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Dear readers:

Last May, the Business Journal asked readers to tell us who they thought were the Most Influential Leaders in the North Bay.

You responded, and here are the first of more than 40 people you wrote to tell us about.

Responding to questions from the Business Journal, 11 leaders offer sage advice and insight on business today in the pages that follow.

But we are not stopping here.

In addition to those in this inaugural section, you told us about many other men and women leaders we plan to feature in future issues.

We think you will be struck, as we were, by the depth and genuineness of these most influential business leaders.

Just as important, we want to keep this process open to new leaders, and we invite you to use our online form at www.northbaybusinessjournal.com to tell us about them.

Thank you to all of you who participated in this project. Because of you, we can now all benefit from the knowledge and experience of these outstanding individuals as we navigate these turbulent times.

Brad Bollinger, Editor in chief

Profiles are presented in alphabetical order.

James "Jim" A. AndersenTitle: Founding partner of Andersen & Company LLP, now partner in the consulting business valuation and litigation practice area of Burr Pilger Mayer in Santa Rosa

Company: Burr Pilger Mayer

Company address: 110 Stony Point Road Ste. 210, Santa Rosa 95401

Phone: 707-524-6530

Website: www.bpmllp.com

Staff: 38 in the North Bay; 408 companywide

Residence: Santa Rosa

Professional background: Jim was the founding partner of Andersen & Company LLP. Over the last 20 years, he has been involved in more than 700 business valuation and litigation assignments.

Education: M.B.A. Taxation, Golden Gate University; B.S. Accounting, CSU Chico; Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV); Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF); Accredited Senior Appraiser (ASA)

Age: 60

What do you see as the essential role of a leader in the current environment? Staying positive, focusing on the opportunities (clients/employees are really relying on your expertise to guide them through), wisdom from having been through tough times ('70s, early '80s and early '90s).

What are the biggest changes you've seen in your industry? Specialization/consulting, etc. Consolidation of firms, etc.

What advice would you give to young emerging leaders? Specialize, continue with your education - life-long learning - get involved in your industry/community, become a great marketer. Client service is No. 1.

What's the best advice for weathering today's economic environment? You need to stay "lean and mean"-minimize or eliminate debt.

How do you think your business will change in the next five years? People with high-end consulting skills and specializations will be at a premium. Tax and assurance services will be even more of a commodity than they are today.

What is a decision you wish you hadn't made? What did you learn from it? In the early '80s I leveraged real estate in a down economy - guess what? I have no leverage today and am surviving this recession well.

What is your most memorable business experience? Having the courage at 26 years of age to start an accounting partnership with Clem Carinalli in 1975 - the smartest move I ever made.

What is your greatest business success? Best Places to Work three years in a row at Andersen & Company LLP and being named as having the best accounting firm in the North Bay in 2009.

What was your toughest business decision? To merge my accounting practice, which bears my name, into something larger that provides better opportunities for growth for my employees.

What would your friends be surprised to find out about you? People who don't know me very well don't realize how sentimental and emotional I am.

First job: Picked prunes

Most admired businessperson outside the company: A tie - Bill Friedman and Jim Keegan - my two dear friends from kindergarten at Proctor Terrace - two of the most grounded, gracious and giving people I have ever known.

Current reading: "How the Mighty Fall" by Jim Collins, a very sobering experience for all of us.

Most want to meet: Willie Mays

Stress relievers: Exercise, more exercise - and then a "frosty Stella!"

Favorite activities outside work: I love anything that deals with sports and exercise. Having four children I have been active coaching youth sports for over 23 years. On a personal level, I love physical fitness and golf and spending time with my four grandkids.

Dante BenedettiTitle: Chair of the Board

Company: Clover-Stornetta Farms

Company address: PO Box 750369, Petaluma 94975

Phone: 707-778-8448

Website: www.cloverstornetta.com

Staff: 200

Residence: Petaluma

Professional background: 1969-1971, many jobs at Petaluma creamery; 1972-1977, owner distribution business; 1977-present, part owner Clover-Stornetta Farms

Education: Sonoma State University; SRJC; 1-12, St. Vincent's, Petaluma

Age: 60

What do you see as the essential role of a leader in the current environment? To be intuitive and adaptive in order to understand the marketplace to fit the strengths and limitations of your company.

