published on December 24, 2015 - 6:48 AM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

Zachary D. Darrah,
Executive Director,
Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries (FIRM)

What was your very first job and what did you learn from it?

I started a recycling business when I was 9 years old in Washington. We lived out in the country where they did not have curbside recycling services, so I became the curbside recycling service for my neighborhood. Every Saturday, my dad would drive me around in an old pickup truck (that I later inherited as my first car!) and I would pickup cans, bottles and newspaper. I would store them all in our garage until we would take it to the recyclers! I learned a lot of important life lessons through that job, but I think the greatest lesson was that hard work really does pay off.   

Damon Thomas,

What are the biggest challenges to surviving and thriving as a tech start up in the Central Valley?
There are many challenges. Most of those challenges involve simply having an opportunity to get in the door to give a dynamic and interactive fifteen-minute presentation. Sometimes the local market does not understand the value in Internet and an online presence so we expand our market while keeping our offices local. Other times small and large companies are working with Web teams from other states, not knowing local web technology businesses are here to help them. We’d love to have the phones ringing from local companies who know we exist and know we are here to help.

Pedro Santana,
Executive Director,
Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Central Valley, Inc.

How did you get involved with Ronald McDonald House Charities?
While attending Fresno State, I was fulfilling a service-learning requirement and was introduced to the Ronald McDonald House Charities where I began to volunteer as a front desk attendant. I interacted with many families whose child was being treated next door to Valley Children’s Hospital but one particular family from Biola is still in my heart. I often spoke with dad about their 3-year-old daughter who was then battling cancer. He had so much hope that his little girl would make it through, but later learned she had a few days to live.  It was a very sad and emotional experience to see a parent lose a child. I knew then that I wanted to help make a difference in another family’s life even if it was as simple a gesture as cooking a meal.  Everything the Ronald McDonald House Charities stood for was what I wanted to be a part of.  I began my career with RMHC as the volunteer coordinator in 2003. I was then promoted to marketing manager in 2005 and shortly after became the development director for 5 years. Today, 12 years later, I am now the executive director of RMHC with the same passion of helping others as I did then as volunteer.

Joanna Odabashian,
Team Leader/CEO,
Keller Williams Fresno

What are the advantages of being a Spanish speaker in this market?  
Business is about relationships. Speaking two languages allows me greater freedom and opportunity to build relationships. As real estate becomes more global, I can: help local Spanish speakers with real estate needs, refer clients in Spanish speaking countries to other agencies and educate agents and business owners in Spanish speaking countries to the benefits of Keller Williams so they can grow successful businesses as well.

Derek Franks,
General Manager,
Fresno Grizzlies Triple-A Baseball Club

Where was your first job and what did you learn from it?
I started throwing the Fresno Bee on a paper route when I was in the eighth grade. I tossed the newspaper every day, rain or shine, holidays, and every day in between for four straight years. Paper carriers are independent contractors, so you run it like a little business. If people didn’t pay their bill, it was taken out of my earnings. In the last few years of doing it, The Bee would fine you $1 for every complaint that got called in by one of the subscribers on your route. So that meant if I did a lousy job, or gave a half effort, I lost money. With nearly 400 houses on my route, I could end up owing more money than I made if I racked up complaints. It was a great experience that taught me to always give it my all. I liked the fact that I didn’t just make money by showing up; I had to earn it and make my customers happy to succeed. It was a great life lesson.

Benjamin J. Maddox,
Senior VP and Market Manager,
Bank of America Merrill Lynch

What brought you to the Fresno area?  
In 1995, my initial duty station out of basic training and “A” school in the Navy was NAS Lemoore. I wound up being stationed there for four and a half years.  Alison, my wife, later joined me in Lemoore, where she transferred to Fresno State finishing up her BS in Business Administration. Upon completion of my naval career, I opted to attend Fresno State as well and we made the commitment to stay in the area. After spending a two year hiatus in Carlsbad, CA, Alison and I felt like Fresno/Clovis was home and we wanted to bring the kids back to raise them here, closer to family and friends.  

Connie Conway,
Principal Consultant,
Conway Consulting Group

Are you considering another run at public office?
I have a campaign account open right now for a planned run for the state Senate in 2018 when the seat is open. Running again is not something I need to do but something I want to do. After 14 years as an elected official (eight years on the board of supervisors, six years in the Assembly) I feel I have learned to collaborate with others to try to create an environment that gets work done but tries to respect what I like to call my “special interest group” — the taxpayers that fund government who don’t get the respect they deserve for making life better for all Californians. Overbearing government isn’t anyone’s idea of a perfect world that’s for sure.

Gretchen Moore,
Executive Director,
Downtown Fresno Foundation

What was the best advice you ever received?

First, count to ten.

Hugh Ralston,
President & CEO,
Central Valley Community Foundation

What are the current top priorities for the Central Valley Community Foundation and what areas is the foundation currently most active?    
Our mission is to cultivate smart philanthropy, to lead and invest in solutions that strengthen community as well as to invest in nonprofit leadership and capacity, which we plan to do through our new Center for Community. We provide grants from donor-established funds and in partnership with statewide funders, focusing on issues that matter to our region — helping families so their children succeed by the third grade, reducing teen pregnancy, strengthening arts and culture across the region, investing in regional sustainability, providing scholarships for area youth, helping veterans, training nonprofit leaders (staff and board) and supporting research like the Fresno Community Scorecard that helps track progress. Our donors invest in causes they care about, and we steward their bequests to protect the legacy they entrust to us.   

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