the Indianapolis 500 to the Running of the Bulls in Spain.
Blessed with “the gift of gab,” Steele got into broadcasting on a whim, after he was asked to do live commentary for a freestyle motocross event he was supposed to compete in.
“The coolest part for me is, I’ve received all my jobs through word of mouth,” says Steele. “I’ve never had a demo reel.”
All the while, Steele has ripped it up behind the wheel, too. His most memorable win was the Baja 1000, the grueling 1,265-mile race from Ensenada to Cabo San Lucas. The racers drive in one straight shot, going without sleep.
“The ultimate was crossing the finish line ... and seeing the dejected looks on the faces of some of my competitors,” Steele says, speaking from his cell phone at a gas station 75 miles south of Ensenada, where he had been “riding wheelies and doing donuts on the beach.”
Though his two jobs take him around the world, Steele says he will always call San Clemente home.
“I don’t think you could blow me out with dynamite,” he says. “Would I like to have a second house in Baja or Australia? Heck yeah. But you’ll never catch me moving out of the O.C. It’s home.”

Henry Walker

CEO, Farmers & Merchants Bank
Age: 43
Residence: Aliso Viejo
Family: Single, three kids
Favorite quote: “A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.” – General George S. Patton

In today’s turbulent economic times, a banker like Henry Walker stands out.

Walker is CEO of Farmers & Merchants Bank of Long Beach, known as “California’s Strongest Bank.” As other banking institutions – like IndyMac, Wachovia and Washington Mutual – have gone under, new customers have been turning to Farmers & Merchants seeking a safe harbor.

“We’ve always had a conservative strategy,” says Walker. “It takes patience in good times. But now the public is very concerned, and they value our conservative principles.”
Walker is a fourth-generation banker, and the youngest banking CEO in California. Farmers & Merchants Bank has more than $3 billion in assets and plans to expand soon throughout Orange County.
As the country heads deeper into a recession, Walker says his bank is monitoring the economic climate and will focus on staying conservative and making good lending decisions. He also sees an opportunity to make key hires.
“We sit in a very good position overall,” he says.

Sandra Hutchens

Sheriff-Coroner of Orange County
Age: 53
Residence: Dana Point
Family: Married with one dog
Favorite quote: “There is no limit to what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.” –Ronald Reagan

When the Board of Supervisors narrowly voted to tap outsider Sandra Hutchens as the new sheriff to replace Michael Carona, it was a day of firsts. She was the first Orange County sheriff selected by the board, and she was the first woman appointed to the post. Hutchens offers up a squeaky-clean break from her predecessor and has not shied away from tackling controversial issues.
“I want to restore the public’s confidence in the department,” says Hutchens, who retired from the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department in 2007 after 30 years.
So far, that has meant curtailing the use of stun guns against restrained prisoners and reviewing concealed weapons permits to ensure they’re issued only to people who face a real threat, as state law requires.
Hutchens also asked police volunteers who received badges to give them back – a controversial move that angered some. But, she counters, it was necessary to comply with the state attorney general’s legal opinion.
“People have said to me, ‘If you take the badges away, you might not get supporters in the 2010 election,’” she says. “Well, if that happens, I’ll go back to being retired. I’m just going to keep on track of doing what is right for the department and the county.”

Don Chew

President and CEO, Orange County Badminton Club
Age: 67
Residence: Orange
Family: Married, three kids
Hidden talent: “I’m a very good poker player.”

Don Chew is on a lifelong quest to find “the Michael Jordan of badminton.” In the process, he has done more than perhaps anyone else to advance the sport in the United States.
Chew, an entrepreneur who immigrated from Thailand, opened the Orange County Badminton Club in 1996. His business, K & D Graphics, sponsors the athletes who train there, as well as major tournaments like the U.S. Open Badminton Championships. From 2000 to 2004, Chew was the USA Badminton president.
All five of America’s badminton Olympians this year came from the O.C. Badminton Club. So did the first U.S. world champion men’s doubles team, Howard Bach and Tony Gunawan, who won in 2005.
In all, Chew estimates he has poured $1 million in the last five years toward someday bringing home an Olympic gold medal in badminton.
“I know it’s like an impossible dream, but I keep working on it,” says Chew. “I love the sport. It changed my life. When we started all this, we were nobody. We couldn’t even beat Canada. We are doing a lot better now.”

Steve Carley

President and CEO, El Pollo Loco
Age: 56
Residence: Los Angeles
Family: Married, two kids
Hidden talent: “I’m a self-taught blues harmonica player.”

