Our Carl…

Carl DeSantis (1939-2023)

Note: My mentor, friend, partner, employer, teacher, confidante and all-around inspiration Carl DeSantis passed away August 10. He was 84. And even though I knew it was coming and thought I was prepared, I found myself devastated when I got the news while traveling in Maine. Carl was a bright light in so many lives. And as word got out, I began to receive a slew of calls, texts and emails sharing stories from people whose lives had been changed by this wonderful, generous, and kind man.

Everyone processes grief in their own way, and my way is to write out my thoughts. I stayed up late the night I heard the news and the following words poured out.

I want to share my thoughts with you as a tribute to a man who taught me so much and in the hopes that his life provides lessons for us all: to be kind to everyone, to be generous (his favorite saying was “good begets good”) to dream big and never be afraid to go after those dreams. My friend Carl lived a big life, he had big dreams, big appetites, and the biggest heart of anyone I have ever met. But he was also very simple too: he was proud of his family, loved his friends and lived to bring a smile to the faces of all who crossed his path. And so it was…he was a gift to so many.


What can you say about a man who changed your life?

A man who changed so many lives.

So many lives….

Great people change the world’s they inhabit and even when they leave this world, their impact, their care, concern, work, ideas, love, and friendship remain. They continue to brighten our lives for having lived so well.

Carl DeSantis was an amazing man. Just an amazing man. We throw that word around frequently, but Carl was truly wondrous. He believed in miracles and made them happen. He believed that anything was possible and if he was involved that was true.

He made a dent in this world and all I can say is look out heaven because your newest resident is one of a kind.

Our Carl always found a way to beat the odds; again and again with a smile and a style all his own. He made us feel good about life…and he modeled generosity, kindness, and love. Oh, there was mischief too…but always in a good and gentle manner. He was a good and gentle man.

But he was also a force of nature. A whirlwind of energy and ideas.

Great people make things happen; even the seemingly impossible.

They blow away the status quo and transform people, industries, and communities.

My friend Carl DeSantis did all those things and more. “And more”…he said those words often.

“Celsius does this and that” we would tell him. And he would say “and more” and those words went on the can for a while…..we had a lot of different cans and a lot of different words on those cans. Because Carl always wanted more. G-d bless him.


He saw further, he dreamed bigger, he took huge risks and he always wanted more for everyone in his universe. Carl was always climbing mountains. Always looking for worlds to conquer, new problems to solve.

When I speak to people who know and love Carl—and to know Carl is to love Carl—the first word they often use to describe him is “generous.”

Carl was always looking for ways to help people. All people, literally everyone he came across.

He sat with titans of industry, and he treated them the same as the person who bussed his table or cut his grass. He loved people. And they adored him because he was respectful, and kind and he stood out from the masses because of those wonderful traits.

If you told Carl that someone was ill or hurt, he would often well up with tears. He had the biggest heart.

If you were lucky enough to be in his orbit, you would quickly describe your life in the following way: Pre-Carl and Post-Carl.

If Mr. D saw something in you, he would change your life. It was just that simple and just that wonderful.

Great men like Carl make a lasting splash and the ripples of that splash go beyond anything that even someone with his infinite vision could have conceived of.

So yes, those of us in his “inner circle” were the most fortunate, but his vision, his investments, his entrepreneurial spirit changed entire industries and impacted the world.

He made his first fortune by transforming the vitamin industry with Rexall Sundown and then he revolutionized the energy drink category with Celsius. His vision, his resilience, his belief and his old-fashioned moxie benefited thousands of employees, vendors, retailers, suppliers, shareholders and partners. And millions of consumers….

My friend was a game changer.

And his vision will continue to transform our world as the next generation of Carl’s ideas and investments grow and succeed. Tabanero hot sauce, hatched after a visit to Mexico (“let’s take on Tabasco!” he said and here we are), real estate, restaurants, office buildings and more. And more. Always more.

There’s no doubt, Carl was a world-class entrepreneur…and others will chronicle his many successes in the coming months and years. But I want to talk about the man.

