, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Joining me at Orange County Business Journal's 20th Annual Women in Business Awards Luncheon is Zee Allred, who received a Lifetime Achievement Award for owning the largest woman-owned businesses in Orange County

Joining me at Orange County Business Journal’s 20th Annual Women in Business Awards Luncheon was Chairman and CEO of Pool Water Products, Zee Allred, who received a Lifetime Achievement Award for her work in creating the largest woman-owned business in Orange County

It was nice to see my friend Zee Allred honored. I’ve known her since the early ’80s when we both were founding members of Crescendo Chapter, one of the first support groups established for Segerstrom Center for the Arts, what was then call the Orange County Music Center. I know her as a phenomenal business woman, as well as a generous philanthropist.

I love Zee’s family, and her three children were there to see her honored at the Orange County Business Journal’s 20th Annual Women in Business Awards Luncheon, where Zee was presented a Lifetime Achievement Award. Zee’s daughter Carol Starr and her husband Jeff, along with her sons Vern and Dean Allred and Dean’s wife Deanne, were at her table. Several grandsons were there as well – Drew Starr and Blake Allred with his fiancee Kristi Brungardt. And, Zee’s longtime companion, Drago Gligic, was also there to cheer her on. It was a day to celebrate Zee!

Honored for her business acumen, Zee and her husband Marvin established Allred’s Pool Supply in 1958, rapidly establishing 18 retail stores until they decided to enter the supply-side of the pool business, franchised their stores, and opened Pool Water Products in 1964. After Marvin suffered a massive heart attack in 1968, leaving him unable to continue working, Zee took over the business and has led the company since. The business flourished under her leadership, with her sons Vern and Dean joining the effort. Today, Pool Water Products, a multimillion dollar company that employs hundreds, has nine branches throughout California and 12 out of state, in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Nevada.

Zee has been a pillar in the nonprofit community for decades and is an inspiration for her efforts in helping others. I could list all the charities she’s helped, but suffice it to say, it is substantial! As she voiced at the luncheon, “I have always believed giving back to the community was the right thing to do.”

The luncheon, held at Hotel Irvine, drew 920 guests to the august affair. I am always impressed by the five women honored at the event, and this year was no exception. With 214 women nominated, I do not envy the judge’s panel because I saw a lot of nominees deserving of the honor.

Following a passionate rendition of “God Bless America” by vocalist Bobby Dorman, OCBJ’s Publisher and CEO Richard Reisman welcomed everyone, particularly thanking the sponsors, including Diamond Sponsor, Union Bank, as well as event chair and OCBJ Associate Publisher and President Laura Garrett. Keynote speaker Lindsey Ueberroth, President and CEO of Preferred Hotel Group, gave some business advice, saying, “Surround yourself with good people and don’t be afraid to hire people smarter than you are.” Also, “Treat colleagues, vendors and customers with respect and dedicate some portion of every day for family.”

The women honored included Alexis Schulze, co-founder and chief visionary officer of Nekter Juice bar Inc. in Santa Ana; Jerri Rosen, founder and chief executive of Working Wardrobes in Costa Mesa; Cheryl Osborn, founder and president of Irvine-based Casco Contractors Inc.; Dr. Karen Smith, senior vice president of global medical affairs and senior vice president of research and development at Allergan Inc. in Irvine; and Deborah Proctor, president and chief executive of Irvine-based St. Joseph Health System. 

Lugano Diamonds very generously gave each nominee a leather jewelry bag with a jewelry cloth and cleaner, and each of the honorees, including keynote speaker Lindsey Ueberroth, received a 65-inch strand of pearls (see photo). Zee was given a beautiful pair of moonstone, chalcedony and diamond earrings.

I do want to list the presenters of the awards because they are women in the higher echelons of power in the business world in Orange County. They include Patty Juarez, Regional VP, Wells Fargo Bank; Becca Linekin, Marketing Director, Cox Business; Debra Hale, Sr. VP, Business Banking Division Group Manager, Bank of the West; Jill Barnes, Executive VP, Retail Banking, Opus Bank; Cynthia Stamper Graff, President & CEO, Lindora Medical Clinic; and Sue Baaden, Senior VP, Market Manager, Chase.

Best Winners’ Comments: Jerri Rosen said as she accepted her honor, “I was beginning to think I was the Susan Lucci of the nonprofit world!” Cheryl Osborne said, “I guess you always win things when your hair looks terrible!” And, finally, St. Joseph Health Systems exec Deborah Proctor thanked her team at St. Joseph and asked the four sisters on her team to stand and be acknowledged. “They’ve been my inspiration,” she said.

Selected photos by Laurel Hungerford Photography