Leadership Creates Waves Then Ripples

The best leadership creates waves and ripples.

They say that success is a team sport.

That’s true.
But individuals can really make a difference too. And some people are so special that their good works create ripples that sometimes go unnoticed.
That thought crossed my mind when I attended a recent Boca Chamber luncheon honoring Plastridge Insurance as “Business of the Century.”
Among the attendees and speakers at the event were FAU Research Park President Andrew Duffell, Business Development Board of Palm Beach County President Kelly Smallridge and Chamber CEO Troy McClellan—three influential local leaders who can all point to Plastridge Chairman Tom Lynch as a mentor/catalyst for their careers.
And that’s how it works.
The best leaders create/help/nurture/empower/encourage other leaders.
I’m fortunate to have known many like Tom Lynch whose influence resonate far beyond their own work. These leadership “ripples” are not only gratifying to witness it’s often fun to connect the dots.
Most of my experience with leadership is centered around Delray Beach. It’s here that I saw former Chamber CEO Bill Wood help a long series of leaders reach the next rung by recruiting them to his board and watching them climb the ranks at the Chamber and in the community.
I also witnessed Mayor David Schmidt work with students at Atlantic High School taking many to Delray’s Sister City Miyazu, Japan and sparking in them an interest in international culture and travel.
I’ve seen Marjorie Waldo work her magic at a local charter school and then strengthen an important non-profit, The Arts Garage changing lives along the way.
I’ve seen Chuck Halberg support innumerable non-profits and create some organizations that have helped hundreds of people  including Impact 100 for Men and the Delray Beach Initiative.
My friend Perry Don Francisco’s leadership ripples/waves are everywhere: police officers and firefighters benefit from his work with Delray Citizens for Delray Police, their children  earning scholarships and their careers blossoming as a result of his support and advice.
Three other solid examples are former City Attorney Susan Ruby, former Police Chief Rick Overman and former Fire Chief Kerry Koen.
Susan hired excellent lawyers who went on to become city attorneys in other jurisdictions. She entrusted them with tough cases and as a result– during her tenure — a vast majority of legal work was handled “in house” and very successfully I might add.
Chief Overman turned our police department into a training ground for chiefs. Those who didn’t aspire to be a Chief still found opportunities to grow as detectives, career officers, K-9 officers and community policing specialists. Former Fire Chief Kerry Koen was also well-known for his ability to spot talent and grow it.
Two non-profit executives I admire are also busy minting new leaders: Emmanuel “Dupree” Jackson and his EJS Project are devoted to changing the trajectories of lives in Delray neighborhoods and Mark Sauer’s Bound For College (formerly Delray Students First) has devoted his life to giving opportunities to those who might not otherwise have a shot at college. The waves they are creating are just getting started.
And the list goes on.
Great leaders leave a mark. They influence lives. They leave their communities better than they found them and they nurture others who will go further. They create waves that make a splash, but their ripples endure for generations.
As Simon Sinek so wisely says: The leaders who get the most out of their people are the leaders who care most about their people. 
Amen.

Sometimes Life’s A Whirlwind

Do you ever feel caught in a vortex over a whirlwind?

Did you ever have one of those weeks?

You know the type, just a whirlwind of activity, commitments, travel, deadlines and pressure mixed with a few surprises that make you scratch your head and say “why does this have to happen this week of all weeks, I’m so busy!”

 

Mix in the holidays with its mix of fun and stress and you have a recipe for exhaustion.

I know you can relate. We’ve all been there.

So I wanted to post about this amazing breakfast I attended last week at the gorgeous and historic Colony Hotel in Palm Beach. The breakfast was sponsored by the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, an organization that I admire and one that I’ve been on the board of a few times over the years. The BDB—as it is widely known—is Palm Beach County’s economic development organization responsible for recruiting, retaining and growing business in our beautiful community.

Their “Upper Level Breakfast” attracts about 150 CEOS and senior level business leaders so the audience is time pressed, smart and the kind of people who make things happen. At this particular breakfast, they welcomed Palm Beach County’s newest relocation, Mueller Industries, a $2.3 billion a year company with 4,500 employees that does business all over the globe. Pretty cool. And I got to sit at the same table with their top local exec which was also pretty cool.

The focus of the breakfast program were three significant—I would argue potentially transformational real estate projects—two of which happen to be under way in Delray Beach with the third in Boynton Beach. Those projects are iPic, Town Square in Boynton Beach and the redevelopment of the former Office Depot site on Congress Avenue. Since my company is involved in the Office Depot project I was asked to speak.