I met Carl over 20 years ago at a charitable function in Palm Beach. Someone pointed him out to me and said it would be a good idea to walk over and introduce myself. So, I did. I had known of Carl, but I had never met him.

We spoke at that event for a few moments—moments, not minutes— and despite owning property in Delray we never interacted when I was an elected official. But my phone rang when I was term limited and so my adventure with Carl began.

He saw something in me. And that’s how he works. At Rexall Sundown, he hired an ex-narcotics detective to run sales because he saw something in that man—and he was right. He hired his driver and good buddy Jimmy because he had a good feeling about him. Many of us at CDS International Holdings were brought into his world because he saw something in us, that maybe we didn’t even see or know about ourselves.

Carl and I had many heart to heart conversations over the years. He believed that G-d had blessed him with what he called “an innate” gift…he knew what products would work and what would fail and he knew people.

He didn’t believe in pedigree, he believed in his gut instincts. So when he met Nick the police detective, he didn’t worry about whether he had a background in sales….he just knew that Nick would get the job done. And I guess when he met me, he knew he wanted me involved in his various adventures. And so I became a very lucky man and my story is not unique because so many can tell the same story.

Being in Carl’s universe is a magical experience….He didn’t think like anyone else, he saw the world differently… he was not afraid to dream big. He was a man of action and a man of endless courage and resilience.

From the outside, it may seem like Mr. D lived in a charm life and there is no doubt that he was blessed. But he endured so much…physical pain, injuries and setbacks that would have leveled a lesser man. But he met every challenge with strength and grace. We can learn a lot from his example.

A few years back, I had a near death experience with a terrible case of covid and violent pneumonia that ravaged my lungs. Many people came to my aid and saved me, and one of them was Carl. Because I learned from his example—I tried to summon his resilience.

During my time of need, Carl told me that he knew in his heart that I would make it…and I hung onto that intuition because I had seen that intuition work wonders. Carl believed in Celsius, when every expert would have said give up. Carl fought every health scare, when doctors would have told him that it’s not possible…he somehow made it through to live, laugh and love another day.

This last season of Mr. D’s remarkable life was not easy….but we witnessed his boundless courage, rock solid faith, remarkable strength and endless generosity even as we saw him slip away.

We saw these magnificent traits manifest themselves through his belief in G-d and Carl’s legendary capacity to fight through adversity. We saw it in his love for his family, friends and his angel Judy. And we saw it in his decision to set up a foundation so that we may help people for decades to come.

Today, those who love Carl have a hole in our hearts.

You see the special people in our lives fill our hearts to the brim, they enrich us in so many ways, and we feel their loss immensely. Losing Carl is like losing the rain…he’s been that fundamental to our lives.

Still, despite our sadness, we can take comfort that Carl is in heaven… we can rejoice that we crossed paths with this wonderful man, and we can resolve to learn from his example by continuing to do work that would make him proud and by treating people with kindness and dignity.

He will live forever in our hearts and deeds….


Here’s to the Entrepreneurs

A friend of mine launched an energy drink last week.

His goal: nothing short of building the biggest beverage company on the planet.

Of course, the odds of that happening are long. Probably better than winning the recent Powerball (you have a 1 in 292.2 million chance of landing the massive prize) but long,nonetheless.

But daunting odds don’t dissuade entrepreneurs. In fact, the more people scoff at their dreams the more motivated they become to prove everyone wrong.

I respect  that mindset, it’s that kind of thinking that changes the world.

And that’s why I love entrepreneurs. I admire them too.

I appreciate the energy, grit, belief, and passion they bring to their endeavors.

My friend is confident in his vision. Some might say he’s cocky,but I know better.

It’s not ego or overconfidence that drives people like my friend. It’s not even the outsize rewards that come if you succeed.

Sure, the money has meaning. I suppose it’s a way of keeping score, but riches are not the only motivation.

Nope, the entrepreneurs I’ve seen up close are after something more. Something deeper and more meaningful.

They want to prove something.

They look at the world differently; they are opportunity scouts seeking to solve problems or fill a void.

Entrepreneurs want to create something special: a hit product, a resonant brand, a movement.