Steve Carley took the helm of El Pollo Loco in 2001, and in the seven years since, the company has racked up record sales. By year’s end, Carley will have expanded one of Orange County’s tastiest brands into 18 states.
And for all those new customers in Boston or Virginia, Carley is happy to share what he orders off his menu: “I love the bone-in chicken, chicken wings, with salsa, salad and steamed vegetables. I could lose weight eating at El Pollo Loco
every day.”
Still, these are tough times in the food business. Customers are eating out less often due to the economy, even as basic food costs for chicken and oils are “going up at the fastest rate I’ve ever seen,” says Carley. It is a climate that makes it all the more important to take care of everyone who comes through the door, he says.

Carley and his team have tried to improve the customers’ experience in simple ways. This year, El Pollo Loco began calling customers by name, instead of an order number. It was a tweak that cost little to implement, but it paid big dividends, he says.

Still, what El Pollo Loco always has going for it is its healthy and tasty food, says Carley, a fact that is fundamental to the company’s success.
“You can feel good about eating it,” he says. “You don’t have to sacrifice health for great taste.”

Paul Castillo

Financialrepresentative, The Waltos Group of Northwestern Mutual Financial Network, and 2008 Big Brother of the Year for California
Santa Ana
Married, two kids
Favorite quote:
“A life is not important except in the impact that it has on other lives.” –Jackie Robinson

Paul Castillo likes to help others. He doesn’t do it for the limelight. It’s just how his father raised him.
“My dad is the best example of someone who gives more than you’d expect him to give,” says Castillo, who received the Joe McPherson Award for Orange County Big Brother of the Year, as well as statewide honors. Castillo also serves on the board of directors of Human Options, which helps battered women and their families. “He brought us up with the idea of helping out.”
Castillo has mentored his “little brother,” Victor, since 2004. And he’s the first one to say he gets as much as he gives from the relationship.
“The time I spend with Victor recharges me. It’s kind of a break from the daily grind,” says Castillo. The two have even learned to golf together, he says. “For him, we talk about mostly everything. Obviously, he loves driving the cart.
“When he was 10, I took him to try sushi. Watching a 10-year-old try sushi for the first time was hilarious. I wish I had a camera,” he laughs. “He didn’t have the heart to tell me he hated it.”

Shaheen Sadeghi

Founder and CEO, Lab Holding LLC
Age: 54
Residence: Laguna Niguel
Family: Married, three kids
Biggest technological breakthrough for his business: “My Blackberry. I love doing e-mail from Antarctica, and the receiver thinks I am at the office. That’s insane. I love that.”

Shaheen Sadeghi is the architect of the anti-mall.
The former president of surfwear giant Quiksilver, Sadeghi runs an innovative development company that has created some of the most unique retail spaces around.   
In 1992, he built the renowned urban-youth “anti-mall,” called the LAB, in Costa Mesa, then opened the CAMP retail complex, an ecologically conscious community catering to outdoor and action sports enthusiasts. His latest venture, called SEED, is a culinary farm-to-table concept being built in Portland. He is also brewing ideas for a mom-centered retail community, as well as a next-generation senior center.
“We look at these subcultures that have long-range interests and are sustainable,” says Sadeghi. “It’s less about retail and more about fitting in with the local community and culture.”
Sadeghi says he is part of a cultural shift in America, a move away from homogenization and consumerism toward spiritualism.
“We’re buying less, but we’re buying better,” he says. “It’s more of a European mentality.”
Sadeghi and his family are avid travelers, having visited 21 countries this year alone. Now, energized by his work and a bevy of new ideas, he is simply doing his best to fit them all in: “There’s a lot we have on the table. My whole thing is having enough time. That’s our biggest challenge.”

Jennifer Trubenbach

Executive director, Operation of Hope
Age: 49
Residence: Lake Forest
Family: Married, one child
Favorite quote:Real success is finding your life work in the work that you love.” –David McCullough

In Jennifer Trubenbach’s world, $250 will change a life.
Trubenbach is the executive director of Operation of Hope, a medical charity group founded by her father, Dr. Joseph Clawson. For 20 years, he has led surgical teams that have performed more than 2,000 free reconstructive surgeries on children in Latin America and Africa with facial defects.
Last year, Trubenbach took a big leap of faith, taking out a second mortgage to pay for reconstructive surgery for a land mine victim from Zimbabwe. She brought the injured teenager, Beloved, to the United States and footed the $180,000 hospital bill.
Beloved moved in with Trubenbach and blossomed from an emotionally scarred youth into an outgoing teenager. People magazine wrote a seven-page story about Beloved last September. Trubenbach has been named a “Hero of the Year” by CNN and will be featured in a special Thanksgiving broadcast.
For now, Trubenbach is raising money. She wants to ensure that Operation of Hope can return to places like Zimbabwe, where she still has to “turn away 50 babies in a day.
“The most profound moment for me is when I take a baby back to its mother just after surgery,” Trubenbach says. “To experience their joy in seeing their child for the first time looking normal after a two-hour surgery, it takes my breath away.”