What are the biggest changes you've seen in your industry? Compression. M&As. A system that seems to reward power and size more than hard work, family traditions and the well-being of the individual. On a more positive note, better food is becoming more abundant.

What advice would you give to young emerging leaders? Listen to your consumer. Don't presume to know more than they do. Surround yourself with good strong intelligent people.

What's the best advice for weathering today's economic environment? See No. 3. In addition, knowing we're all in this together to gather strength from your business partners and your consumers. We all need each other more than we may realize. This lesson won't be lost when times improve.

How do you think your business will change in the next five years? My guess would be that more government regulation in an attempt to protect us from ourselves is inevitable. It will be imperative for all of us to understand that our local dairy ranchers need to be compensated such that they can continue their family traditions and earnings in keeping with what nutritious local food should be worth.

What is a decision you wish you hadn't made? What did you learn from it? Not finishing school with a business degree. Some things I've never learned. Other things I've learned the hard way.

What is your most memorable business experience? Being one of seven owners for over 30 years. Clover is so much more than the Benedettis. The memorable experiences never end. Make no mistake my partners and employees make Clover Stornetta Farms the leading edge company we are.

What is your greatest business success? Being able to help develop our organic program and the North Coast Excellence program.

What was your toughest business decision? Knowing when it was time to turn it over to people who were better able.

What would your friends be surprised to find out about you? That I enjoy working in the woods and hard manual labor almost as much as hunting and fishing.

First job: Chopping kindling for our house ... no pay. My first paying job was cleaning equipment at Lace House Laundry for my uncle Red Libarle and cousin Dan.

Most admired businessperson outside the company: Henry Trione. Dad. Gary Imm, ex-CEO of Clover Stornetta Farms.

Current reading: "Liberal Fascism" by Jonah Goldberg

Most want to meet: My namesake, Dante Benedetti USMC, KIA, Guadalcanal, 1942; also Winston Churchill

Stress relievers: Anne

Favorite activities outside work: Hunting, fishing and family

Russell A. ColomboTitle: President and CEO

Company: Bank of Marin

Company address: 504 Redwood Blvd., Novato 94947

Phone: 415-763-4521

Website: www.bankofmarin.com

Staff: 215

Residence: San Rafael

Professional background: 34 years banking experience, including with Comerica Bank and Union Bank of California

Education: M.B.A. Banking and finance, Golden Gate University; B.S. Agricultural economics and business management, U.C. Davis

Age: 57

What do you see as the essential role of a leader in the current environment? To stay closely connected to customers and employees; to listen to and understand their concerns during a challenging time. Only by being in touch can leaders know what's really on people's minds and how we can be of help.

What are the biggest changes you've seen in your industry? With new technology and continued product innovation, the banking industry has changed dramatically over the years. What hasn't changed is the need to stay focused on the fundamentals of good solid banking, including making sound credit decisions and maintaining strong customer relationships.

What advice would you give to young emerging leaders? Try to keep things simple. While it's healthy to encourage innovation, there is no substitute for just executing well on the fundamentals.

What's the best advice for weathering today's economic environment? Find ways to build and deepen relationships with your customers, your employees and suppliers. The companies that survive this environment are the ones that have nurtured those relationships in good times and in bad.

How do you think your business will change in the next five years? Small businesses are really the engine that drives the success of this country. If our economic crisis has taught us anything, I hope it's that business growth and employment opportunities start at the local level.

What is a decision you wish you hadn't made? What did you learn from it? I have made many mistakes in my banking career. However, it isn't the mistakes that are the issue, it is what you do to correct them. I like to think I am flexible and can adjust my approach to correct mistakes and also to adjust to an ever-changing market.