It’s not easy to do any of those things. The world is a crowded place, it’s hard to get noticed over the din, and it’s darn near impossible to break through and make a dent in the marketplace.

Building a successful company is a complicated endeavor with hundreds of tasks and moving parts to navigate. There are potholes galore, lots of hard work and sleepless nights worrying about all sorts of things.

But people like my friend do it anyway.

They have no choice. It’s who they are. They are driven to act. Driven to try.

I’ve been involved in the energy drink business for 15 years—years spent on the inside and now years on the periphery.

The name of the company I know a little about is Celsius.

Celsius started in a small office/warehouse on 4th Avenue in Delray Beach and has grown from the humblest beginnings to a publicly traded international company with a market cap of over $11 billion.

Pepsi took a stake in the company recently and the stock has become a Wall Street darling. Here’s some stats: year to date the stock has a return of about 44 percent, far outpacing the S & P 500. The one-year return is about 91 percent, the three-year return has been 1,059 percent (not a typo) and the five-year return has been 3,215 percent (also not a typo).

Yes, the past few years have been amazing to witness. The team at Celsius has done extraordinary things; sometimes life exceeds your wildest dreams. And this has happened—somewhat quietly—right here in Delray Beach and now in bigger digs in Boca.

But the road to success was years and years long and full of land mines.

The company went from the pink sheets to Nasdaq only to get delisted before getting back on the exchange.

The little company that dreamed big got on the shelves of the nation’s top retailers only to lose distribution when the product didn’t move. Then the team of believers got those shelves back and now the product is flying—likely to $1 billion in annual sales.

It’s been a remarkable story. Ups and downs, amazing characters who came and went and wildly talented people who ultimately made it stick.

I think it would make a great Netflix series.

The story of the little company that kept chipping away until something magical happened. It’s a uniquely American  saga.

Through it all, there was an entrepreneur who believed.

His name is Carl DeSantis and he never stopped believing even when conventional wisdom would have said: “hey, enough is enough. You gave it a go.”

But my friend Carl never stopped believing. Every setback meant he was one step closer to success.

Entrepreneurs fail forward.

It’s something to behold. Truly something to behold.

My friend—with the new company— knows all this.

He’s built a company before, from scratch. That experience will help.

He understands resilience. He’s still hungry.

In that way, he reminds me of Carl who also built a business before Celsius. The success of Rexall Sundown would have enabled Carl to sail off into the sunset. But entrepreneurs can’t turn it off. They are what they are. They want to solve problems, they want to create, they want to disrupt. They want to win.

As Steve Jobs said: ““Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

The Best Way To Predict The Future Is to Create It

This can contains years of hard work (still tastes great).

On Aug. 1, a dream came true for a company that I love.

Celsius, born in Delray Beach and based in Boca Raton, announced a long-term strategic deal with Pepsico that will take the brand global, pump $550 million into the company and give Pepsi an 8.5 percent ownership stake in what is now a company valued at  nearly $8 billion.

It was an amazing moment—years and years (and tears and fears)—in the making.

And that’s how it goes.

That’s the entrepreneurial journey—if it works out.

Of course, nothing is guaranteed except…

  •  Lots of hard work.
  •  Risk, that can seem crazy at times.
  • Oh, and whole lot of twists and turns.

Celsius experienced it all and then some.

I’ve had a front row seat on the Celsius ride for more than a decade now and it has been fascinating.

I worked for the company as COO in the lean years when we dreamed big, reached for the stars, made some progress, and took some beatings. It was a thrill.

I had the experience of a lifetime working alongside a team of amazing people who believed Celsius was going to be the next big thing at a time when you couldn’t find it on a shelf if you employed a team of blood hounds.

The company grew when I was there—we landed the big accounts, rang the bell on NASDAQ, taped our first TV commercial and signed a celebrity spokesman (Mario Lopez, he was terrific and believed in the brand).

But it wasn’t our time—and so we lost some of those big accounts and got delisted from NASDAQ when our stock price failed to meet their threshold. Ups and downs. But we never stopped believing.

Not. For. One. Second.


Because we knew we had something special.