Now, I’d like to tell you more about those other projects and I will. In another blog post, hopefully this week.

But truth be told, last week was such a blur that I couldn’t tell you much. It was my goal to simply get through it—and I did. But my recall of the details is less than stellar.

So here’s how it played out.

We had a major hearing on the Office Depot project on Tuesday and a lot of pressure because of timing etc. So we have been consumed with a slew of details and questions.

Now I know there are people who can’t stand developers and this is not a call for sympathy, but trust me when I say that the field is not for the faint of heart or those who can’t handle endless curveballs and hundreds and hundreds of details that if missed can sink the project and take a huge bite out of your check book.

Since I am not a developer but work for a company that invests in real estate (and many, many other things) a lot of this is new to me and it’s like drinking from a fire hose of complexity on issues ranging from the law and sewage (not the same thing despite rumors to the contrary) to design and engineering.

I thought I knew a lot—and I do—for a layman. But there is no substitute for sticks and bricks experience and so I’ve surrounded myself with people who have been there, done that and know enough not to make the same mistakes— although there is always the chance to make new ones.

But I digress.

We got through the hearing with a nice vote of support from our City Commission and an ongoing pledge to work with the community. But it was late at night and I found it hard to sleep.

The next day I was up at 4 a.m. to catch a flight to Asheville, where we have invested in a really cool start-up. We wanted to meet the team, assess progress and talk about future needs. It was a great day, but also a long one since I had to fly back the same day in order to get up early again and drive to Palm Beach for the breakfast.

I was honored to speak because I respect the BDB and it was a good opportunity to access a slew of top business leaders and put our site on their radar. You never know when the next Mueller Industries may want to come to our beautiful city and we have a very special site.

But even after more than 20 years of public speaking I still get nervous before each and every speech I give. You’d think I’d be able to draw on experience or draw inspiration from past talks that went OK but I still sweat it… every… single…time.

Adding to my stress for this particular speech was my lack of sleep, my lack of preparation (because I’ve been running around) and my inability to connect with Tim Tracy, my BDB contact who was the keeper of the format, timing etc. Tim tried. I tried. We just couldn’t get each other on the phone. Ugh.

When Tim learned I was in Asheville the day before, he freaked out a little and was sending texts early on the morning of the breakfast to make sure I got back to Palm Beach County.

Of course I did and I made sure to be at the breakfast at 7 a.m. 30 minutes before the start so I could exhale and work on my prepared remarks which I inexplicably discarded when I got up to speak.

I’m not sure what I said…but it seemed to go OK. There was applause (a few laughs, I hope it was laughing with me not at me) and I met a lot of nice people after the program who expressed interest in our project. The other guys did great too….I just wish I could remember what they said. I was just relieved it was over.

I treated myself to a leisurely ride back to the office along A1A. I caught up on calls and soaked up the coastal scenery.

The rest of the day was a blur of meetings and emails and day dreams of my couch and hanging with my dogs—Randy and Teddy. But I was reminded by my wife that we had a party to go to that night at the Delray Hideaway, a neat little bar on East Atlantic.

Ugh…

Now, I like parties and I like people. And I really like the host of the party the amazing Delray Beach Community Land Trust and the incredible people who make that organization so cool.

But for one night only, I liked my couch more.

When my wife got a screw in her tire and texted me from XpertTech I replied that I was sorry and I guess we couldn’t go to the party. “Nice try” was the response from a woman who is always supportive, tolerant and sympathetic to my emotions. We were going.

And so we went and had a great time.

I’d like to tell you more about the Land Trust and someday I will. Just as  soon as I recover.

 

 

Here’s to the Innovators

aspiration

Innovation comes from those who see things that others don’t. It comes from people who not only question the status quo- But keep persisting in the face of all the naysayers. Steve Blank

Innovators and entrepreneurs are fun to hang around with.

They see the world differently, questioning, probing and always trying to find a new and better way forward.

They tend to be optimists; in fact I can’t remember ever meeting a pessimistic entrepreneur.

In order to be an entrepreneur you have to be willing to take risks and willing to fail–sometimes publicly. Sometimes spectacularly.  Those failures—while sometimes painful and expensive– make you stronger.

I’m sure there are fearless people out there-somewhere–but I haven’t met any. It’s not whether you have fears, but whether you can overcome those doubts that allow you to be a successful entrepreneur.

I’m involved with a dedicated group of entrepreneurs on several projects at the moment.

