Will O’Neill, former Mayor Newport Beach

William O'Neill, Newport Beach

I’d never given much thought about local elected officials and how their work impacts my life until covid hit. Living in California, I learned quickly that those we voted into office were making impossibly tough decisions that directly impacted my life and that of my family’s. That’s when Will O’Neill, a partner at a local law firm and our city’s 2020 mayor, rose to the occasion and put his constituents first, leading our city’s 85k residents and 700 employees through murky and uncharted waters. 

As we reach the upper levels of management, it’s easy to wrap our identities in our careers. The long hours, the hard work, the accolades…it can all easily lead to believing that’s all you are. But time and again, my guests share the same story…there’s so much more to life than work.

Will shares that in this digital age, it’s easy to forget how simple gestures go a long way to form positive and long-lasting impressions.

So…minding your Ps and Qs matters and it’s what he seeks in potential job candidates.

I’ve never met Will O’Neill in person, but I’m so glad some listeners encouraged me to invite him as a guest on MENTOR dna. He and his colleagues on the Newport Beach city council work hard to set our policies and ensure that our laid-back beach town remains safe, special and well-managed on so many levels.   

About Will O'Neill

Will O’Neill is a Stanford-educated attorney and small businessman who has served the City for five years on the Newport Beach Finance Committee (currently Chair).  A California native, he received his BA from Stanford University where he lettered on the track and field team.  He then received his JD from U.C. Hastings College of the Law, where he was President of his class and later President of the U.C. Hastings Board of Governors (alumni association).

Will is a Partner at Ross, Wolcott, Teinert & Prout LLP, previously working at the California Supreme Court for Associate Justice Marvin Baxter (Ret.). He is also a member of the Newport Harbor Exchange Club, Director of the Transportation Corridor Agency (San Joaquin Hills), Board Member of the Association of Business Trial Lawyers, past Trustee of the Celtic Bar Association, and an active member of Mariners Church.

In 2020, Will became the youngest person to be Mayor of Newport Beach.  He renewed the Council’s focus on family-friendly community features like parks, libraries, and increased school safety.  He has also been proud to serve alongside our families with special needs by ensuring access to first-ever classes offered through our Newport Navigator and by helping the installation of an ADA swing at Coastal Peak Park (thanks to the leadership of a sixth-grade student at Newport Coast Elementary School!).

While Mayor, Will fought to reopen Newport Beach’s world-famous beaches after the Governor shut them, helped oversee Newport Beach’s successful response to COVID, and kept a steady focus on helping small businesses in the community.

Will’s wife, Jenny, is a former elementary school teacher and USC graduate. Their two children, ages 8 and 6, serve as constant inspiration to model service, integrity, and determination. 

Currently reading: The Right, The Hundred-Year War for American Conservatism – by Matthew Continetti

Andrew Cherng – Co-CEO & C0-Chairman Panda Express

Andrew Cherng, CEO and Chairman Panda Express

Andrew Cherng is Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Panda Express. He and his wife Peggy started the business a few years out of graduate school and have since grown it to nearly 2400 locations; mostly privately held and not franchised. Uncle Andrew, as I know him, was an investor in my company, snacki, in the early 2000s and I learned a lot about management and operations from him as he mentored me through that exciting chapter of my career. He’s always had a deep passion for people whether guests or employees.  


What strikes me about Panda is that they’re known for cultivating talent from within. They care for their teams and train people in all aspects of the business. We talk about how his hiring philosophy has changed over the years.  Andrew truly believes that people who develop good work habits can take that with them everywhere.

I just KNOW you’re going to learn so much from Andrew. He started in the kitchen and now delights us with fresh, delicious food, as well as fantastic leadership and management insights on this episode of MENTOR dna

About Andrew Cherng

As Co-Founder, Co-Chair and Co-CEO, Andrew Cherng is the visionary behind Panda Restaurant Group. His business insights have propelled Panda to become the world leader in Asian dining experiences, while his passion for continuous learning inspires a culture where associates are dedicated to developing their full potential.