And because the man who became the company’s biggest investor (and cheerleader) and saw big things for the brand never stopped believing in Celsius’ potential. This man had boundless faith and we had faith in his talent for predicting what will work in the marketplace.

That man is Carl DeSantis. He’s a visionary.

In full disclosure, I work as an executive for Carl’s family office here in Delray Beach. Carl is a friend, a mentor, a partner and a positive force in my life and the lives of countless others. He means the world to me and my family and a whole lot of other people who have been fortunate to work with (never for) Carl or Mr. D during his long career.

Carl was the founder and chairman of Rexall Sundown, a huge vitamin manufacturer based in Boca. He sold that company in 2000 for $1.8 billion and immediately went back to work forming CDS International Holdings which has been involved in an array of businesses over the years ranging from Celsius and Tabanero hot sauce to restaurants, office buildings, hotels, a South African preserve, a men’s clothing line and real estate. Carl is an interesting man with broad interests—and a keen eye. We’ve learned to listen to what he’s seeing— if that makes sense.

He’s also generous, kind, a tad mischievous, down to earth and a little shy. If you know him, you love him.

CDS has been very supportive of Celsius through the ups and downs. We had faith because faith is contagious, and Carl spread the gospel.

What happened with Pepsi was a dream come true…or was it a prediction? All I know is that for years at every meeting—even when there was bad news— Carl would say with absolute certainty that one day “one of the big boys are going to call” to get involved with what Celsius CEO John Fieldly calls a “disruptive force in the energy drink market.”

That’s what Celsius is….disruptive and unique—and that was always the promise and the potential. Brick by brick,  year after year, you keep pushing until the market says “we see you” among the blizzard of brands vying for their attention and loyalty.

Our friend Carl saw the potential right away…and the lesson here is “ya gotta believe!”

Mets fans will get that reference.

But whether it’s baseball or beverages, a local shop or a vision for your town you have to believe. Especially when the going gets rough and the going always gets rough.

When the dark days came to Celsius, Carl used to say “dig in, we’re going win.”

The team learned a lot, tried a lot of different things and kept plugging away. Celsius never gave up.

Victory, while never guaranteed, is sweeter when you’ve overcome adversity.

Celsius overcame a slew of adversity. That little company, that started in a warehouse like office on 4th Avenue, saw it all—and made it through the maze—for now.

Because that is the other lesson. Success, much like failure, is hardly ever final.

Yes, the company is flying and now they have the global might of Pepsi behind them. But they have to transition successfully to the new partnership, they have to execute and they have to stand up to the competition which never lays down.

Cities are the same way…once you succeed, you can’t get complacent. You must wake up a little bit scared and stay focused. Success is never final. You are never done.

That’s not a bad thing or a curse, it’s a blessing that enables you to grow and innovate.

We, as fans, investors, friends, and supporters of Celsius, can’t wait to see what’s next.

Knowing the team as well as we do, we’re bullish that the best is yet to come.

We lost a local icon last week when former Boca Raton Mayor Susan Whelchel passed away.

My friend Blake who knew her well said it best: “An amazing woman and true public servant. It was a privilege to stand with her through thick and thin.

Loyal yet tough, Mayor Susan Whelchel brought out the best in us, and in return gave us her all. She was my friend. I am heartbroken, and will miss her.”

We all will. She was special. We need more people like Susan Whelchel in the public arena. It was a privilege to know her.


The Adventures Included A Stop In Delray

Highly recommended and a thorough joy.

A few years back, we went to a conference in New York City that featured two well-known keynote speakers: Bill Clinton and Rudy Guiliani.

