Comerica Bank Best of LA Women's Business Awards Program


The Comerica Bank Best of LA Women’s Business Awards Program recognizes women in leadership in Los Angeles County, in tribute to their contributions.

Five female honorees will be selected each month from December 19, 2011 – March 31, 2012 (one in each of the following 5 categories):

  • Woman of Entrepreneurship: Recognizing Los Angeles County women business owners at companies of all sizes
  • Woman of Business: Recognizing women executives (non-owner of the business)
  • Woman of Philanthropy: Recognizing women who are changing our local community for the better
  • Woman of Diversity: Recognizing women who are role models and breakthrough agents in our multicultural city
  • Woman of Mentorship: Recognizing women who have shared their experience and talents to guide our future leaders

Applicants will be considered for all categories and throughout the program period on a rolling basis. All honorees will be recognized monthly (5 per month) at a Lakers game.

2011-2012 Comerica Bank Best of L.A. Women's Business Awards

Honorees for the Month of March:

Shelly Ulaj Woman of Philanthropy
Shelly Ulaj is Founder of Women Empowered, a nonprofit organization committed to the empowerment of women in the Los Angeles community. Founded in 2008, Women Empowered focuses on the development of women in the areas of community involvement, professional and social networking, mentorship, and personal growth, providing life changing support to its members as well as the people they serve. Women Empowered has evolved from a social support group to a charitable one that provides volunteer services to local women’s shelters and mentoring of young girls in underserved communities.


Johnnie Savoy Woman of Entrepreneurship
As an educator with 25 years of service in Los Angeles county public school districts, Johnny Savoy’s personal mission to prepare her son for college evolved into a community action plan that became College Bound. For over 21 years, College Bound has provided a stimulating educational environment, instilling a passion for learning and encouraging over 700 students to succeed as early as the fourth grade. 100% of College Bound students have graduated from high school and matriculated on to college. In addition, the organization has been instrumental in acquiring over $27 million in academic scholarships for students since 1994. College Bound continues to perpetuate a legacy of hope for students in underserved and disenfranchised communities throughout Los Angeles.


Debbie Fan Woman of Business
Debbie Fan is Senior Vice President and Treasurer of CBRE, Inc., the world’s largest commercial real estate services firm. In her role, Debbie is responsible for financial risk management related to foreign exchange and interest rates, worldwide cash and liquidity, short-term investment portfolios, and debt issuance in the private and public markets. Debbie is a key member of the CBRE management team and has twice been recognized by the APF Exchange Magazine as one of the 300 Most Influential People in Finance. She earned a Bachelor of Arts and Masters of Business Administration from the University of Southern California, and is a mother of two.



Honorees for the Month of February:

Sophie Alpert Woman of Philanthropy
Sophie Alpert is the Founder and Executive Director of Piece By Piece, an innovative mosaic arts micro-enterprise with the mission to empower underserved LA residents by giving them the tools, marketable skills and self-confidence to assume more responsibility for their future. Inspired by several micro-enterprise programs while traveling in South Africa, Sophie decided to replicate these programs and introduce the concept to teach LA’s homeless population skills to create mosaic art of out recycled materials to sell. Piece by Piece holds workshops twice per week in South L.A. and Skid Row and serves domestic violence survivors, recovering addicts, Veterans, and persons with mental illness and physical disabilities, among others. As a result from the program, hundreds of individuals and families have benefitted from earning critical supplemental income as well as the therapeutic value of making art.


Kristin Nelson Woman of Entrepreneurship
Kristin Nelson is the Owner of LA Kids Consignment. The idea came to her after she became frustrated searching for a reasonably priced exersaucer for her son. After starting her first kids consignment sale in her driveway eight years ago, Kristin Nelson began her entrepreneurial journey by opening LA Kids Consignment under the motto “Kids are expensive. Their stuff doesn’t have to be”. These sales give families an opportunity to clean out their houses and earn money for all the items their kids have outgrown. Now LA Kids Consignment has grown to four locations with over 2600 total consigners. The sales are held in the spring and fall in large warehouses around the San Fernando Valley, Santa Clarita Valley, Pasadena areas and Westside.


Patricia Zarate Woman of Mentorship
Chef Pati Zarate runs Homegirl Café, a division of Homebody Industries whose mission is to assist at-risk and formerly gang-involved young women and men to become contributing members of our community. Witnessing the power of communion created around a dining table, Pati began to think of ways in which she could offer her passion for food at a deeper level of service to the community. This drive led her to open her first restaurant, El Zarape, where she employed homegirls as an extension of the services offered by Homeboy Industries. In 2005, an official Homegirl Café became a reality in Boyle Heights, where Chef Pati mentored and trained a dozen young women, teaching them the basics of restaurant service and culinary arts. A new, larger, state-of-the-art facility in Chinatown was completed in 2007, which is now home to Homegirl Café, where 30 to 40 homegirls undergo job training at a given time. With her gentle guidance, Pati has made a powerful influence in helping young people redirect their lives.


Angela Agrusa Woman of Business
Angela Agrusa takes a hands on approach in the management of her firm, Liner Grode Stein, where she is head of the litigation department, media spokesperson and an equity partner. Liner Grode Stein is a dynamic law firm with a diverse client base which includes Fortune 500 companies, institutions, small businesses and individuals. Angela’s practice includes high stakes litigation and trial work in the areas of trademark, false advertising, unfair competition, copyright, as well as other types of business disputes. She is an active member of INTA, the Association of Business Trial Lawyers, and a Fellow in the Litigation Counsel of America, Trial Lawyer Honorary Society. Angela has also been honored in Southern California "Top 100 Lawyers" and "Top 50 Women Lawyers" lists by Super Lawyers.



Honorees for the Month of January:

Patricia Jones Woman of Philanthropy
Patricia Jones is the founder of the P.S. I Love You Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to nurturing at-risk children through educational and inspirational enrichment programs and community outreach events. It all began with the story of one of her coworkers who had to quit her job to care for her five great-grand children ages 2-12. Patricia decided to take action and over time bonded with the five children and rallied the community to a huge outpouring of support for the family, and the P.S. I Love You Foundation was established in 1998 with the vision to empower and inspire at-risk youth in Los Angeles. Their mission is to develop strong emotional, physical and social well-being skills early in children’s lives in order to reduce and possibly prevent these children from turning to drugs, violence or gangs. The P.S. I Love You Foundation currently reaches over 700 at-risk youth a year through enrichment programs such as “Day at the Beach” that brings in over 250 community volunteers every summer and “Hug a Community” that allows corporations to give back to their local communities. In addition to overseeing the foundation, Patricia is also a full-time realtor, wife, and the loving mother of two.


Samira Asemanfar Woman of Entrepreneurship
Samira Asemanfar is the founder of Bellacures nail salon. Upon graduation from USC’s Marshall School of Business she joined KPMG, LLP as an internal auditor. Ten months later, frustrated with the lifestyle of a corporate career, she decided it was time for change, and she set out to open the first branded, high-end nail salon in Los Angeles focused on style, a spa-atmosphere and cleanliness. Bellacures opened its doors in February 2006 and since then has received numerous accolades such as “Best of LA” by Los Angeles Magazine in 2006 as well as Fox 11’s 2007 HotList Winner. In 2009, Samira was also awarded Small Business Administration’s “Young Entrepreneur of the Year” Award for Los Angeles, and today, Bellacures has opened locations in Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Santa Monica, Larchmont Village, Studio City, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach. Outside of her business Samira is heavily involved in the community through organizations such as the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Step Up Women’s Network, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles.