Some of the leaders who've presented for us.
Financially Wise Women, Founder & CEO
Brittney Castro, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, entrepreneur and personal finance expert for women, is the Founder & CEO of Financially Wise Women, a Los Angeles based financial planning firm for women. She specializes in working with busy, established professional and entrepreneurial women who are passionate about life and want to finally understand money – how to manage it, save it, invest it, and protect it- in a fun and simple way.
Brittney’s mission is to help women plan and create the life of their dreams, free from stress and anxiety about money. She is known for her innovative, non-judgmental, compassionate approach to financial planning and is a sought out key-note speaker and has recently presented at the California Women’s Conference, Pacific Life Educational Synopsis Conference and Pasadena Women’s Conference. She has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, CNBC, Glamour.com, Entrepreneur.com, KTLA, CBS, Financial Planning Magazine, Investment News, Registered Rep Magazine and more.
In addition to running her company, Financially Wise Women, Brittney serves on the CNBC Digital Financial Advisor Council, which is made up of 20 high-level financial professionals, is a finance expert on DailyWorth.com, the leading financial media company for women and host on Next Generation Startups, an online community, for, about and by the next generation of startup business owners.
Away from the office, you can find Brittney working out, drinking coffee with steamed almond milk, reading, playing with her fur baby Arya and of course dancing! Sign up to receive your Financially Wise Toolkit jam packed with great tools and resources to help you on your financial journey at www.financiallywisewomen.com. Make sure to follow Brittney on twitter at www.twitter.com/brittneycastro.
Co-Founder & CEO, ModBargains
Mike Brown is the Co-Founder & CEO of ModBargains. Throughout his life, Mike has started businesses focused around his passions in life. At 6 years old, he started a snack shack in his neighborhood with his friends to make extra money. In elementary school, he developed a website to trade & sell basketball cards and sold them on eBay as well. In his teens, Mike would buy extra tickets to rock concerts he was attending that he knew would sell out, starting a small ticket flipping operation. Mike has always been passionate about cars and driving fast. He grew up watching NASCAR and Indy Car races every weekend. Co-Founding ModBargains came naturally as he was modifying his own 2000 BMW 323Ci while a business & entrepreneurship student at Chapman University in Orange, CA.
Today, Mike is passionate about leading and developing the staff at ModBargains. Mike leads the entire company through book groups focused around personal growth for each employee. He also coaches and meets with staff members one on one, and keeps an open door to employees. Above all else, Mike encourages everyone at ModBargains to stay focused on customer service and to “put yourself in the shoes of the customer, because without the customer we do not have a business.” This focus on the customer experience is what has lead Mike to move the company away from a no inventory, drop-ship only e-commerce retailer into what ModBargains is today – a full service, massive inventory & installation center. He is proud that with such a great team of car enthusiasts at ModBargains running sales, customer service, and web development, Mike has been able to focus on the vision, purpose, and future of ModBargains.
Mike likes attending LA Kings hockey games as a season ticket holder, plays in men’s basketball leagues & goes to Lakers games, plays golf, and every year tries to not obsess too much over fantasy football. Mike is a volunteer Entrepreneur in Residence at Chapman University, mentoring students who are starting businesses of their own.
Director, Talent Management & Leadership Development, Edwards Lifesciences
Marian has over 25 years of experience in Training, Coaching, Leadership and Organizational Development. Her career experience includes well-known companies such as Mitsubishi Motors, Washington Mutual Bank, Hyundai Finance, Pacific Life Insurance and Edwards Lifesciences. Her programs receive high marks for their relevance, productivity and business impact. Marian’s career spans from her early days as a training specialist to her current leadership role overseeing Talent Management and Leadership Development at Edwards Lifesciences.. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Cal State Fullerton and has many certifications including 7 Habits for Highly Effective Managers, Leading at the Speed of Trust, Situational Leadership, and The OZ Principle.
Tony DiCostanzo is the founder and president of BookPal, an e-commerce bookseller that focuses on enterprise customers such as corporations, school districts, nonprofits and government agencies. Tony has led BookPal’s growth from a startup to a three-time Inc. 500|5000 honoree, despite the challenges of a recession and large entrenched competitors. Prior to founding BookPal, DiCostanzo spent ten years in corporate finance and strategic planning, where he gained valuable experience in corporate turnarounds and governance. He has contributed articles to Inc.com and is a regular contributor to Forbes.com.
Co-Founder, Beyond Fifteen Communications
Lauren Ellermeyer is more than an accomplished public relations specialist. She’s a forward-thinking entrepreneur with a passion for all things business, with a priority on steering growth and success for her clients. Ellermeyer, who sits on some of Orange County’s most prominent boards, including Tech Coast Venture Network and American Family Housing, is no stranger to today’s evolving marketplace and its impact on optimistic start-ups and mega corporations.