Yvon Goetz

Executive chef and partner, The Winery Restaurant & Wine Bar
Age: 42
Residence: Newport Beach
Family: Two daughters
Proudest achievement: “I set a personal goal to qualify for the 2004 Boston Marathon, which happened to fall on my birthday. Not only did I achieve my goal, I celebrated my birthday by running the famous Boston Marathon.”

What happens when an internationally renowned chef like Yvon Goetz breaks free from the corporate world and lands in his own kitchen?
What happens is The Winery Restaurant, a culinary experience that stands out as one of the county’s top restaurants.
The French-born Goetz has worked in some of the world’s top restaurants, eventually joining the Ritz-Carlton in Boston as a consulting chef in 1991. He moved to Orange County in 1995, where under his leadership The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel won Five Diamond status four years in a row.
Now the chef-partner of The Winery in the District at Tustin Legacy, Goetz talks like a liberated man, free to create the styles and flavors of the cuisine he loves.
That means a menu to stretch Orange County’s sometimes staid food offerings, such as wild game dishes of venison, elk or squab that harken back to Goetz’s childhood in the Alsace region of France.
“At the Ritz, it sometimes felt like you had to say ‘Yes, sir’ to 10 different people before something could happen, to go through any changes,” he says. “We often smile now and say ‘No more corporate world.’”

Maureen Zehntner

CEO, associate vice chancellor of Medical Center Affairs, UC Irvine
Age: 60
Residence: Irvine
Family: Married, two kids
Hidden talent: “I have a mean left hook and could have been a contender, according to my boxing coach, Gary Ballard.”

Maureen Zehntner has overseen the construction and completion of a $635 million state-of-the-art teaching hospital – and she did it on budget and four months ahead of schedule.
Now, as UC Irvine sees to the final details before transferring patients to its new University Hospital, Zehntner is feeling like a mother-to-be who is finally in labor.
“This has been like a 14-year pregnancy,” she laughs. “Now it’s one final push, honey, and I’m done.”
It’s been quite a journey for Zehntner, the first registered nurse to be appointed CEO at a University of California Medical Center. Zehntner started out in her career as a nursing assistant and finished her training as a single mother. Hospital administration wasn’t in her sights at first, but as CEO, she has discovered that her background gave her credibility with staff and a focus on the importance of putting patients first.
The new hospital will be a boon to Orange County, says Zehntner. The previous hospital was never designed to be a teaching facility, while the new one can accommodate clinical trials and also serve as the county’s only Level 1 Trauma Center and verified burn center.
“It’s going to be really nice to turn over a facility that is equivalent to the talents of the people who work here,” says Zehntner. “This is a watershed moment for the university to showcase the great work that this faculty does.”

Gloria Zigner

Founder and producer, CHOC Follies
Residence: Newport Beach
Family: Married, two kids
Most memorable “first taste of success” moment: “Winning national recognition and an award from the American Advertising Association for Smoke Out, an anti-smoking campaign for teenagers that I conceived and created with a grant from the U.S. Public Health Service.”

When public relations star Gloria Zigner created the CHOC Follies 11 years ago, she was just looking for a creative way to raise much-needed funds for Children’s Hospital of Orange County. Little did she suspect that she was creating a show with a life of its own.
Now a beloved event held each spring, the CHOC Follies brings together 100 business and social leaders to sing and dance in an original musical production, under Zigner’s keen showbiz eye. Since its inception, the CHOC Follies has netted $4 million for the hospital.
Zigner has a knack for coaxing performances out of reluctant performers. She was the first to get the OC Register’s Frank Mickadeit onstage, and says seeing him in lederhosen is still one of her most vivid memories from the Follies.
Zigner is already hard at work on 2009’s show, a take-off on “Beauty and the Beast” called “Beauty & the Beemer: An O.C. Spin on Love, Life & Luxury.” Rehearsals will begin in January.
“The CHOC Follies is life changing. It is amazing,” says Zigner. “I watch the rehearsals with tears running down my cheeks. It’s wonderful doing something creative and knowing it is for a good cause.”

Mel McGowan

President and founder, Visioneering Studios
Age: 39
Residence: Rancho Santa Margarita
Family: Married, three kids
Most memorable “first taste of success” moment: “The first time I had the opportunity to see the faces of my kids interacting with an environment that I designed.”

Mel McGowan mastered his craft designing for Disney and top casino resorts. Now he has become one of the nation’s leading church designers and is striving to put his mark on the hereafter.
McGowan counts his home church, Mariners Church in Irvine, and Saddleback Church in Lake Forest among his 60 faith-based clients. And though the modern mega-churches he plans are spiritual spaces, they are anything but boring.

