Thursday, January 12, 2017
PERSONS OF THE YEAR 2016:
A Man Defined by Work, Family and Public Service
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
lan Skobin likes to go fishing.
After decades raising a family in the San Fernando Valley, serving as vice president and general counsel of one of the world’s largest automobile sales and service businesses, and serving the public as a reserve deputy sheriff and member of city, county, and state boards and commissions, he is willing to acknowledge that he needs to relax. But he hasn’t exactly sailed off into the sunset.
He remains vice president and general counsel of Galpin Motors, Inc., his employer for almost 40 years. And while he is not currently sitting on any governmental bodies, he continues to “try to help people, anyway I can.” Among a number of civic activities, the four-time cancer survivor and his family are active with Padres Contra El Cancer, a nonprofit organization that helps children with cancer and their families.
Skobin, who recently turned 65, was born in Burbank. His father was an aerospace engineer at Lockheed and his mother was an administrator at a medical office.
He grew up in the San Fernando Valley, attending Birmingham High School and California State University, Northridge, while gaining a Jewish education at a small synagogue in Studio City. He became interested early, he explains, in two fields that have defined him to this day: business and law enforcement.
“I was always very entrepreneurial,” he comments.
As a youngster, he sold newspapers and stationery, washed cars, and worked at other jobs, not only because “finances were always difficult” for his family, but because he “always had the desire to be self-sufficient and to produce.”
He was active in Junior Achievement, learning how businesses operated. And at age 15, he relates, he took a friend’s suggestion and joined a law enforcement Explorer post at the Los Angeles Police Department.
“It was interesting,” he says. “I liked the camaraderie, the responsibility.”
He later took an interest in journalism, which he combined with his interest in policing, persuading the editor of the Valley News—predecessor of the Los Angeles Daily News—to allow him to write a weekly column called Exploring Law Enforcement. He also wrote a business-oriented column for the CSUN newspaper, called Money Matters.
Joins Law Enforcement
When he turned 21, he became a reserve officer at the San Fernando Police Department. He spent eight years there, then became a reserve deputy sheriff for Los Angeles County, which he still is—36 years later.
Many longtime friends, he said, are fulltime officers he met on the job. “I got the best of both worlds,” he says, by serving as a reserve officer while also working in business and law.
He’s worked all sorts of different police assignments, he notes, from patrol to investigation to the gang unit. And “the singular best thing that’s happened to me in my life” occurred at the San Fernando department, when he met the woman he has been married to for the past 39 years.
Pre-orthodontics photo of Alan Skobin during his Little League days.
Romi Skobin—”she’d shoot me if I gave you her legal name,” her husband says—worked for the department for 36 years, retiring as its highest-ranking civilian employee. She’s a native of Cuba whose family came to the United States as refugees when she was 16 years old.
They have two children and three young grandchildren.
Son Jeff Skobin is also an executive at Galpin, while daughter Jennifer Stempel is a television development executive who also works for a Jewish educational nonprofit organization. She also combines the culinary aspects of her parents’ diverse heritages through posts to her website, thecubanreuben.com.
Alan Skobin joined Galpin Motors in marketing and advertising in 1977, right around the time he graduated from CSUN. And a few years later, he entered law school. He had been considering it, he notes, ever since he took a constitutional law class at CSUN.
He recounts that he had delayed taking the course as long as he could. He had heard that it was “a terrorizing experience,” but as he delved into the cases, he said, it turned out to be “the most enjoyable, most rewarding class I took there.”
Law School Student
By the time he got to what was then the University of LaVerne School of Law, San Fernando Valley campus, he was working 50 hours a week and raising his young family, in addition to tending to his police duties. What enabled him to do it, he says, besides the support of his wife, was the fact that the school was right down the street from Galpin’s Panorama City complex and he could go to class at night.
His, and the company’s, plan all along was that he would continue working at Galpin after getting his law degree, he says. “There were not many lawyers who specialized in or had a deep understanding of the automobile business” at the time, he notes.
That has changed, he says. In fact, so many lawyers now work for automobile dealerships, in-house or as a substantial part of their practices, that they have their own professional group, the National Association of Dealer Counsel. Skobin has been an active member, speaking at conferences and writing for the association’s newsletter.
He was admitted to the State Bar in 1988, worked for U.S. District Judge—now Senior Judge—Ronald S.W. Lew for a time as an extern, and became Galpin’s vice president and general counsel in 1989.
As general counsel, he explains, his work involves numerous facets of the law, including contracts, regulation, real estate, and employment law. He also serves on the firm’s executive committee, so he’s involved in overall management of an enterprise that has grown rapidly in the years he’s been working there.
