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A view from the top

Lucy Dunn, Orange County Business Council president and CEO, talks about business, women in power and music.

by kimberly PorrazzoPublished: July 01, 2011

Lucy Dunn, one of the most recognizable business leaders in Orange County, is as well known in Sacramento as she is in the cities of Irvine and Anaheim. The former president of the Building Industry Association of Southern California and director of the California Department of Housing took the reins of the Orange County Business Council in 2005 and hasn’t looked back. Dunn, a 45-year resident of O.C. and a graduate of Cal State Fullerton, was appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to serve as director of the California Transportation Commission in 2008.
Dunn is a tireless advocate for Orange County business, and her proposals have included such far-reaching ideas as Southern California seceding from Northern California – and she’s not joking.
As this month’s cover suggests, there’s lots of work still to be done.

OC METRO: What has been the OCBC’s  greatest single accomplishment?
Lucy Dunn: Merging the boards of directors and organizations of three leading O.C. business groups: the Orange County Chamber of Commerce, the Industrial League of OC, and Partnership 2010. Creating one “voice” for the greater Orange County business community was the organization’s first and greatest accomplishment to date. With 17,000 nonprofits in O.C., and the proliferation of new nonprofits with overlapping mission statements, having one go-to place at a county level was a great accomplishment. From that merger, OCBC became the go-to place for business to help the county though its bankruptcy; the organization that contributed to the passage of Measure M, securing outstanding county-wide mobility improvements; the statewide leaders on economic development and jobs creation; and a host of other outstanding success efforts. One focused organization can accomplish great things. Three good organizations with overlapping missions, boards, finances, might not have accomplished as much. Kudos to that first great board of 1995.

OCM: California has many challenges. What do you see as the biggest hurdle the state must overcome?
Dunn: Generally, there is a lack of genuine constructive dialogue and effective leadership on how to move the state forward on many fronts, most notably job creation. With 2 million people out of work, it is appalling that the “what’s in it for me” mentality pervades our leadership, instead of “what’s good for the broader community,” which will help create jobs. Is the art of the deal among elected officials lost forever in California?

OCM: Female representation at the highest levels of corporate America is abysmal. While the political landscape now includes increasing numbers of women, what about those in roles such as yours? Are women fairly represented?
Dunn: As of 2011, there are only 12 women CEOs in the Fortune 500. Yet, 61 percent of college graduates are women, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the local level, we have strong hope for the future. For example, OCBC’s 2012 chair-elect, Julie Miller-Phipps, senior vice president and executive director of Kaiser Permanente in Orange County, is responsible for an annual operating budget of $700 million, several hospital campuses and the growth of the insurer’s coverage in Southern California. She will be the voice of Orange County’s business community next year. Linda Martin, president of Porter-Novelli, was OCBC’s chair last year. There are 12 high-powered women on the OCBC board of directors of 50, the highest since the founding of the organization and a good indicator of progress in this area.

OCM: You are well known for “singing” loudly from the political platform, but those close to you know that you also sing loudly from the choir platform. When did you realize you had a gift, and how has singing enriched your life?
Dunn: I started singing with a church choir when I was 32, started doing solo work when I was 40 and took my first voice lesson at 45! I know I’m just terrible at golf, and this is a great way to use the creative side of my brain. I have traveled the world with some fantastic singers from all walks of life and have sung on stage, from Carnegie Hall to the Vatican to the Sydney Opera House to the Segerstrom Performing Arts Center. My life has been immeasurably enriched by sharing the universal language of music to the people I meet. Music touches the hearts of folks in so many profound ways – from the comfort of a song at a funeral to the humor of a song at a political event to the magnificent genius of a Bach choral masterwork. As Aldous Huxley said, “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”

OCM: You’ve been nudged often about considering a run for governor. What’s next for Lucy Dunn?
Dunn (laughing): Run for governor? Well, if I can’t be queen of time, being and space, then forget it. Maybe a reality show featuring me and my three dogs. I’ll call it “Pug-nation.” Seriously, I’m in the best position ever: cutting-edge issues, terrific board and leadership, top-achieving staff in the best county in California. Every day is a new adventure. I love it right here.