The Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce is jazzing-up its image. Despite having a globally-recognized "brand", its main annual "signature" event had been an economic forum, perceived by some as a little dry.
Organizers hoped that Tuesday's forum at the Beverly Hilton would change that. And with more than two hundred enthusiastic attendees, it looks to be well on its way.
Titled "Beverly Hills Tomorrow: Innovation and Vision Leading the Future," the event was positioned as an opening to the Beverly Hills Centennial in January.
Executive Director Alex Stettinski welcomed participants and the star-studded roster of speakers.
Then he stepped aside for the urbane, gravel-voiced broadcaster Frank Mottek, anchor of the Money News on CBS radio's KNX-1070, who moderated.
First to the podium was Lynda Resnick, one of whose family businesses, Paramount Farms, is possibly among the biggest citrus growers in California. Resnick proceeded to detail her company's investment in the Central Valley's Kern County, in particular, in Lost Hills Park, where most of Paramount's workers reside.
The investment, said Resnick, is aimed at the families of workers who would not otherwise have access to the fruiits of these investments: an agricultural academy; a health centre; a youth academy; a community centre. "The days of farming as unskilled labor is coming to a close, said Resnick. "And the change can be made in your backyard."
Subsequent speaker Nancy Aossey, president and CEO of International Medical Corps, a global disaster relief non-profit with headquarters on Santa Monica Boulevard, had the same message, "Just help people." In IMC's case, said Aossey, it is helping them "get beyond their own personal grief and tragedy...to unlock their potential."
Aossey grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants. She moved to California in the 1980s to work for AT&T and got into IMC when it was a California-based start-up launched by a UCLA medical center physician. Today her IMC operates in over 30 countries and is there with the Red Cross and UNICEF in every disaster.
A subdued Michael Burns, vice chairman of Lionsgate entertainment, followed Aossey on the podium, saying he "only did films" and how could that compare to disaster relief, even though Lionsgate recently released the film about the Indonesian Tsunami, "The Impossible."
"Everyone has the chance to improve or change somebody's life," said Burns.
Lionsgate, with its ties to Beverly Hills, has gone from an $80 million company in 2000 to a $3 billion market cap today, making it one of the top five studios.
Henrik Fisker, founder of Fisker Automotive, was also a speaker.
Vice Mayor of Beverly Hills, Lili Bosse, was called on to present honors from the Beverly Hills City Council to the speakers and others. The new mayor, John Mirisch, had still not shown up to the event when Bosse, impressively, took to the stage and started handing out the awards. That is until Mirisch bounded down the runway and leaped over the barrier rope, up on stage to take over from Bosse.
Stettinski said he was very delighted about the turnout and the informal conversations with speakers that followed for many at a reception.
He said he planned to make the "inaugural" an annual event as part of a repositioning of the Chamber with a more local and forward-looking focus.