Andrew’s business acumen has been recognized by Forbes magazine, the Los Angeles Business Journal and the Asia Society of Southern California. He was conferred an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and is a member of the International Advisory Board for the William F. Harrah College of Hospitality at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Under Andrew’s leadership, Panda Restaurant Group was named one of America’s best employers by Forbes and ranked the number one Asian quick-service concept by QSR. Additionally, he along with Panda Restaurant Group Co-Chairman and Co-CEO Peggy Cherng, have been inducted into the National Restaurant Association’s Hall of Fame and named Carnegie Corporation’s Great Immigrants.

Andrew earned a Bachelor of Science in mathematics from Baker University and Master of Applied Mathematics from the University of Missouri.

Damien Hobgood – ex Pro Surfer

Damien Hobgood Surfing Magazine 2013

My husband and I met former pro surfer Damien Hobgood through a mutual friend. On a whim, Damien agreed to surprise my husband for our wedding anniversary with some friends at Amor Boutique Hotel in Sayulita MX. Damien had big dreams of surfing professionally in high school, when that wasn’t even a thing. He chased that dream and surfed on the tour for 14 years, then followed that up riding big waves in the World Surf League.

We talk about the early days of pro surfing…when no one even thought it was possible to earn a living chasing waves. Damien has deeply-held convictions about integrity and being true to yourself and your family’s beliefs. As a Christian man, he learned life’s most important lessons from his mom. 

Throughout his career, he’s dealt with big brands, sponsors, and promoters, which gave him plenty of opportunities to learn about the corporate world, which he’s now taken into his career in wealth management. He continues to collaborate with brands like Salty Crew and surf-related operations like Desert Surf, an artificial wave surf park slated to open in Palm Desert in 2023.

Damien shares the many transferable lessons from sports to the corporate world. If you love surfing, are curious about what it was like growing up in that culture, or want to hear Damien’s perspective of meeting challenges head on, you’ll learn so much and more  on this interesting episode of MENTOR dna

Damien Hobgood 2022
Damien Hobgood at Freshwater Financial
Damien Hobgood on a fishing excursion with Salty Crew
Damien Hobgood on a fishing excursion
Damien Hobgood Surfing Magazine 2013

About Damien Hobgood

Damien Hobgood is a professional surfer from Satellite Beach, FL. He and identical twin brother, CJ, started surfing at a very young age as they tried to keep up with their dad past the whitewash breaks.

Damien always dreamt of being a pro surfer, even writing about it in high school, where his teacher said “You can’t do that! There isn’t such a thing!” But in fact, the pro surfing circuit was just starting and Kelly Slater was paving the path. Upon graduating high school, Damien tried to qualify for the pro tour, missing out on a spot to CJ, but that didn’t deter Damien. In fact, he prayed and made a promise to God that if he made the tour, he’d give his life to the Lord. He kept at it and qualified for the tour the following year in an incredible competition in Brazil. As he stood on an empty beach after his win, he remembered his promise to God and committed his life to Him at that point. 

Damien and CJ both surfed for Rusty and started to receive a lot of coverage in surf and mainstream media like  Surfer Magazine, USA Today and Rolling Stone.

Damien won 2000 World Championship Tour rookie of the year and was also the 2004 Quiksilver Pro Fiji Winner, 2005 Santa Catarina Pro Winner, 2006 Globe Fiji Pro Winner, 2007 Billabong Pro Tahiti Winner. He’s famous in the surfing world for holding one of the highest two-wave scores in pro surfing by scoring 19.9 out of 20 in the 2004 Quiksilver pro where he defeated Andy Irons.

Damien surfed on the  World Championship Tour for 14 years then went on to compete on the 2015 World Surf League’s Big Wave Tour. In 2019, in conjunction with a documentary about their lives “And Two If by Sea,” the WSL held an honorary Heritage Heat for Damien and CJ to compete against each other at the Hurley Tahiti Pro, a spot where they both still hold titles as the most winning professional surfers of all time. 

Damien has since retired from surfing professionally and continues to work with lifestyle brand Salty Crew. He’s also involved with DSRT Surf, a world-class wave pool resort slated to open in Palm Desert in 2023. Damien is a doting father of three beautiful children and has now transitioned his career into wealth management with Freshwater Financial in San Diego, CA.