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Leader Board: OC’s Black Business Leaders Have an Outsized Impact

Editor’s Note: Mark Smalls launched T. Bryce Consulting in early 2023 after a multidecade career in marketing including senior roles at Pepsi Cola, Citi and Irvine-based JAMS where he served as senior vice president and chief marketing officer for over 13 years. T. Bryce Consulting provides advisory services in the areas of marketing strategy, performance coaching and diversity, equity and inclusion.

Black residents comprise just 2.3% of Orange County residents, which is notable in comparison to San Diego County (5.6%) LA County (9.0%) and 12.1% nationally. Yet, despite their relatively small numbers, the Black population in OC has a significant impact among a variety of industries as well as through community and philanthropic organizations.

What do Karma Automotive, Taco Bell and UCI’s Merage School of Business have in common? All three of these entities either are—or are about to be—helmed by Black leaders.

Last April, Marques McCammon was appointed president of Karma Automotive, which is headquartered in Irvine. Karma Automotive, founded in 2014, is a producer of luxury electric vehicles and is owned by $4 billion Chinese auto conglomerate Wanxiang America.

This year, Sean Tresvant was named the incoming chief executive at Taco Bell, also based in Irvine, effective Jan. 1. Taco Bell reported $14.7 billion in sales last year at its 8,218 stores.

The Players

Ian Williamson in early 2021 was appointed dean of UCI’s Merage School of Business. Dean Willamson offered this when asked about the impact of the school that he oversees: “The UCI Paul Merage School of Business’s goal is to create the skilled and diverse workforce needed to support the economic and social well-being of Orange County.

From top-ranked graduate and undergraduate programs to programs for local high school students like the Future Leaders Initiative, our aim is to increase access to a world-class education.”

Another Black executive playing a key role within the county’s business landscape is Tracee Jones, managing partner of the OC office for PwC, one of the world’s largest audit and consulting firms.

In addition, there is notable Black leadership in the legal sector. These include individuals like Shawn Collins at Stradling, Javier Gutierrez at Stuart Kane and Michael Thomas at Jackson Lewis to name a few.

Among corporate attorneys, John Page, chief legal officer at Irvine-based Golden State Foods could justifiably be considered a legend. Not only is Page a past president of the National Bar Association, but he also served as board chair of the Association of Corporate Counsel, the world’s largest association for in-house counsel.

Another general counsel with an impressive résumé is Arnold A. Pinkston of Edwards Lifesciences, the second most valuable publicly traded company in Orange County.

“Black executives and attorneys are and can continue to be key players for Orange County with both their different perspectives and insights coupled with their impact and influence that extends beyond Orange County,” Page told me.

There is also an ecosystem of mid-sized Orange County businesses that are Black owned. One of the most prominent of these is Avanath, an investment firm founded by Chairman and CEO Daryl Carter that owns and operates apartment communities in 14 states across the country.

Jetec Corp., based in Costa Mesa, has a long history in the county, having been founded by its President Derreck Ford over 30 years ago to provide major corporations in the aerospace, defense, automotive and medical device industries with state-of-the-art product identification solutions.

A more recent addition to the Orange County business landscape is Naturade, an Irvine-based maker of plant-based nutritional products. It was acquired in 2012 by co-founders Kareem Cook and Claude Tellis, two Black classmates from Duke University.

The company’s products are now sold at several leading retailers including Costco and Target, as well as on Amazon.

Vision Wise Capital, a real estate investment company founded by CEO Sanford Coggins and headquartered in Mission Viejo, is an example of a successful Black-owned company that is generating strong returns for its investors.

Additionally, no discussion of this topic would be complete without noting the sizable contribution of the OC Black Chamber of Commerce which has been supporting small and mid-sized Black-owned businesses since 1984.

Impact Beyond Boardroom

By no means is the impact of Black residents on Orange County’s business landscape limited to those working at corporations.

Examples abound including Charlene Reynolds, the director of John Wayne Airport. Ensuring that John Wayne remains a preferred gateway for travelers is a key contributor to companies electing to establish operations in the county.

There are also numerous examples of Black business leaders contributing their time to philanthropic endeavors. Every other Saturday from September through May, many of these individuals gather as members of 100 Black Men of Orange County to mentor area high school students.

Dereck Moore, owner of Costa Mesa-based Building Maintenance of Tomorrow stated, “I am proud to have the privilege of being a Black business owner in Orange County since 2011.

In addition to running my business, I am honored to be president of the local chapter of the 100 Black Men of America. We have been able to help make a difference in the lives of countless African American males through our award winning “Passport to the Future” mentoring program.

Our program offers STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) programming, a career day, and instruction in communication and skill development to ensure their successful graduation from high school. Moreover, we prepare them for higher education and workforce opportunities.”

Opportunities Still Remain

There are still challenges related to county’s demographics. The low percentage of Black students in area schools (1.6%) mean that local employers will likely have a difficult time ensuring that their workforce is truly diverse.

The percentage of Black teachers at Orange County schools is also extremely low, meaning that OC students rarely get that perspective as part of their K-12 educational journey.

There are local industries, real estate professionals for example, where Black faces are still relatively few and far between.

These and other factors combine to cause some Black professionals to pause when considering relocating here from other parts of the country.

For those of us who desire to see our county become a place that fully leverages the power of diversity, there are numerous opportunities to make a difference whether it be through our hiring, the businesses we support, our involvement with local school systems or just being intentional in widening our social circles.

The payoff is living and working in a place that is inclusive and prepares the young people who grow up in Orange County to thrive in an increasingly diverse world.

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Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung joined the Orange County Business Journal in 2021 as their Marketing Creative Director. In her role she creates all visual content as it relates to the marketing needs for the sales and events teams. Her responsibilities include the creation of marketing materials for six annual corporate events, weekly print advertisements, sales flyers in correspondence to the editorial calendar, social media graphics, PowerPoint presentation decks, e-blasts, and maintains the online presence for Orange County Business Journal’s corporate events.
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