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Panasonic Exec Headlines City's Business Luncheon

One of Lake Forest's top-producing companies shares its success story at an invite-only event.

Knowing your customers—and your customers' clients—is key to business success, a Panasonic Avionics executive told an attentive audience Friday at Lake Forest's annual appreciation luncheon for the city's top-performing companies.

Focusing on solutions rather than problems, knowing your customers' needs and running an agile, adaptable business have been essential elements in the success of Panasonic Avionics, said Neil James, an executive director with the company.

The Panasonic subsidiary, which is the second-biggest employer in Lake Forest, designs, manufactures and sells in-flight entertainment to airlines. It is the only Panasonic company headquartered outside of Japan, James said.

He spoke to a packed room midday Friday at City Hall as attendees dined, explaining his company's business model, goals and trajectory.

The variety of companies at the luncheon "just shows the dynamics of the types of businesses in Lake Forest," said Dave Carter, immediate past president of the Lake Forest Chamber of Commerce.

Panasonic Avionics is among a handful of international businesses in town—and the number is growing, Carter said.

Hongfa, one of the world's largest manufacturers of relay switches, moved its North American headquarters to Lake Forest this year.

A first-time attendee said she agreed with James' message of responding to customer needs.

"What really struck me was when he said that it’s not only his clients, but his client’s clients that are important to him," said Gianna Santi, with Lake Forest-based communications technology company smplSolutions. "I couldn’t agree more and firmly believe that customer service is the best way to ensure your business against your competitors."

James was "very engaging," Santi said.

"It is great that the city brings together its businesses to network and learn from other successful local businesses at the appreciation luncheon," Santi added. "It really fosters businesses supporting other local businesses and working together to better the community."

At the 2011 luncheon, the chief executive officer of Alacer—the company that makes Emergen-C—provided the keynote speech.

Before 2011, economists were invited to headline the annual luncheons.

But feedback gathered after each such event through anonymous surveys suggested attendees were most interested in hearing from their peers, prompting a yearly invite to a top-producing Lake Forest company to be featured, said Jessica Gonzales, the city's economic development manager.

After James spoke, Mayor Kathryn McCullough encouraged business representatives to network with one another.

"You're all special to us," McCullough said. "Thanks for being a part of our family."

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