What is your most memorable business experience? Becoming president and CEO of Bank of Marin. Every day this organization is able to make a positive impact on the lives and businesses of our customers and the communities we serve. That is something I am very proud of.

What is your greatest business success? Hopefully that still lies ahead as the bank continues to be successful and make a meaningful contribution to our local communities.

What was your toughest business decision? The decision to take TARP funding was a big challenge for our board and for me personally. Although the decision was difficult to make, we managed through it very well as an organization and are better for having had that experience.

What would your friends be surprised to find out about you? My second choice for a career would be as a sports announcer.

First job: Newspaper delivery boy for Independent Journal while in grammar school

Most admired businessperson outside the company: George Zimmer, president and CEO of the Men's Wearhouse. George showed me that if you take care of employees, they will take care of customers, and the shareholders will do very well.

Current reading: "Think Big, Act Small" by Jason Jennings. This book is all about companies that have grown but still keep the entrepreneurial spirit alive.

Most want to meet: A. P. Giannini, founder of Bank of America. He was the true community banker.

Stress relievers: Cycling, running, swimming

Favorite activities outside work: Spending time with my family at our cabin on the Russian River, golf, triathlon training

Reflections on leadership: Leadership is really about doing what is right and staying true to your ethics. Good leaders analyze the impact of their decisions, then act decisively. Leadership is a skill that is developed over time by watching, learning and listening. I have been fortunate to work for and observe many leaders over my career. I try to take the best from all of them and always be true to my convictions and ethics. Hopefully, I can positively impact the people that I interact with every day.

David I. FreedTitle: Chairman

Company: Silverado Group

Company address: 855 Bordeaux Way, Napa 94558

Phone: 707-253-1776

Website: www.wineindustryfinancialsymposium.com

Staff: 15

Residence: Napa

Professional background: Practicing attorney in San Francisco, 1967-1992

Education: J.D., U.C. Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law; B.A., U.C. Berkeley

Age: over 65

What do you see as the essential role of a leader in the current environment? The keyword is perspective - in having weathered earlier cycles and in maintaining some stability in dealing with the current economic issues.

What are the biggest changes you've seen in your industry? We have been investing in vineyards since 1982, and we began the Wine Industry Financial Symposium in 1992. The degree of professionalism, of basic business knowledge - both from a winery perspective and a grape growing perspective - has been like a revolution. We're a young industry. A lot of us were new to the industry and a lot of people had to wear many hats. In terms of business tools, the role of forecasting, budgeting, cash flow modeling - I'm old enough to remember before the PC - it's amazing to watch how much acumen people have today. I also think our relationships with our bankers are better now and have withstood some of the stress today because of that learning process. I'm proud of the role of the financial symposium in facilitating that communication.

What advice would you give to young emerging leaders? Unique to the wine business, a lot of us have come to the industry from elsewhere, from other worlds. The degree of cooperation has been very attractive to me. Even in a competitive environment, people are willing to give of themselves and help others, with older people helping younger. There's a richness and resource there. I would advise to avail yourself of some of the people that have gone down the trail before you, take advantage of that resource. This is not just unique to the wine component. The North Bay exemplifies that. I would say be open to listen and not be discouraged from asking for help or advice.

What's the best advice for weathering today's economic environment? What we've learned is going back to the basics - controlling costs, being conservative. Don't put it off. If you need to make changes, don't procrastinate, make the tough choices. Communicate with people in your company, try to be as open as you can. And I always get back to the banker. Bad news doesn't get better. Tell the banker. They've made an investment in your company, and you want the banker on your team, to go to bat for you. If you have a problem, share it sooner rather than later.

How do you think your business will change in the next five years? It's going to continue to consolidate. We have winery consolidation, vineyard companies growing, wholesalers and distributors shrinking on a nationwide basis, so we're approaching distributors that can handle nationwide distribution. Retailers, like Safeway and Lucky, are also shrinking, and a lot of the business has shifted to Costco and Sam's Club-type warehouse locations. That's a continuum going on seemingly forever, and it seems to continue. We need to deal with labor, more mechanization, be on top of water as a scarce resource, continue to be more sustainable, use less chemicals.

