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Winning Execs Don’t Rest on Their Laurels

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Orange County’s business community last year celebrated the Business Journal’s 25th annual Women in Business Awards luncheon at the Hotel Irvine,

where Aston Martin Americas President Laura Schwab delivered the keynote address.

The winners, selected from 200 nominees, have not been resting on their laurels, even in the era of the coronavirus.

Here are updates on what the five winners have been doing.

Avatar Partners

Shortly after Marlo Brooke won the Business Journal’s award for co-founding Huntington Beach-based Avatar Partners Inc., she was accepted into the Forbes Technology Council, an invitation-only community for world-class CIOs, CTOs, and technology executives.

“Marlo was vetted and selected by a review committee based on the depth and diversity of her experience,” said a company press release on the subject.

Brooke, a California State University-Long Beach grad, decided to start the company in 2003 “to serve those who serve us and protect us” after the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

The 50-person company develops technology software and products primarily for military and defense applications.

The software allows Navy mechanics to look at airplanes using a pair of smart glasses, and a phone or tablet, and troubleshoot issues or see if maintenance needs to be performed. It then gives the user a step-by-step guide for how to fix it.

Brooke, who by her own admission cusses like a sailor, which she blames on her military customers—last summer won contracts with both the Air Force and Navy.

Avatar is supplying an augmented reality (AR) quality assurance solution for the U.S. Navy for aircraft wiring maintenance for the Naval Air Systems Command’s Boeing V-22 Osprey aircraft.

Then the Air Force is using Avatar’s solutions, based on techniques from X-rays to ultrasound, to help inspectors find the smallest imperfections and take corrective measures needed to keep equipment working safely.

The company has found new interest in its products because of the coronavirus and is looking for employees with a variety of skill sets.

“As a company that specializes in immersive reality and augmented reality, we have seen increased interest for virtual collaborative products that remotely connect dispersed workers,” Brooke said in a June interview with the editor of Military Simulation & Training Magazine.

“While (Southern California) is a mecca of gaming and virtual reality skill sets, we need a wide variety of skill sets, including effective design and storyboarding, business and performance analysis, mechanical skills, and the ability to translate procedures into high-impact virtualized solutions that support the social and emotional needs of employees.”

City of Hope

As president of the City of Hope Orange County, Annette Walker is orchestrating a $1 billion project to build one of the biggest, and scientifically advanced, cancer research centers in the world.

Located at the Great Park Neighborhoods in Irvine, the project is being overseen in conjunction with developer FivePoint Holdings LLC.

She took a big step forward in May after it completed the acquisition of property at the city’s FivePoint Gateway office campus.

City of Hope, a research and treatment center for cancer, diabetes and other life-threatening diseases with its main campus in Duarte, paid $108 million for a 190,000-square-foot, four-story building at the Irvine site, and 11 acres of adjacent land.

The Irvine campus will include a comprehensive cancer center at the existing building it bought, as well as a future acute care cancer hospital and other facilities.

“We are ‘all in’ for the region, fulfilling a promise that will deliver pioneering research and lifesaving treatment,” Walker said.

The deal has numerous ripple-down effects on the local business community.

City of Hope will be making a hiring push for the new facilities, while also bringing employees down from Duarte. Area universities could partner with City of Hope.

While the larger campus near the Orange County Great Park is being built, Walker in January opened a building in Newport Center for City of Hope’s first outpatient facility in Orange County.

Walker, a mother of six and grandmother of 12, is well known in Orange County healthcare circles, also picked up two more prestigious Business Journal awards this year.

Walker’s role in developing the Irvine project also earned her the Business Journal’s Businessperson of the Year award for healthcare.

City of Hope addressed the coronavirus on a number of fronts, including the preclinical development of a vaccine.

Walker was one of the annual OC 50 featured in the May 25 print edition of the Business Journal, which highlighted area executives making a difference in the community during the pandemic.

“We’d like this spirit of collaboration to continue because frankly cancer and other serious issues aren’t going away after COVID-19,” said Walker, who is keynoting this year’s virtual Women in Business event on Oct. 28.

