The NCAA men's basketball tournament is in full swing, and March Madness has hit offices across Los Angeles, zapping productivity.

But Ann Banning-Wright, who heads the western region for engineering firm Syska Hennessy Group, said the tournament isn't such a bad thing.

Banning-Wright, who runs the firm's 170-person West L.A. office, said that while her company doesn't sanction tournament pools, it is part of the company's culture to have one each year.

"What I think is so great is the winner buys doughnuts for everyone and brings them in," said Banning-Wright, who isn't participating in the office pool this year. "It keeps the fun going."

Though she is sitting this year out, Banning-Wright was a USC supporter before the team got knocked out of the tournament in the first round. Several of her family members went there. And despite the rivalry, she also supports UCLA. After all, her company is working on the Pauley Pavilion remodel.

It appears that Banning-Wright's company might be more sports obsessed than most around town. It has a Super Bowl pool and even a World Cup pool. She also asks prospective hires about their sports team allegiances at job interviews.

"We use it to build camaraderie in the workplace," she said.

Dodger Delights

Howard Sunkin is very familiar with Canter's Deli, the venerable Fairfax District delicatessen, which opens an outpost in Dodger Stadium this season. He has fond memories of eating at the restaurant with his grandfather every Sunday morning as a child. Sunkin's grandfather wasn't just a customer; he was the legal adviser for the restaurant's owners going back to when Canter's was located in Boyle Heights.

Now Sunkin, the senior vice president of public affairs for the Dodgers, will be able to get his favorite sandwich at the stadium with the opening of the deli stand on the field level. "I like the roast beef on rye with coleslaw and Russian dressing," said Sunkin.

Punchier name

Since 1985, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights has been the bane of insurance companies, energy utilities, politicians and other entities that the Santa Monica-based consumer group considers corrupt fat cats.

The feisty consumer advocates, notorious for staging attention-grabbing stunts to publicize causes, now have a less unwieldy, more descriptive name: Consumer Watchdog. President Jamie Court and other staff celebrated last week by launching a redesigned Web site and reminiscing about past exploits.

Take the time supporters paraded a roast suckling pig outside a state regulatory hearing in downtown Los Angeles in 2004 to protest the sale of then-Thousand Oaks-based WellPoint Health Networks to an out-of-state rival. The sale was approved, but with several conditions that sought to hold down rate hikes.

"Public opinion is our bludgeon," said Court.

Staff reporters David Nusbaum and Deborah Crowe contributed to this column. Daniel Miller can be reached at

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.