What is a decision you wish you hadn't made? What did you learn from it? I wish we had bought more Napa and Sonoma County vineyards earlier. Knowing what we know now of what's happened to vineyard values in the last 25 years, I wish we were more aggressive.

What is your most memorable business experience? In December 1995 four of us who called ourselves the Silverado Partners were able to participate in acquiring Beringer Vineyards from Nestle Corp.

What is your greatest business success? Participating in the founding development of the Silverado Group of Companies with extensive vineyard holdings in the California coastal regions. Second greatest would be helping to found and direct the Wine Industry Financial Symposium.

What was your toughest business decision? Deciding to launch Silverado Premium Properties in November 1997. It was venturing into a much larger scale vineyard investment acquisition strategy.

What would your friends be surprised to find out about you? I have five wonderful grandchildren, two kids and 46 years of marriage. I married my college sweetheart at U.C. Berkeley while we were in school.

First job: As an associate at a small San Francisco law firm

Most admired businessperson outside the company: Robert Mondavi

Current reading: "Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy" by Isadore Sharp

Most want to meet: Barack Obama

Stress relievers: Good food and fine wine

Favorite activities outside work: Ardent photographer and cook, traveling

How do you give back to the community? I'm on the board of the Community Foundation Napa Valley as vice chairman and on the board of Auction Napa Valley as treasurer. The North Bay, Napa and Sonoma and the wine industry have been good to me and my family and part of that is in our giving back to the community. We've found the nonprofit world in conjunction with the wine world has really been inspiring. The amount of giving at every level is extraordinary.

James B. Keegan Jr.Title: Co-owner

Company: Keegan & Coppin Inc.

Company address: 1355 N. Dutton Ave., Santa Rosa 95401

Phone: 707-528-1400

Website: www.keegancoppin.com

Staff: 83

Residence: Santa Rosa

Professional background: Real estate, banking

Education: B.S. Finance, Sacramento State University

Age: 61

What do you see as the essential role of a leader in the current environment? Have confidence in yourself and your people. Communicate a consistent positive message and keep people focused on what can be accomplished.

What are the biggest changes you've seen in your industry? Dealing with declining prices and lease rates and a very restricted debt market.

What advice would you give to young emerging leaders? Know where your business is financially, communicate and don't get distracted.

What's the best advice for weathering today's economic environment? Concentrate on your core business and look for opportunities as the market changes. Watch the expenses. Laugh a lot each day.

How do you think your business will change in the next five years? Attrition and consolidation of our industry in the near term, and growth with inflation in the five-year horizon.

What is a decision you wish you hadn't made? What did you learn from it? Investing in a furniture manufacturing business. Don't make a major investment in something you know nothing about.

What is your most memorable business experience? Selling the entire Fountain Grove Ranch in 1978

What is your greatest business success? Marrying my wife, Diane

What would your friends be surprised to find out about you? I am not a tight-wad.

First job: Sonoma Mortgage Corp.

Most admired businessperson outside the company: Henry Trione

Current reading: "Templars in America: From the Crusades to the New World" by Tim Wallace Murphy and Marilyn Hopkins

Stress relievers: Fishing and playing guitar

Favorite activities outside work: Fishing, spending time with family

Brian KellyTitle: President and CEO

Company: Charter Oak Bank

Company address: 600 Trancas St., Napa 94558

Phone: 707-265-2001

Website: www.charteroakbank

Staff: 35

Residence: Napa

Professional background: 40 years of banking and community leadership

Education: M.B.A. Finance, U.C. Berkeley; B.S. Management, CSU Hayward

Age: 59

What do you see as the essential role of a leader in the current environment? To listen well and openly to all constituencies, and then lead a team that will execute a plan. Hire great people and let them run with it

What are the biggest changes you've seen in your industry? The effect of the recent economy on the industry and the changes that are and will be made. We are in a new economy, with new rules for consumption, delivery and regulation. Also the speed of automation in banking has never been more rapid. The techno bank is here.