Not only has Galpin Ford been recognized by Ford Motor Company as its No. 1 volume retail dealer in the world 25 years in a row, the organization now sells nine other brands and includes related businesses, including a customizing shop.
Skobin works with the company’s outside counsel on both transactional and litigation matters. “Having knowledge of the underlying business is extremely important” when it comes to representing dealers, he says.
Working at Galpin was also an entrée into the world of civic and government affairs. The company has long supported public and charitable endeavors, and its owner/chairman for almost five decades, Herbert “Bert” Boeckmann II, served 12 years on the City of Los Angeles Police Commission.
Skobin is a Republican. “It was my form of rebellion as a kid,” since he came from a family of staunch Democrats, he explains.
But he doesn’t regard himself as particularly partisan.
“I have always been about policy and good government more than politics,” he says. “Service to others is one of the most important things one can do. It’s part of who I am.”
His daughter attested to that in a Father’s Day tribute highlighting his battles with cancer, which she wrote for the website Jewishlearning.org two years ago. She called him “a professional friend collector,” citing among other things the time he brought an uninvited guest to dinner with a longtime friend, who also happens to be her father-in-law and a steadfast Chicago Cubs fan.
The guest was “Mr. Cub,” baseball Hall of Famer Ernie Banks.
Skobin proudly notes that most of the government appointments he’s obtained came from members of the opposite party. Mayor James Hahn named him to the Board of Transportation Commissioners in 2002 and the Police Commission the following year, while Hahn’s successor, Antonio Villaragoisa, appointed him to the Fire Commission in 2012.
He left the Fire Commission in a shakeup by current Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2013, but was named a special adviser to the mayor on the improvement of Fire Department response times, a particular area of concern when he was a commissioner. Hahn, Villaragoisa and Garcetti are all Democrats.
The Skobin family gathered at a recent LAPD support group celebration where Alan Skobin was honored for his lifetime of community service. Pictured with Alan and his wife Romi Skobin are, (from left to right) son Jeff Skobin and his wife Jessica, daughter Jennifer with her husband Kenneth Stempel.
Skobin also served 12 years on the state’s New Motor Vehicle Board, which provides regulation and dispute resolution within the industry. He served for a time as president of the board, to which he was appointed by three successive governors—Republican Pete Wilson, Democrat Gray Davis, and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.
He was a member of the county’s Institutional Inspection Commission, and served as co-chair of Jim McDonnell’s successful sheriff campaign.
The two worked closely together when Skobin was a police commissioner and McDonnell an assistant police chief, Skobin, who was appointed by McDonnell to oversee the department’s 650-member reserve deputy program, comments.
Of all of the public assignments he has taken on, he speaks most passionately of his nine years on the Police Commission, of which he was vice president.
“It was an amazing honor…,” he says. “I’m proud of the many things we were able to accomplish.”
Private Industry Approach
His major contribution, he opines, was to bring a business-oriented approach to decision-making.
The example he gives was the decision to replace out-of-date police radios, an idea he says he took up after an LAPD sergeant told him it was a serious safety issue. He was convinced, he says, “that it was just as important to have a working radio as a working gun.”
But the initial response to his raising the topic, he recounts, was that the department had repeatedly included the purchase of replacement radios in its budget requests, but the response from City Hall had always been negative.
The solution, Skobin says, was to lease the radios instead of buying them. Since the lease payments were clearly affordable, he relates, there was only one stumbling block: the down payment.
The answer to that, he says, came easily: “Just sell the old radios.” There were other police departments around the world that were happy to buy them, he says, with sales in the millions of dollars.
Alan Skobin and his wife Romi Skobin, at the International Banana Museum.
“[Then-Chief] Bill Bratton called it ‘revolutionary,’” he recalls. “I was embarrassed. That was something we do in the business world every day.”
His philosophy as a commissioner, he says, was to be as supportive of the officers as he could be, without sacrificing his independence or judgment.
“I loved the department and the people, but I always tried to understand that the role is to be a leader, not a cheerleader,” he says. “I didn’t put my finger up to see how the political wind was blowing. Bert [Boeckmann] always told me there are times when you compromise…and there are also times when you can’t compromise.”
Near the end of his Police Commission service—he was well into his second five-year term, and the City Charter limits commissioners to two full terms, plus up to two years of an unexpired term—he was asked to serve on the Fire Commission, after the fudging of the department’s response-time data became a full-fledged scandal.