President Clinton was making a comeback from heart surgery and Rudy was still riding the “America’s Mayor” mantle post 9/11. This was long before bizarre press conferences at landscaping companies with dripping hair dye.
But despite the pedigrees of the two aforementioned speakers, the guy that absolutely stole the show was a plain spoken man from Brooklyn named Herb Cohen.
Herb’s conference session was the single best presentation I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen a bunch of good presentations. Nobody has ever come close.
Mr. Cohen was funny, informative and devishly charming and he gave the rapt audience actionable information they could apply to their lives and their businesses.
He spoke about the art of negotiation and if you think about it, we do a lot of negotiating in every aspect of our lives.
I left the session hungry for more information and when I returned to Delray Beach I Googled Mr. Cohen to learn all I could about this master negotiator who was funnier than the best stand up comics.
Imagine my surprise when I learned that Herb Cohen, Herbie to his friends and family, lived in Delray Beach!!!
Of all the gin joints in the world, Herbie lived in the town where I was serving as mayor.
I had to meet him.
So I sent an inquiry through his website and within a day heard back from his lovely wife and associate Ellen.
Herb would love to meet you, she wrote. Would we like to come to their home for brunch?
I jumped at the opportunity and Diane and I made a date with the Cohen’s.
We hit it off right away, like old friends, and I tried to contain my excitement. There were so many questions I wanted to ask Herb.
After all, he was considered the world’s best negotiator. He was the man that worked with Presidents Carter and Reagan on the Iranian hostage crisis, stared down the Russians in arms control talks and worked on labor negotiations with the auto unions and Major League Baseball. He basically invented the profession he was practicing, traveling the world working with Fortune 500 companies and other organizations who needed someone to come in and get deals done and disputes solved.
Maybe, he even had a few words of advice for a small town mayor?
We went to dinner a few times at New York Prime and we enjoyed every moment with Herb and Ellen.
Over the years, we lost touch, but I never stopped thinking about and admiring the man who wowed the crowd in NYC.
When I heard that his son, the bestselling author Rich Cohen, was working on a memoir of his dad’s life I pre-ordered the book and waited.
When the book—“The Adventures of Herbie Cohen: The World’s Best Negotiator” —arrived I devoured it in a few sittings. It’s a great book. Rich captures the unique character and life of an American original whose life also included helping the FBI create its famed behavioral unit and being best friends with Larry King and growing up with Sandy Koufax.
Pretty cool…
The book also inspired me to go back to the source material Herbie’s classic “You Can Negotiate Anything” which still sells well 40 years after being published.
I highly recommend checking it out (and then reading my book “Adventures in Local Politics “, sorry I couldn’t resist).
Anyway, we lost Ellen a few years back and Herb decided to move back to Brooklyn.  But for a brief shining moment, Delray was his home. It makes me wonder who else may be quietly residing in Delray or Boca.

Dream Plan Grow
I had the pleasure of appearing on Allison Turner’s wonderful podcast recently and I recommend you check out her series which includes conversations with local entrepreneurs.
Allison operates BatCat Media and is a business coach as well. She does important work well.
Here’s a link to our conversation.

The Entrepreneurial Mindset: Interview with Jeff Perlman

Here’s To The Game Changers

Akira Back is the newest addition to Pineapple Grove’s Ray Hotel. It’s special.

I’m intrigued by my friends at Menin Development.

I’m not alone.

Led by founder Craig Menin and President Jordana Jarjura, Menin Development is doing some truly extraordinary things in our village by the sea.

I’m interested and curious about all of it.

But I’m especially fascinated with some of their more unique projects.

  • The Ray Hotel in Pineapple Grove is a next level boutique property with a gorgeous 22,000 square foot rooftop amenity featuring an incredible pool,  three cutting edge restaurants and a design aesthetic that has reshaped the look and feel of the block.
  • The Delray Beach Market is the largest food hall in Florida, a whopping 150,000 square feet featuring 27 chefs and operators.
  • Lionfish restaurant brings a west coast sensibility to Atlantic Avenue. It just feels very different from what we’ve seen before.

So what’s next?

We went to the soft opening of Menin Development’s latest creation, Akira Back last week. It’s special. Located in The Ray Hotel, Akira Back is the namesake of a Michelin starred chef who was gracious enough to greet his guests last week as the staff served dish after dish of creative cuisine.

The food was in a word: magnificent.

Mr. Back brings a interesting back story to Delray Beach.

Born in Seoul, Korea and raised in Aspen, Colorado, Akira moved to the Rocky Mountain state at the age of 15.  He picked up snowboarding as a hobby and eventually turned pro. He was so good, he appeared in a handful of extreme sports movies. During this time, Back began working at a local Japanese restaurant to supplement his income. After seven years on the pro-snowboarding circuit, Back realized that he felt the same thrill in the kitchen as he did on his board, shaping his decision to pursue a full-time culinary career.