What advice would you give to young emerging leaders? Continual education - both professional and personal - it doesn't end with college or grad school. Build networks to leverage your skills and contribution to the greater community. Be a ferocious reader.

What's the best advice for weathering today's economic environment? Frugality is hip. Help create a new generation to be efficient and effective without excess. Plan and execute that plan - in both your personal and business arenas.

How do you think your business will change in the next five years? More automation, mobile banking in a broad sense, a smaller world in the financial arena.

What is a decision you wish you hadn't made? What did you learn from it? When I act for short-term gain in conflict with long-term goals. Always keep your eye on the long-term prize. Consistent execution delivers great results.

What is your most memorable business experience? The development of Charter Oak Bank and the team that carries it. Building an organization from the ground up that provides value and enhances the quality of life for our team and the community we serve.

What is your greatest business success? The success of Charter Oak Bank.

What was your toughest business decision? It is always tough to separate an employee. Every effort should be to understand and develop to the degree possible. But sometimes it is meant to be otherwise.

What would your friends be surprised to find out about you? I do love to relax. Read, walk, travel - with family. Sometimes without my bow-tie ... really!

First job: Dishwasher at the age of 13 in my father's restaurant

Most admired businessperson outside the company: Ray Sercu, president of Vallerga's Markets - a man that carries a true concern for his team and our community.

Current reading: "Think Big, Act Small" by Jason Jennings

Most want to meet: Successful leaders who keep community at the fore-front

Stress relievers: Grandkids and family

Favorite activities outside work: Reading, walking, traveling

Thomas B. KleinTitle: Proprietor

Company: Rodney Strong Wine Estates

Company address: 11455 Old Redwood Highway, Healdsburg 95448

Phone: 707-433-6511

Website: www.rodneystrong.com

Staff: 143

Residence: San Francisco and Alexander Valley

Professional background: McKinsey & Company, San Francisco, management consulting, 1979-1983; Klein Bros. Int'l Inc., agricultural products, export and import

Education: M.B.A, Stanford; B.A. Stanford

Age: 57

What do you see as the essential role of a leader in the current environment? Having a realistic vision and a clear view on how to get there.

What are the biggest changes you've seen in your industry? Consumers need to trade down and save money on everything they purchase.

What advice would you give to young emerging leaders? Double and triple check your ideas and plans with trusted advisers or experienced executives that you can contact or reach.

What's the best advice for weathering today's economic environment? Work with equity not debt financing.

How do you think your business will change in the next five years? It will gradually improve as economic conditions improve but may never return to what we all considered "normal" these past 10 years.

What is a decision you wish you hadn't made? What did you learn from it? Buying a business or starting a project just because it's cheap or inexpensive. The management time spent on new projects or business ideas is tremendous and very expensive.

What is your most memorable business experience? Negotiating the purchase of Rodney Strong Vineyards from Guinness America on my terms.

What is your greatest business success? The acquisition of Rodney Strong Vineyards.

What was your toughest business decision? The toughest decisions usually come in hiring and firing members of your management team.

What would your friends be surprised to find out about you? I actually have a good palette, which I continue to improve, and truly love the process of making fine wine.

First job: Picking tomatoes in Stockton at 14-years-old

Most admired businessperson outside the company: Warren Buffet

Current reading: Cormac McCarthy

Most want to meet: Our country's founding fathers in Philadelphia, 1776

Stress relievers: Exercise

Favorite activities outside work: Golf, fishing and travel

Gary D. NelsonTitle: Chairman and CEO

Company: Nelson Family of Companies

Company address: PO Box 1546, Sonoma 95476

Phone: 707-935-6113

Website: www.nelsonhr.com

Staff: 285

Residence: Sonoma

Professional background: Founded company in 1970; HR professional, 1960-1970

Education: B.A. in journalism, San Jose State University

Age: 71

What do you see as the essential role of a leader in the current environment? To provide vision, perseverance, confidence, clarity, transparency, hope and stability.

