Visionary Awards


The Visionary Awards is Southern California’s premier leadership recognition event, honoring outstanding leaders and their work to improve our region.

Mark Dankberg Headshot

Mark Dankberg

Economic Opportunity Award

Economic Opportunity Award
Presented in recognition of visionary leadership in creating economic opportunities in our region that might not otherwise exist absent their efforts.
Mark Dankberg

The co-founder of ViaSat, Dankberg has held the position of chairman of the board and CEO ever since, growing the firm from three to 4,200 team members, with more than 2,100 at its Carlsbad headquarters. He is an acknowledged industry expert in the communications, aerospace and defense sectors, and the leading visionary for a new generation of satellite systems, including ViaSat-2, the highest capacity communications satellite which successfully launched into orbit June 1. Dankberg holds a number of patents in communications and satellite networking technologies; has participated on Department of Defense advisory panels; and has received a number of innovation leadership awards, including the 2016 Director of the Year award by Corporate Directors Forum, induction into the Society of Satellite Professionals International Hall of Fame in 2015 as well as Via Satellite Magazine’s Satellite Executive of the Year.

Joe Panetta Headshot

Joe Panetta

The Ronald Kendrick Memorial Award for Regional Collaboration

The Ronald Kendrick Memorial Award for Regional Collaboration
Named for late banking executive and community leader Ronald Kendrick, presented in recognition of visionary leadership as demonstrated through coalescing diverse communities, focusing on collaborative approaches to shared resources, synergies and problem-solving skills for positive regional outcomes.
Joe Panetta

Joe Panetta

President, CEO and a member of the board of directors of Biocom, Panetta heads California’s largest and most-experienced leader and advocate for the life science industry. Biocom works on behalf of more than 800 members to drive public policy, build a network of industry leaders, create access to capital development, introduce cutting-edge STEM education programs, and create robust value-driven purchasing programs. Panetta leads an experienced professional staff of 42, with offices in San Diego, Los Angeles, Tokyo, and Washington, D.C. Together with a 60-member board of directors, he advances initiatives that help members produce novel solutions that improve the human condition. He is past chairman of the Council of State Bioscience Associations and founding chairman of the State Medical Technology Alliance. Panetta serves on the board of directors of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, and CONNECT.

Anne Ledford Evans Headshot

Anne Ledford Evans

The Neil Morgan Memorial Award for Lifetime Achievement

The Neil Morgan Memorial Award for Lifetime Achievement
Named for the late journalistic icon Neil Morgan, awarded to an individual who has served as a catalyst for positive change, resulting in a better future for our region.
Anne Ledford Evans

Named chairman emeritus of Evans Hotels in 2014, Anne Ledford Evans presided over the company as chairman of the board for 30 years. She and her late husband William D. Evans founded Evans Hotels in 1953, when they took the risk to be the first to build on Mission Bay, opening the 52-room Bahia Hotel. By 1968, the Bahia had evolved into its present size of 312 rooms. The Evans family also opened the Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa on Mission Bay in 1958, which now boasts 310 rooms, and redeveloped The Lodge at Torrey Pines in 2002. Evans Hotels is currently collaborating on a SeaWorld-branded hotel planned for Mission Bay. Evans is a member of the California Tourism Hall of Fame, a former chair of the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau and the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, and served as secretary of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation.

Dr. James Turpin Headshot

Dr. James Turpin

The Charles Nathanson Memorial Award for Cross-Border Region Building

The Charles Nathanson Memorial Award for Cross-Border Region Building
Named for the late Charles Nathanson, a champion of cross-border communication and development, presented in recognition of visionary leadership demonstrated in addressing joint solutions to cross-border issues, further uniting San Diego and Baja California for a common future.
Dr. James Turpin

Dr. James W. Turpin is the founder of Project Concern International (PCI), whose global headquarters is located in San Diego. While a physician in Coronado, Dr. Turpin volunteered at a health clinic in Tijuana, where in 1961 he saved the lives of two small children who were dying of pneumonia. The experience inspired him to found PCI to fight disease and poverty among the world’s most vulnerable people. Dr. Turpin led the organization for almost 15 years, heading its expansion to areas of need in Asia, Africa and the Americas, while always staying active in Tijuana and the border region. Building on Dr. Turpin’s vision to improve the health and well-being of the most vulnerable people in Tijuana, PCI has facilitated health and development programs throughout the region for more than five decades in areas spanning maternal and child health; infectious disease (HIV/AIDS and TB); community and public health; violence prevention; gender equity; and local capacity building, urban upgrading, and resilience. After his official role with PCI ended, Dr. Turpin re-entered private practice in North Carolina. Now retired, Dr. Turpin continues to advocate for PCI; because of his legacy, PCI helps empower more than 19 million people annually to end hunger, enhance health and overcome hardship.

Shara Fisler Headshot

Shara Fisler

LEAD Graduate of the Year

LEAD Graduate of the Year
Awarded to a LEAD San Diego graduate who epitomizes excellence in community leadership.
Shara Fisler, Class of 2003

Shara Fisler is founder and executive director of Ocean Discovery Institute (ODI), a nonprofit organization that uses ocean science to empower young people from underserved urban communities to transform their lives, their community, and our world as scientific and environmental leaders. Through the past 18 years, Fisler’s leadership has enabled ODI to engage more than 65,000 young people in rigorous, ongoing science programming that enables curious youngsters to grow into engineers, environmental consultants, molecular biologists, and other professionals who make a difference. Her dedication to program integrity and business development have allowed the organization to grow into a nationally recognized model. Fisler successfully completed a $17 million capital campaign to build a state-of-the-art, Platinum LEED science facility in City Heights, The Living Lab, scheduled to open September 16 of this year. Recognition of Fisler’s accomplishments include the 2016 CNN Hero Award; the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring; and the California Society for Ecological Restoration President’s Award.

Eric Occhipinti Headshot

Eric Occhipinti

Community Spotlight Award

Announced at the Visionary Awards event, this award recognizes an unsung hero who has made a significant impact on our community through their dedication of time, talent and treasure.
Eric Occhipinti

Creator of March for Mothers, a 5K fun run/walk, Eric Occhipinti ensures that 100 percent of its proceeds go to supply impoverished, single new mothers in urban desert communities with one year’s supply of fresh, organic, made-to-order baby food delivered twice a week, along with educational resources. His work benefits our families in need locally, and his partnerships with the International Rotary Club and The Flying Samaritans give him the ability to assist them with their work across the border. The International Rotary Club provides plastic surgeons to help children born with cleft lips for corrective cosmetic/dental procedures for the rest of their lives. With the money Occhipinti raises, he makes organic baby food and hand delivers it (sometimes 350 miles round trip) to families in Mexico until the child is healthy enough to get their life-changing operation.