From high tech to higher education, Ellermeyer’s wide range of expertise and relationships across multiple verticals keeps her steps ahead of her clients’ immediate and future needs – no matter their size. But for Ellermeyer, building business is more than understanding her clients’ products or services. It’s about constantly being on the lookout for ideas that are progressive, sometimes daring and always results-driven.
Fluent in Spanish, Ellermeyer’s business acumen delivers solid thinking and execution on a bilingual level, an added plus to any client targeting Hispanic audiences.
A passion for business is not only in Ellermeyer’s blood; it’s a significant part of her extracurricular life. When she’s not brainstorming strategies, networking with industry leaders or connecting people to opportunities, Ellermeyer is collaborating with well-known organizations like TedXOrange Coast and Visionary Executives Network. She also devotes her time to countless business owners and students from renowned institutions and programs such as Concordia University and UCI Harvard Leadership Series, educating and inspiring them to become successful entrepreneurs.
Prior to co-founding Beyond Fifteen Communications, Ellermeyer owned and operated BCN Events, and also served as an account manager at an Orange County-based agency where she built client brand recognition through national media exposure. Ellermeyer received a bachelor’s degree in public relations and communications from the European University.
President & CEO, OC United Way
Max L. Gardner is the President and CEO of Orange County United Way. In this position, Mr. Gardner leads the 91-year-old health and human services organization toward improving lives and strengthening Orange County by focusing on the building blocks for a good quality of life: Education, Income, Health and Housing. By investing in Orange County’s children, families and individuals, United Way helps people create pathways to self-sufficient futures through education and training. A former Orange County United Way Board member and Co-Chair of the Tocqueville Society, Mr. Gardner was appointed President and CEO in July 2011.
A 10-year community-wide action plan was launched in 2014 to make a measurable difference in the lives of the people who live and work in Orange County. Under Mr. Gardner’s direction, United Way launched FACE 2024, a collaborative approach advancing the common good by Funding innovative programs, Advocating for the voiceless, Collaborating with those who have the passion and expertise to get things done and Educating community leaders about critical issues facing Orange County.
Prior to joining United Way, Mr. Gardner was President of Irvine Company Apartment Communities, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Irvine Company. In this role, Mr. Gardner was responsible for all aspects of the company business including development, construction, acquisitions, property management and finance for a portfolio in excess of 40,000 apartments in more than 100 communities. The Irvine Company is a century-old, privately held company best known for its comprehensive focus on quality-of-life in the balanced, sustainable communities it has planned and developed on the Irvine Ranch in Orange County, California. After 11 years of service, Mr. Gardner retired from the Irvine Company in July 2010.
Mr. Gardner, who has more than 30 years of real estate experience, previously served as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Bay Apartment Communities, where he also served as a member of the company’s Board of Directors. After Bay’s merger with Avalon Properties, he had overall responsibility for development and acquisitions in the western region for the newly combined company, AvalonBay. Prior to that, Mr. Gardner spent seven years at Trammell Crow Residential, first as Regional Partner of Finance for the west coast, and subsequently as President and CEO.
Mr. Gardner serves on a number of boards and committees including: the Orange County Funders Roundtable (immediate Past Chair), the Orange County Commission to End Homelessness, the OC Forum and United Ways of California. In addition, he is a member of the Orange County Business Council and the UCI Chief Executive Roundtable. Mr. Gardner holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Duke University and a master’s degree from the Business School at Georgia State University. He and his wife reside in Irvine, California and have four grown children.
Chairman and Co-Founder, Auction.com
Robert Friedman has been intimately involved in the real estate industry for over 20 years. Truly the visionary of this dynamic company, his exceptional business instinct and experience has shown a path to success amidst some of the nation’s most difficult economic times. Auction.com sold over $7.4 billion of commercial and residential real estate in 2013, and has sold over $25 billion since being founded in 2007. He is responsible for setting the strategic direction of the company, and surveying the business landscape for growth opportunities.
Rob is a licensed Auctioneer and the author of the book “The Auction Revolution.” Born and raised in Orange County, California, he has two children and contributes to a number of charitable organizations, including being on the Board of Directors of Big Brothers Big Sisters, with both his time and money.
CEO and Owner, Burnham Benefits
When Kristen Allison acquired the benefits practice of John Burnham & Company and formed Burnham Benefits Insurance Services in 1995, the company had been a mainstay for more than 50 years. Growing and improving a company with that level of visibility and success is no small feat, but Kristen has achieved it. Operating under her vision as president and owner, Burnham Benefits has expanded to eight offices and a staff of 70 who manage more than $1.5 billion in premiums. An impressive 20 percent annual growth rate for the past 10 years shows no sign of slowing; and with its new Central- and Northern California based offices, Burnham is becoming a statewide brokerage while retaining its culture of innovation and its unique, consultative approach to client service.
Kristen credits the firm’s success to her unwavering commitment to relationships—with clients, vendors, and most notably, employees. The company culture empowers employees to excel at their strengths and work toward individual goals. Burnham Benefits has been named a Best Place to Work in the insurance industry by Business Insurance magazine for the past two years, and a Best Place to Work in Orange County by the Orange County Business Journal the past four consecutive years.
Outside of the insurance industry, Allison is active in the Orange County community. Dedicated to giving back to the community where she lives and works, Allison has built in philanthropy into Burnham’s core, including financial and participatory projects. As a way of encouraging Burnham employees to donate to worthy causes, the company matches employee donations to charities of up to $500. Additionally, Allison has taken on large roles with The United Way Women’s Philanthropy Fund and Mustard Seed Ranch, a nonprofit organization that provides programming and equine assisted therapy to abused and neglected children in Southern California.
Website: Burnham Benefits
Vice President, Freedom Communications and the Orange County Register
Steve Churm is Vice President of Freedom Communications and the Orange County Register, one of the top five metropolitan newspapers in America. The century-old Register is also the longest publishing newspaper in Orange County and the largest with a Sunday circulation of nearly 300,000 copies. The Register is owned by Freedom Communications, headquartered in Santa Ana. The company’s print and online portfolio includes four major daily newspapers in four Southern California counties: The Orange County Register, Press-Enterprise, Long Beach Register and the Los Angeles Register. The company is also one of the largest glossy magazine publishers on the West Coast, including Coast, OCR METRO, OCR Family, OCR Magazine and Southland Golf magazines.
In December 2012, Churm sold his regional media company, Churm Media, to Freedom. Newport Beach-based Churm Media was one of the leading independent media companies in Southern California. At the time the company was sold, Churm Media’s total audience, print and online, was nearly 1 million users and readers per month. Churm also owned RipeOrange, a marketing, design and event management firm that is also part of the Register today.
A former journalist at four California newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and the Orange County Register, Churm is a frequent speaker about media trends. He shares his knowledge and experience by providing expert advice and insight for business seminars and industry-related publications and websites. He has been recognized as an industry leader in business by local and national media, including FOLIO: Magazine.
Before launching Churm Media in 1990, Churm worked for four California newspapers as an award-winning reporter and editor, including six years at the Los Angeles Times, covering California politics and the environment. Churm currently serves on five nonprofit boards: The Orange County Business Council; The Center for Public Policy at Concordia University, Irvine; Orange County United Way; Global Grins; and Human Options — a nationally recognized organization raising awareness about domestic violence. Married with three adult children and living in Irvine, Churm studied journalism and geography at California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo.
CEO, Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Orange County
Melissa Beck is currently a Chief Executive Officer with Big Brothers Big Sisters overseeing Orange County and the Inland Empire. As CEO of the largest agency in California and one of the largest agencies in the U.S. (out of 340), Melissa is responsible for the general operations and oversight of 50 staff members and all programming for the over 2,200 children the agency serves through 200,000 volunteer hours per year. During her time with Big Brothers Big Sisters, Melissa has launched a workplace-mentoring program that has partnered the agency with some of the most premier corporations in the country, lead their expansion into San Bernardino and Riverside counties and in her first year received the gold standard award as one of the top performing agencies in the country and was nominated for both agency and board of directors of the year. Melissa is a tireless advocate for children facing adversity, believing that all children should have the opportunity to succeed in life and reach their full potential. She is a sought after speaker both on the plight of at-risk youth as well as women/mothers in leadership roles.
Prior to joining Big Brothers Big Sisters, Melissa served as the Executive Director of the Center for Investment and Wealth Management (CIWM) at the UC Irvine, Paul Merage School of Business. During her tenure with the CIWM, she helped raise over $3.3 million for the School, grew the advisory board to include over 55 of the most prominent wealth management firms in Southern California and established the center as a thought leader and source of innovative analysis for new methodologies and strategies within the wealth management industries. Melissa began her career in public accounting working with some of the country’s most prominent professional athletes and musicians on multi-state tax strategy.
Melissa received her Bachelors of Science in Accounting with a minor in Economics from Northern Arizona University and an Executive MBA (magna cum laude) from the UC Irvine, Paul Merage School of Business. Melissa serves on the Executive Board for Project Hope Alliance is a Visionary member of the Dean’s Leadership Circle at the UC Irvine Paul Merage School of Business, serves on the Advisory Board for the Brandman University Business School and is a member of Orange County Young Executives. Melissa and her husband Harry live in Laguna Niguel with their three sons.
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