What are the biggest changes you've seen in your industry? Right now, we are seeing the greatest decrease in demand in 20 years, with a significant decline year over year in the staffing industry.

What advice would you give to young emerging leaders? Manage with discipline (self) and adequate capital. Remember your essential role as a leader.

What's the best advice for weathering today's economic environment? Act decisively, quickly and manage your expenses. It's also critical to manage both staff and customer expectations.

How do you think your business will change in the next five years? There will be a tremendous increase in demand for contingent (project) workers.

What is a decision you wish you hadn't made? What did you learn from it? To continue expanding and investing in the face of slowing demand. The experience taught me to act more quickly in response to the marketplace.

What is your most memorable business experience? Working in the Marshall Islands in 1972 for the U.S. government on contract, crafting career paths for the Marshallese residents.

What is your greatest business success? Growing a family-owned business to $300 million in revenue with a $10,000 investment.

What was your toughest business decision? Having to lay off staff, many of them long-time friends.

What would your friends be surprised to find out about you? I am a shy, quiet, private person.

First job: Personnel assistant, State of California Personnel Board

Most admired businessperson outside the company: Bill Walsh, 49ers; Warren Buffet

Current reading: "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson

Most want to meet: UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

Stress relievers: Movies and fiction

Favorite activities outside work: Music, drama, movies, reading, travel

Steve PageTitle: President and general manager

Company: Infineon Raceway

Company address: Highways 37 & 121, Sonoma 95476

Phone: 707-938-8448

Website: www.infineonraceway.com

Staff: 60

Residence: Sonoma

Professional background: 1977-1979, press secretary for U.S. Congressman Leon Panetta; 1981-1991, director of ticket sales, special events, Oakland A's

Education: B.A., U.C. Berkeley

Age: 55

What do you see as the essential role of a leader in the current environment? 1. To achieve success as an organization in a way that sets a positive example for others.  2. To stay engaged in community, both individually and as an organization.

What are the biggest changes you've seen in your industry? Emergence of NASCAR as a mainstream national sport. Dramatic changes in media technology, consumption patterns and ownership.

What advice would you give to young emerging leaders? Recognize that your organization is part of the economic and social fabric of its community. Your long-term prosperity relies on the extent to which your organization's success contributes to the quality of life in that community.

What's the best advice for weathering today's economic environment? Work extra hard to deliver value to your customers.

How do you think your business will change in the next five years? Continued diffusion of consumer entertainment options and methods for communicating with customers.

What is a decision you wish you hadn't made? What did you learn from it? Charging forward in 1997 with a massive facility redevelopment project before doing our homework in the community.  Lessons learned were about communication, compromise and consensus building.

What is your most memorable business experience? Taking the wraps off our newly remodeled and re-named facility in June 2002.

What is your greatest business success? The extraordinary team of people we've assembled to run this business.

What was your toughest business decision? Leaving a great job in a terrific organization to take on what I hoped was a diamond in the rough.

What would your friends be surprised to find out about you? When I open the hood of a car, I have no idea what I'm looking at.

First job: Busboy, Outrigger Restaurant, Monterey

Most admired businessperson outside the company: The late Walter Haas, former chairman of Levis Straus and the Oakland A's

Current reading: "The Last 100 Days" by John Toland, an account of the days leading to the German surrender in World War II

Most want to meet: Alive: Mohammed Ali, Deceased: Mark Twain

Stress relievers: Exercise, reminding myself we live in the best place in the world

Favorite activities outside work: Bicycling, travel, reading, cooking, driving my '87 Porsche

Lawrence SimonsTitle: Chairman

Company: Simons & Woodard Inc.

Company address: 100 Stony Point Road Ste. 180, Santa Rosa 95401

Phone: 707-524-6300

Website: www.simonsandwoodard.com

Staff: 15

Residence: Santa Rosa

Professional background: Architect for 48 years

Education: B.S. Architectural engineering, Cal Poly

Age: 72

What do you see as the essential role of a leader in the current environment? To honestly analyze a problem, ferret out facts and communicate a positive solution to those who have the power to do something about it.