Instead, they are communities like Crossroads Christian Church in Corona, with a piazza, outdoor dining, interactive pop-jet fountains and a 3,200-seat worship center.
“It’s all about the approach,” says McGowan. Instead of designing for the congregation at a given time, he looks at how to build spaces that feel accessible to all. It’s a philosophy dubbed “architectural evangelism”: designing church buildings as outreach tools.
“It’s about lowering the drawbridge open to the community. How do you reach people that aren’t already in the club?”

Ricardo Gamarra

Owner and distiller, California Tequila
Age: 50
Residence: Coto de Caza
Family: Married, two kids
Most memorable “first taste of success” moment: “I started and operated an Italian restaurant in Detroit when I was still in high school at age 17.”

When Ricardo Gamarra was eating dinner at an Ensenada restaurant one night, he was so taken with the “old-style” tequila he drank, he bought the restaurant’s entire 20-gallon barrel on the spot.
The entrepreneur was so anxious to replicate the taste, he bought a distillery in Guadalajara, Mexico, and learned the techniques needed to make government-certified tequila.
Now, Gamarra is one of the world’s top producers of ultra-premium tequila, made from the Blue Agave plant. His brand, AsomBroso, has garnered rave reviews and sales, as well as celebrity devotees.
AsomBroso’s LaRosa Reposado is one of Gamarra’s most unique creations: a rose-colored silver tequila that derives its reddish hue from French oak barrels once used for vintage Bordeaux wine.
Gamarra’s first release of AsomBroso, which means “amazing” in Spanish, was crowned the best tequila in the world in 2004 by The Robb Report. The company has also won top honors at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
“Winning isn’t everything, but it sure feels good to be recognized by the top spirits judges from around the world,” he says.

Jenny Ross

Executive chef, 118 Degrees
Age: 28
Residence: Irvine
Family: Married, baby due in December
Most memorable “first taste of success” moment: “I was asked to speak to a group of women in business about being an entrepreneur and what living a passionate life doing something you love was like. Shortly thereafter, I signed my first book contract.”

Jenny Ross has a hit restaurant, a new book coming out and a baby on the way. But the chef who introduced raw vegan cuisine to Orange County foodies is still setting her sights high: She wants to change how Americans eat.
Last year, Ross opened 118 Degrees in Costa Mesa. Everything on the menu is organic and vegan. Nothing is heated above 118 degrees, the temperature at which enzymes and other nutrients in food begin to break down.
“When we opened, we were flooded with people from all backgrounds experiencing our food for the first time,” says Ross. “I felt like we had created something here in Orange County that could really serve the community.”
Ross, a former model, was turned off by the industry’s “toxic environment” and took up yoga and healthy eating. Her interest in living raw foods took off, and she founded the Taste of the Goddess Café in Los Angeles before returning home to O.C. to launch 118 Degrees.
Ross’ book, “The Art of Living Raw,” is set for release next year, and her company, Creative Blend, is exploring new options – including culinary classes and more restaurants – to spread the living raw gospel.

O.C. Olympians
The athletic superstars

More than 35 Olympians with Orange County roots competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and 20 of them returned home with medals, nine of them gold. O.C. is a hotbed of talent when it comes to athletic capabilities, and OC METRO knows that these extraordinary athletes deserve the highest degree of praise.
Irvine in particular shined with Olympic talent, as the city sent the most Olympians to this year’s games: three swimmers, one softball player and one cyclist.
Along with three teammates, three-time Olympian Aaron Peirsol of Irvine produced a world-record swim in the 4x100 meter medley relay. He wound up with two gold medals and one silver. Another Irvine resident, Jason Lezak, anchored the 4x100 time of 46.06 seconds is the fastest ever. Overall, Lezak won two gold medals and one meter free relay with one of the most incredible swims in Olympic history. His 100 meter bronze.
As for the USA volleyball team, four locals helped serve up their own shiny gold medals. The Olympians included Gabe Gardner of San Clemente, Kevin Hansen of Newport Beach, Rich Lambourne of Tustin and Reid Priddy of Anaheim. UC Irvine men’s volleyball head coach, John Speraw, served as an assistant coach on the team, and Tustin resident Hugh McCutcheon served as head coach.
When it comes to beach volleyball, Misty May-Treanor is considered No. 1 in the world. Originally from Costa Mesa, May-Treanor won another gold medal with her team partner, Kerri Walsh, just like they did in 2004.
Then there’s Lake Forest resident Amy Rodriguez of the USA soccer team. At 21, she’s known for being a human wrecking ball on the field and a hardworking USC international relations student in the classroom. 
Finally, this Olympian may be considered a Los Angeles icon, but he’s tied to Orange County. It’s no surprise that Lakers point guard Kobe Bryant, who lives in Newport Beach, made us proud with a USA basketball gold medal.
It’s not all business and briefcases in O.C. We do incorporate a variety of talents, and, as confirmed in Beijing, athleticism is definitely one of them.