San Diego Business Journal

How did we get here?

San Diego’s unique economy — a distinct blend of tech, military and Southern California lifestyle — was built by market forces. But it was also built by some farsighted and charismatic individuals.

Go way back and you will find business people such as Alonzo Horton, the real estate investor who moved the city center south from Old Town; John D. Spreckels, who had interests in hospitality, media, real estate and transportation; and Ellen Browning Scripps, media investor turned philanthropist.

Then there are people who wrote a more recent chapter to San Diego’s economic story. These people have moved from the San Diego 500 list to our list of icons.

List of Icons Grows

This year, the San Diego Business Journal has added new names to its list of icons.

They include the Rev. Joe Carroll, president emeritus of Father Joe’s Villages, an agency serving individuals and families who have fallen on hard times; and Karen Haynes, former president of Cal State University San Marcos.

Also Selwyn Isakow, chairman of the board at CalPrivate Bank; Jo Dee Jacob, retired U.S. Navy officer and former CEO of Girl Scouts San Diego; Armon Mills, publisher emeritus of the San Diego Business Journal; and Michael Murphy, longtime CEO of Sharp HealthCare, now retired.

Also Joe Panetta, president and CEO of the Biocom trade organization; Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40 Co.; and longtime travel industry professional Patti Roscoe.

In addition, Peter Seidler, managing partner of the San Diego Padres Robert Sullivan, founding dean of the Rady School of Management at UC San Diego; and Phil Blair and Mel Katz of Manpower San Diego.

Building Foundations in Business, Philanthropy

Now in its fourth year of publication, the San Diego 500 counts almost 50 icons.

They include Irwin Jacobs and Andrew Viterbi, electrical engineers who spurred San Diego’s importance as a technology center by helping found Linkabit and then Qualcomm Inc. They later played important roles underwriting art and cultural institutions in the community (with spouses Joan Jacobs and the late Erna Viterbi).

Ivor Royston helped found the first San Diego biotech company, Hybritech, which was sold in 1986 to Eli Lily and Co. Icons Peter Ferrell, Jay Flatley and J. Craig Venter blazed trails in medical devices and genetics. Gary and Mary West have spent their fortunes supporting health care.

Restaurateur Ralph Rubio taught the community that you can put fish in a taco. What’s more, if you do it right, you can make money selling such an entrée. Anne Evans, a fixture in San Diego’s hospitality industry, offered the world a way to visit and partake of San Diego’s beach culture.

Deborah Szekely helped people de-stress and recover healthy habits at her Golden Door and Rancho La Puerta properties (the latter in Baja California), while Genevieve Craig made money by helping people eat better. Deepak Chopra has added an alternative approach to mainstream health advice.

Jazzercise founder Judi Sheppard Missett got people moving around, Tony Hawk generated enthusiasm for skateboarding, while Bill Walton wowed basketball fans and has supported fledgling sports businesses and nonprofits.

These are only some of the icons. Detailed profiles of them and other icons begin on page 66.

The unanswered question is which of the personalities on this year’s San Diego 500 list will make the transition to icon. Perhaps that person will change San Diego so profoundly that they may someday rank as another Horton, Scripps or Spreckels. We don’t have a time machine that lets us peek at the future and find out. But we might be able to guess. And that is part of the intrigue of the annual San Diego 500 list.