What are the biggest changes you've seen in your industry? The increase in environmental awareness by politicians and the public has sometimes created confusion in planning for the future, often resulting in a lack of direction.

What advice would you give to young emerging leaders? Promote balancing the needs of humans in a practical, economical and thoughtful way.

What's the best advice for weathering today's economic environment? Face reality and make a plan considerate of your circumstances and the future you desire.

How do you think your business will change in the next five years? Our business will be more skeptical and cautious about taking chances on new development because of uncertainty of a return on investment and success in the market.

What is a decision you wish you hadn't made? What did you learn from it? Proposing to build a 15-story, multi-use project in downtown Santa Rosa in 1982. Ambition and optimism, combined with naivete, sometimes results in unintended controversy and financial disaster.

What is your most memorable business experience? Being inducted into the North Coast Builders Exchange Construction Hall of Fame as an architect in 2007.

What is your greatest business success? The completion of my dream of an environment that incorporates features to raise the spirit of working people, which is Stony Point Lake and Business Park.  This took 25 years to complete.

What was your toughest business decision? To stay with my business in Santa Rosa after two years of no significant architectural work.

What would your friends be surprised to find out about you? My past as a less than stellar high school student devoted to hot-rods and motorcycles and considered "a little bit bad."

First job: Newspaper route

Most admired businessperson outside the company: Henry Trione

Current reading: "Liberty and Tyranny" by Mark Levin

Most want to meet: Frank Lloyd Wright, deceased, and Charles Krauthammer, living

Stress relievers: Being with my wife, Jackie

Favorite activities outside work: Horsemanship and photography

Matt WhiteTitle: President and CEO

Company: Basin Street Properties

Company address: 201 First St. Ste. 100, Petaluma 94952

Phone: 707-795-4477

Website: www.basin-street.com

Staff: 50

Residence: Incline Village, Nev.

Professional background: 18 years of real estate with varying roles of responsibility

Education: B.A., Boston University

Age: 40

What do you see as the essential role of a leader in the current environment? Today more than ever we need to lead by example.  Work your ass off, stay positive, fight like hell and never quit.

What are the biggest changes you've seen in your industry? The banks have really created the mess. Now they have stopped lending and without banks, commercial real estate dies a fast death.

What advice would you give to young emerging leaders? Whatever you choose to do you must be passionate about it. Without passion you will never make it through these tough times.

What's the best advice for weathering today's economic environment? Keep your head out of the sand and get in front of any potential problems. Also, communicate, communicate, communicate with customers, banks and investors.

How do you think your business will change in the next five years? We will see great opportunities. You make money on the buy. We will be looking for great buys.

What is a decision you wish you hadn't made? What did you learn from it? I diversified into too many products. It proved very hard to manage. We are now simplifying back to just office and hospitality.

What is your most memorable business experience? The last 18 months. Hardest time of my professional life, but it has been wonderful to see our investors and lenders stick by our sides. It's very inspiring.

What is your greatest business success? The timing of some of our sales transactions including sales to Cisco and Equity Office Properties.

What was your toughest business decision? Moving some of our headquarter functions to Reno. Sonoma County has been home for 35 years, but I felt Reno was better positioned for the next 35 years.

What would your friends be surprised to find out about you? I'm an open book.  My friends know me well.

First job: Laborer

Most admired businessperson outside the company: Other Sonoma County businessmen that have helped Basin Street achieve so much and gave me a chance. John Barella - North Bay Construction; George Vila - Vila Construction; Mike Wright - Wright Contracting; Ajaib Bhadare - Billa Enterprises; Mike Hatfield - Cyan; Carl Russo - Calix

Current reading: Warren Buffett's biography

Most want to meet: Lance Armstrong

Stress relievers: Bike or boat

Favorite activities outside work: Racing road and mountain bikes