As much as he loved being a police commissioner, he says, he made the right decision to leave when he did, although he could have stayed another year and then been appointed to a partial term of up to two additional years.
“Commissions are positions of public trust that belong to the public, not to the commissioner,” he says in explaining his thought process. “It’s not healthy to have people stay too long. Move in, make a difference, step aside and let someone else make a difference.”
He cites a comment he heard from Edward M. Davis, a onetime police chief who later served in the state Senate and is now deceased. A police chief who stays in office too long, he recalls Davis saying, will “become the curator of your own museum.”
That’s also “true for pretty much any commission,” Skobin says.
Now that he’s no longer serving on any official body, he says, he’s spending more time with his wife, children, and grandchildren. And fishing.
Skobin recalls that he took up the sport after a friend took him along on a trip.
Enthralled with “the beauty and the water and the sky and the mountains,” he says, he joined a fishing club. And now, if things become overly stressful at work, “I’m taking off and going fishing,” he says.
He is quick to add, however, that he has no intention of retiring.
“I don’t plan to stop working,” he discloses.” I plan to work fewer days.”
With the “100 percent support” of Bert Boeckmann, whom he describes as a dear friend as well as his boss and mentor, he’s been able to delegate much of his workload to others, “so I don’t have to mind the day-to-day car business.”
His view of the future:
“I can’t work the hours I used to, but I’ll probably always work hard.”
Alan Skobin is an inspirational leader in the legal and greater community. He personifies justice, equality, inclusion, and hope. He is a highly respected and accomplished lawyer with a reputation for excellence, integrity, unerring judgment and always giving back to the community. He is a mentor and friend to countless young people and organizations. He lifts up people in the Southern California community every day, bettering the lives of others. If ever there was a model of the ideal lawyer and involved community member, the result would depict the qualities that he embodies and he is wholly deserving of this Person of the Year recognition.
Amidst busy full-time job as Vice President & General Counsel, Alan finds time to devote time and energy to community organizations, but hundreds of hours to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department where he holds the rank of Chief in the Reserve Corp. It has often been said that Actions Speak Louder than words. In the case of Alan Skobin, his actions in support of the law enforcement and non-profit community can be heard from the proverbial mountaintop, and they speak volumes about his devotion to our community. Please allow me to share one example.
In 2011, more than 750 people gathered for the first ever ceremony to present the LAPD Purple Heart Award to officers who have been shot or otherwise seriously injured and the families of officers who were killed in the line of duty. Without the actions of Alan Skobin, there would be no Purple Heart Award or Ceremony to recognize the sacrifice of these individuals.
It started during one of many occasions when Alan quietly takes small groups of officers to dinner, during which he thanks them for their service and asks what he can do to do a better job as a Police Commissioner. By the way, the officers he does this with typically are not captains, commanders or chiefs. They are rank and file street cops. On one such occasion, two of the officers had been shot – taking five rounds. They described to Alan how well the Department took great care of them physically but described the emptiness they felt upon returning to work, especially having bled on the streets of Los Angeles and in some cases, having thought that they would never be going home to their families. Alan promised to help fix that and set about to formalize the creation of a Purple Heart Award for LAPD.
One would have thought that this project would be a no-brainer, but it was not. While researching it, Alan learned that a similar award had been proposed at least three times, only to be rejected each time with such reasons as the Department seeing no purpose in giving an award for being injured, a concern that such an award would have a negative effect on morale, and a fear that the administrative burden would be too great. Go figure!
To put it mildly, Alan was disappointed and offended in the responses to the prior attempts. He set about to plan and implement what one could only call one of the most effective tactical operations in modern times. It even included an intelligence component so he could be alerted whenever anyone tried to thwart the Purple Heart efforts. The result speaks for itself. But what is also telling about Alan’s actions is that after the Purple Heart was finally approved, he went to the roll call of each of the officers who had been involved in the attempts to create the Purple Heart in recent years, and recognized them in front of their peers for their dedication to their fellow officers and the families of fallen officers.
And when you ask Alan about the Purple Heart Award, he will tell you that what means the most to him is seeing the faces of the injured officers when we finally recognize them appropriately, and the families of our fallen officers, when we again remind them that we meant it when we told them that we will always remember their sacrifice and that of their loved one, no matter how many years may have passed.
Alan Skobin uses his time, talent and dedication for the benefit of our everyone. When he was a Los Angeles Police Commissioner, he was frequently referred to as a “voice of reason and balance” on the Police Commission. He undertakes every action with integrity, objectivity, and character. He has no hidden agendas, and everyone knows that.