Celsius is a company that is pioneering a healthy energy drink that is clinically proven to burn body fat and calories. The beverage space is known for innovation–from coconut water and protein drinks to hangover and relaxation drinks –it’s a fascinating and highly competitive space. The beverage business is complicated and capital intensive. The competition is also fierce. But the rewards can be amazing if you can create a hit brand.

Celsius has the added pressure of being a public company with all the scrutiny and regulation that comes with life in the world of Sarbanes Oxley.

It’s also an international business with distribution in Asia, Europe and Brazil. The company does great business via ecommerce and in channels ranging from fitness to grocery, convenience, mass and specialty retailers.

It’s a fascinating business that often comes down to hand to hand combat on the shelves. But when you believe in your brand—as we do passionately– and the importance of introducing a drink without sugar and aspartame to the mass market it’s a privilege to pursue the opportunity.

We believe we can change the world.

So do our investors, which include two self-made billionaires who remain in the game because they still have a hunger to bet on companies and technologies that make a dent in the universe.

I’m also involved with introducing an all-natural, gluten free premium hot sauce and Bloody Mary mix to the market. We recently gained distribution for Tabanero in Publix, a point of pride. We already are on the shelves at HEB, Lucky’s Market, Sprouts and soon a division of Kroger, the largest supermarket chain in America. We are served in close to 3,000 restaurants in South Florida, Tampa and Southern California and have made the cut at some really cool restaurant and hotel chains including Tupelo Honey, Margaritaville, select Marriott’s and Bokamper’s.

It’s been quite a ride. And while hot sauce is an exploding category, it’s also fiercely contested by some huge brands.

So what’s the opportunity that we see? We think we have the best tasting sauce in the world and its healthy too, featuring premium veggies without the vinegary taste. Even people who typically don’t like hot sauce– love Tabanero. To see people enjoy the hard work of your team provides tremendous satisfaction.

It’s cool to be an insurgent brand; to take on the big guys and to develop a fan base all from two small offices in Boca Raton and LA.

Knowing my love of entrepreneurs, I’m often approached by fledgling companies for help and advice and I in turn seek help and advice from others who have made the journey. While business is competitive, I have found that most people you ask are happy to lend an ear, open a door and connect you to others who may be able to help you achieve a dream. Entrepreneurs tend to be generous, another reason to embrace them.

Among the many young entrepreneurs that I have worked with, I see similar traits of curiosity, courage and a strong desire to serve others. I’d like you to know about a few.

I met Jake Artzi a few years back when I spoke to a class at the Boca Chamber’s YEA program (Young Entrepreneurs Academy). Jake and I have stayed in touch and now he’s at the University of Michigan where he is pursuing his studies while also building a company called BoVault.  http://bovault.com/

BoVault is a safe place to store your valuables and charge your gadgets while you enjoy a recreational activity such as a trip to the beach. The BoVault locker has cameras embedded in the unit to provide 24/7 security monitoring. BoVault is completely solar powered and 100% Made in America. It’s a cool technology and Jake is a driven young entrepreneur. I have no doubt he will build a great company over time.

Brian Niles and Patrick Stinus were two guys I met in a Delray coffee shop a few years back. GE trained MBA’s who understand operations and finance, they were business consultants who were so good clients wanted to hire them permanently to run and grow their businesses. But Brian and Patrick had a dream of their own called “Rooster”, a company that helps a huge range of service providers grow their businesses. Armed with a passion to help other entrepreneurs, off the charts smarts and a work ethic that simply won’t quit, I have no doubt that Rooster, a local start-up is going to be huge.

From that first meeting on Atlantic Avenue until today, we have continued a conversation about life and business.

Check out their site: http://www.roosterlocal.com/. At last week’s Business Development Board Entrepreneurs lunch, Brian and Patrick surprised me with a founder’s button, which was a touching gesture that really moved me. Because the truth is, there’s not much I can teach these guys. They are just brilliant people. But I can listen and I can encourage because entrepreneurship can be lonely and more than a little scary. And I can relate very well to those emotions as well as to the highs you experience when you see a product come to life and you take it to market.

This blog is primarily about how cities and towns can be entrepreneurial too. Yes governments can be entrepreneurial and I would argue that they need to be.

Delray has been a very entrepreneurial city taking risks, overcoming the critics and naysayers and creating a vibrant community that has created value both real (dollars, tax base and jobs) and intangible (quality of life).

Boca’s roots are also very entrepreneurial with the IBM PC being invented here among other incredible technological feats that have changed the world.

The city has innovative schools and universities, a thriving tech sector and incredible medical research happening everywhere you look.

