Proven achievers

Cynthia E. Griffin- | 3/12/2009, 5 p.m.

Nine outstanding business women were recently honored for their contributions to business and the community in Los Angeles at the 22nd Annual Leadership and Legacy Awards luncheon given by the Los Angeles Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO).

The awardees were Mimi Song, president and CEO of Superior Grocers, who was given the Leadership Award, which recognizes an exemplary woman entrepreneur who demonstrates her leadership skills by example, is committed to entrepreneurial excellence, and has achieved success well beyond the standards of her industry and the business community.

Song came to the U.S. from South Korea in the late 1970s, and opened her first Superior in 1981 in Covina. Today it is the largest independently owned chain of grocery stores in Southern California with 28 locations.

Song attributes that to the way she conducts business and points to the 1992 civil unrest as proof. Then three of the four Superior locations were in the most badly affected areas. But not one of her stores was damaged, and Song said that was due to her business model: Treating customers as partners and employing those within the community as part of the Superior "family."

The Legacy Award was given to Rene White Fraser, president and CEO of Fraser Communications. The Legacy Award recognizes an individual who has had a significant impact on the well-being of her community, and who has had the foresight and generosity to recognize that her success is best savored when she "pays it forward." This award honors a woman who through her leadership and vision is changing lives today and simultaneously impacting future generations.

Fraser believes there is magic in giving back, and has acted on that belief by contributing $20,000 to the NAWBO-LA Enterprise Institute. This donation helped NAWBO-LA provide women entrepreneurs a place to go to access the resources needed to grow their businesses and effect change.

In addition, Fraser, who heads a $40 million advertising and marketing agency, co-founded the Minority Advertising Training Program, which has graduated 1,500 young people since its inception.

Southern California Edison was named Corporate Partner of the Year, and this honor recognizes a corporate member that has proven its commitment to NAWBO-LA and women business owners through its long-standing commitment to NAWBO-LA and its programs.

The Advocate Award, which recognizes a leader who demonstrates a strong commitment to propelling women into economic, social, and/or political spheres of power, and is dedicated to the creation of a greater society for all, was given to Maria Contreras-Sweet, founder and chairwoman of Promerica Bank.

"How can I become the change agent and begin a generation of empowered women who know how to access and master cash management?" Maria Contreras-Sweet answered her question by founding Promerica Bank, the first Latino-owned and woman-formed banking institution to open in California in more than three decades. The bank focuses on providing access to capital, particularly for women to generate jobs and expand opportunities.

Firsts are not new to Contreras-Sweet, who in 1999 was the first Latina Cabinet Secretary in California, when she ran the state's Business, Transportation, and Housing Agency.