Bioniz Therapeutics

Bioniz Therapeutics Inc., an Irvine-based biopharmaceutical firm that began in 2010, in January announced a deal with a Spanish pharmaceutical company that could ultimately result in a $540 million sale of one of its main drug products.

Barcelona-based Almirall S.A., a pharmaceutical company focused on dermatology, made a $15 million upfront payment to Bioniz for exclusive global rights to BNZ-1, an inhibitor that is being tested for its ability to fight a type of lymphoma that manifests in skin.

“We are super excited,” Chief Executive Nazli Azimi said at the time. “It’s a very sweet deal for the company and investors.”

In July, Bioniz reported “encouraging interim clinical data” from its Phase 1/2 open-label clinical study of BNZ-1 in patients with refractory Cutaneous T-Cell Lymphoma (rCTCL).

“Together with our investigators, we are excited to see the potential clinical benefit of BNZ-1 in highly refractory CTCL patients,” Azimi said.

Azimi said her company—whose board includes former Allergan CEO David Pyott and Masimo Corp. CEO Joe Kiani—has other products in its pipeline called BNZ-2 and BNZ-3, which are aimed at stomach illnesses.

“The beauty of the deal that was very important was it didn’t require the full acquisition of our portfolio,” Azimi said. “We will continue with other programs.”

Azimi, a native of Iran who arrived in the U.S. in the early 1990s, spent a decade at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, where she completed her postdoctoral immunology program. Her board of advisers includes Robert Gallo, who became famous in 1984 when he co-discovered HIV as the cause of AIDS.

Azimi has authored more than 40 peer-reviewed, scientific publications and holds more than a dozen patents, including the Bioniz intellectual property patent estate.

FivePoint Holdings

The webpage of FivePoint Holdings LLC (NYSE: FPH) points to what it is doing: $55 billion in projected economic activity, 288,000 jobs projected to be created during construction, 23 million square feet of commercial space built or approved, 10,500 acres of planned opened space and 40,000 homes built or approved.

Hence, Chief Operating Officer Lynn Jochim has been quite busy in the past year:

• Working with City of Hope for the start of a $1 billion project to treat cancer, the biggest healthcare project currently moving ahead in Orange County (see Annette Walker entry, this page).

• Making the largest office sale in Orange County in the past three years by selling the two largest buildings at Irvine’s FivePoint Gateway office campus for $355 million in August to Washington, D.C.-based PRP Real Estate Investment Management.

• Building hundreds more homes at Irvine’s Great Park Neighborhoods, including some under a new fee-building arrangement with Aliso Viejo’s New Home Co. Sales remain brisk at the Irvine development during the pandemic.

Systems Source

Systems Source Inc., which supplies desks and chairs to commercial offices, found a surprising niche during the coronavirus.

“We set up a lot of work from home programs with furniture for employees,” founder and CEO Rosemarie Smith said. “A lot of wonderful employers spent money for their employees to get furniture.”

Systems Source built a website where employees could order products for their homes. It also set up a COVID-19 department to help employers replan their work sites and introduced new products like hand sanitizer dispensers and screens to separate desks.

It had a successful 2019, reporting revenue climbed 10% to $207.4 million and its employee count increased 7% to 227.

The coronavirus will “definitely” cause a drop in revenue this year, she said, adding that the company had to lay off “more than a few but less than a third” of its employees.

It was deemed an essential business because its clients include pharmaceutical companies supplying coronavirus tests. Some of its clients are doing well during the pandemic, such as Microsoft and Amazon.

“We were very fortunate that we had a great backlog” at the start of the coronavirus, Smith said. “We will definitely survive this.”

Peter J. Brennan
Peter J. Brennan
Peter J. Brennan has been a journalist for 40 years. He spent a decade in Latin America covering wars, narcotic traffickers, earthquakes, and business. His resume includes 15 years at Bloomberg News where his headlines and articles sometimes moved the market caps of companies he covered by hundreds of millions of dollars. His articles have been published worldwide, including the New York Times and the Washington Post; he's appeared on CNN, CBC, BBC, and Bloomberg TV. He was awarded a Kiplinger Fellowship at The Ohio State University.

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