In addition, both cities have thriving food and beverage scenes, innovative vacation properties, marketing and media geniuses, artistic visionaries and some very talented designers and architects. The list goes on and it’s exciting to see the area grow and thrive.

The key is to be a community of opportunity, where people of all ages can find inspiration and personal growth.

Critics and naysayers will focus on the negative impacts and all that can go wrong. That’s what they do.

And truth is they play a role. They raise some questions that must be answered and they also serve as inspiration–if nothing else to prove them wrong.

But make no mistake, businesses and communities must embrace the innovators and the entrepreneurs if we are to grow and create opportunities. If you succumb to the negative you’ll be hard pressed to uncover the positive.

Years ago, I had the privilege to work with an Office Depot executive named Sam Mathis. Sam, has since passed, but he touched a lot of lives and he helped our city on a race relations initiative that many thought was foolish but others thought was necessary and overdo. Sam taught me that the sweetest fruit often resides on the part of the tree most difficult to reach. When I got tired, he had a unique ability to read my moods and he would reach out and keep me motivated.

I know we didn’t “solve” the challenge, but I do think we made a difference.

We should all agree on the need to reach and stretch…it makes all the difference. As Steve Blank says: keep persisting in the face of the naysayers.

There’s Something Happening Here

Ready for lift off.

Ready for lift off.

It feels good to be in on the ground floor of an opportunity.

I’m one of those types who prefer building to maintaining or worse yet protecting a lead.

I was fortunate to move to Delray in the 80s, when the city felt like a start-up and to serve on the City Commission from 2000-07, when the Decade of Excellence had been completed and we had a blank canvas to pursue a continuation of the vision—one that built on and complemented the excellent work that had been done before our group got elected.

So I was intrigued when I was asked to serve on the advisory board for Tech Runway, a new initiative at Florida Atlantic University that is seeking to build something special.

Tech Runway is nestled next to the runway at Boca Airport on FAU’s campus. The space—vast and teeming with possibility—houses start-up companies and events. It seeks to be a leading part of a growing ecosystem for entrepreneurship and technology taking root in South Florida.

When it comes to the entrepreneurial space you can feel the ground shifting in our region. Miami is on fire, with maker space, co-working, tech companies, VC’s and innovation in everything from augmented reality and finance to food and the arts.

Fort Lauderdale is also experiencing somewhat of a renaissance downtown, with condo projects, office space and a wonderful entrepreneurial hub named Thesis (http://www.thes.is/).

In Palm Beach County, downtown Boca Raton seems on the verge and the Arvida Park of Commerce has new energy and new policies to drive investment. FAU and Lynn are gaining momentum and the county’s chief economic development office, The Business Development Board of Palm Beach County is focusing efforts and energy on entrepreneurship and retention. FAU’s Research Park, under the very capable leadership of Andrew Duffel, is also a player to be watched as it celebrates its 30th anniversary.

The county’ public school system also has bright spots including Boca High’s STEM program, Atlantic’s vaunted IB program and Spanish River High School’s entrepreneurship academy.

Hopefully, we can find a way to keep our young talent home, even if many might go away for college.

As Scooter Willis of FAU’s Tech Garage (also an amazing asset) puts it “find a way to get as many smart people here as possible and good things will happen.”

Amen.

Headwinds? We have a few.

A lack of VC’s. A lack of angels. A lack of seed funders. The Gold Coast Venture Capital Association is making amazing strides and should be applauded, but we need more capital willing to get in the game. Talented engineers and entrepreneurs will follow the money which historically has been in places like Austin, Boulder, Boston, the Valley and NY. We are going to need to get in the game soon and in a big way…a way that makes a splash, hits all the blogs and is covered in Inc., and Fast Company.

The dollars are here, what’s missing is the monomaniac on a mission who either can write the check or find the check and build the funding mechanism around it.

Manny Medina and others are doing it in Miami. A visionary developer is doing it in Wynwood and another in Miami’s design district.

While it definitely takes a village to build an ecosystem it doesn’t hurt to have a leader.

Think about companies: Amazon is Bezos. Virgin is Branson. Tesla is Musk. Facebook is Zuckerberg.

Same with local areas that make the leap: Fred Wilson in NYC, Brad Feld in Boulder are but two examples.

In South Florida, the Knight Foundation is playing a catalytic role but there is room in Palm Beach County—room in Boca Raton and Delray Beach for leadership, vision and drive.

The talent is here, if we can keep it home. The lifestyle is here. The moment is here, if we seize it.

Tech Runway will be a major driver, but the beauty of building an ecosystem is it’s not a zero sum game. The rising tide does lift all boats. There’s room for many to take the ride.