Mihaylo College Center for Leadership Director Jay Barbuto speaks at the seventh annual Center for Leadership Awards.

Center for Leadership Director Jay Barbuto addresses honorees and guests at the Center for Leadership Awards Luncheon on May 4. The annual event honors local businesses and professionals for their commitment to corporate leadership.

C-suite officials from Smart Energy Water, PIMCO, Ytel and Titan Industries were recognized for their executive leadership, while Disneyland Resort and Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar were feted for their leadership development initiatives at the seventh annual Center for Leadership Awards Luncheon on May 4.

More than 340 Southern California business leaders, Mihaylo College students and faculty, and friends of Cal State Fullerton gathered at the Hotel Irvine on May 4 to celebrate some of the region’s innovative, engaging and socially responsible visionaries, both on the individual and corporate levels.

Recipients of the Excellence in Executive Leadership Award

Deepak Garg, founder, chairman and CEO of Smart Energy Water, has utilized big data and a mobile workforce to create a cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform for the energy and utilities sector. He was recognized for his company’s rapid growth from its founding in 2009 to its current status as a more than $500 million company.

Nick Newsom, founder and CEO of Ytel Inc., was honored for the innovation of his communication applications programming interface (API) and contact center software enterprise, which enables businesses to connect with every audience through voice, messaging and mail formats. With a company culture that empowers employees through open workspaces and brainstorming, the Lake Forest-based firm’s team grew by nearly 150% in 2017 and a further 25% so far this year.

Cal State Fullerton's Center for Leadership Awards is a great place for Orange County students and business professionals to network.

The Center for Leadership Awards provides a networking opportunity for Cal State Fullerton students and local businesses.

The cultural change honor was bestowed upon Sarah Middleton, executive director and senior vice president of PIMCO and founder of the PIMCO Foundation, the investment adviser’s official philanthropic arm responsible for local grants programs, technology donation, global week of volunteering, women’s empowerment initiatives and food assistance during the Christmas season.

Joe Ouaknine, CEO of Titan Industries Inc., was recognized for strategic breakthroughs with his Huntington Beach-based upscale women’s footwear manufacturing business. In 2016, the company bought the Badgley Mischka trademark, taking the brand to a higher level of efficiency and international reach.

Honoring Local Icons for Leadership Development

The two recipients of this year’s organizational-level Leadership Development Award were Disneyland Resort, which was recognized as a pioneer in corporate volunteerism through the Disney VoluntEARS program, and Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar, a casual-dining chain founded in Huntington Beach in 2003 that has expanded to 25 company-owned locations throughout the western U.S. and more than 3,500 employees. With a “culture-first” mentality manifested by an online learning management system that facilitates employee coaching, the chain has assisted in sourcing 40% of management roles from employees originally in entry-level, hourly positions.