Whether it be Alan’s devotion to his family, the community, his friends, his work, or anything else that he holds dear, all of us are fortunate that Alan Skobin lives a life of service and sacrifice before self. Never has an individual so distinguished himself in a manner that will have such a positive impact on so many people. I applaud Alan for his leadership and proud to call him a great man, but a good friend.
ERIC W. ROSE
Partner, Englander Knabe & Allen
(strategic communications firm)
Alan is one tough guy. He fights cancer and does so with grit and grace.
As a longtime member of the Los Angeles Police Commission, he demanded integrity from command staff and officers alike. He also expected them to act with courage and fearless dedication to duty. Others may talk of the profession of policing. They may hold official positions and even hold themselves out as big time poo-bahs on how to protect the innocent. But as an L.A.P.D. leader and as a reserve sheriff's deputy, he lived the duties of those who chose to serve as peace officers.
As the general counsel of the Galpin companies, he has been part of a management team that operates a profitable enterprise, employs an extensive work force and obeys the law. My life is spent reading and resolving allegations of misconduct by myriad forms of companies and government agencies. But I have never see litigation involving the Galpin companies. And Alan is part of the leadership team that produces those sound ethical and financial outcomes.
PAUL A. TURNER
Presiding justice, Court of Appeal,
Second District, Div. Five
I have known Alan Skobin for three decades and in several contexts. Alan is a wonderful man, great husband, and father and, of course, the very accomplished General Counsel for the various Galpin companies. Beyond that, Alan is the epitome of a great civic leader and contributor to so many important causes that impact all of Los Angeles County's residents. His accomplishments are legion.
Former Los Angeles County District Attorney
Alan Skobin is an extremely hardworking executive who has worked his way up to the top Legal Management of the number one car dealership in the world. He is very civic oriented based upon his many high-level responsibilities that he has had for the City of Los Angeles. I served with him on the LA County Sheriff's Board for 23 years wherein he was always a leader concerning the endeavors of Sheriff Block and Sheriff Baca. Besides that, he is a good guy to be around.
JOHN L. MORIARITY
Moriarity & Associates
Alan Skobin is that rare individual who makes a significant, lasting, and positive impact in every arena in which he works. I’ve known and worked with Alan for more than a decade, and have seen firsthand the influence he has had on the automotive, legal, regulatory, and political domains. He does this through his tremendous work ethic, fierce intellect, keen industry insight, and uncompromising integrity. I am privileged to call Alan a colleague and friend.
President, Auto Advisory Services, Inc.
· Alan and I met in undergraduate school in the early 1970's becoming fast and lifelong friends. I went on to law school and Alan started working at Galpin doing public affairs work for the Boeckmann family owners of the Galpin Motors family of automobile dealerships and related businesses.
· I am the God-Father to both of his children Jeffery and Jennifer.
· After law school at Southwestern, I joined the FBI and was assigned to Seattle, later returning to LA, Alan went on to La Verne law school. We made an agreement between us to study for the bar exam together after Alan graduated.
· We studied for the bar exam together and fortunately both of us passed. We made a deal with each other that if one of us passed and the other did not, the one that passed would spend the same amount of time as a study partner for the other as if he had not passed. Fortunately we both passed. Alan then clerked as an unpaid extern of United States District Court Judge and good friend Ronald S. W. Lew
· I was a member of the LA County Institutional Inspection Commission (often referred to as the Sybil Brand Commission) in the mid-late 70's joined the FBI, was sent to Seattle and Alan succeeded me on that commission.
· After I retired from the FBI as the Acting Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the White Collar Crime Division of the LA FBI Office, Alan and I worked together at Galpin for over five years. Alan was the VP and General Counsel and I served as Legal Counsel it was a great learning experience for both of us.
· I know of few people who are as dedicated to excellence and giving as Alan is. He as been a dedicated attorney, business person, community leader, LAPD Commissioner, and the "Go To" guy whenever anyone needs a helping hand.
· Alan is very competent, a tough hard driving businessman, solid attorney, honest and ethical. Alan does what he believes in his heart is the right decision for the right reasons, and over the years that steadfast commitment to doing the right thing for the right reasons has had a price tag attached to it.
I sponsored Alan into the Masonic fraternity and coached him through the degrees ultimately to Master Mason, Scottish Rite Mason and member of Al Malaikah Shrine.
· Alan recently became a founding member of the Chancellors of the City of Hope, an affinity support group of judges, lawyers, executive level law enforcement leaders and key business executives who support basic science cancer research at the City of Hope.
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