Back attended the International Culinary School at The Art Institute based in Colorado, where he established the framework of his technique and amplified his knowledge of Asian cooking, allowing him to incorporate his artistic vision and Korean heritage.

The rest is the stuff of culinary history—award winning restaurants inside the Bellagio in Vegas and locations in Dubai, London, Paris, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea, Riyadh and now Delray Beach.

Sitting inside Akira Back, we couldn’t help but marvel at what’s happening to Delray.

We were at the event with former City Commissioner Jon Levinson and his wife Lori. We moved here in ’87, I think the Levinson’s arrived in 79-80. We’ve seen a lot of change.

And while a generation of civic leaders, planned for, worked toward and hoped for sustainable vibrancy and economic success—it’s still hard to fathom what has happened here.

Delray is a rare story.

It really is and I sometimes feel like we take it for granted.

Now I get that not everyone is thrilled with the changes or change itself, but I like a lot of it. So do others, as witnessed by the year- round crowds, rising property values and now national reputation of Delray.

We told our server— a nice young man, from Salt Lake City—that the street we were sitting on was once anchored by a McCrory’s department store and a Piggly Wiggly. We pointed to Citywalk across the street and told him parts of that project used to be a coin operated car wash. He said that was hard to imagine.

When we cut the ribbon on Pineapple Grove Village 20 years ago, the photos showed that there was nothing to the north of us.

Those of us who were around  in the 80s remember Norm Radin (who coined the term Pineapple Grove), Tom Fleming (who led the Mainstreet approach to revitalizing the street) and architect Bob Currie talking about transforming four blocks of Second Avenue from Atlantic to Lake Ida Road. Some thought they were nuts. Nice people, but nutty. After all, at that time the city was struggling to get Atlantic Avenue going.

But you know what? Ya gotta believe (as Mets fans know). First you must see, and then you have to believe, and more importantly you have to act on those beliefs.

This blog is a paradox of sorts because I am a believer and a champion of change. I think it’s inevitable.

Our responsibility is to shape that change, but I don’t believe we can arrest it. At the same time, I cling to some things from the past that I feel are vital to our future. There are projects and buildings and values that define who we are—they identify our civic soul. Lose those things and we lose that soul and once lost….well you know the rest.

So yeah, there’s a paradox and a dance that goes on. Let’s celebrate the good changes but let’s also hold on to the tried, the true and the important pieces of our community’s fabric.

Which is why Craig Menin intrigues me. He’s showing us a new future, he’s shaking it up and making it happen. And I deeply admire that kind of drive.

I think Mr. Menin is a visionary. I know he’s an entrepreneur and I have a soft spot for both.

So, I’m rooting for him.

He sees something here and he’s willing to take big time risks to test that vision.

It’s the visionaries and the risk-taking entrepreneurs who change our world and our cities too.

They create opportunities for others; jobs, a broader tax base, a brand, a vibe and an ethos.

Those are extremely valuable assets for a city.

Mr. Menin has always been complimentary of the civic work that attracted him to Delray.

I really appreciate that about him, because I feel a lot of that work and a lot of those people have been demonized for ushering in an era of change and for failing to get out of the way.

But as the late Madeleine Albright once said, it takes a long time to discover your voice and once you find it you don’t want to give it up. Same with your community. When you find your home, you want to do all you can to make it better and sometimes that means speaking your mind.

That’s why I write these weekly messages. Thank you for reading them.

Personally, I never envisioned quite what Craig Menin and company are doing…but I did envision and hope that the work so many engaged in over the years would attract people like Craig. And Akira Back too.

Beginning in the 80s our city committed to citizen driven visioning.

It worked.

We didn’t have to offer incentives like so many other cities. We didn’t have to build or finance a major project that would “save” us.

We just asked stakeholders to come to the table to dream and we encouraged them to aspire then we got busy getting it done. That sent a message to the entrepreneurs: this is the best place to be. The best place to invest.

It’s not a perfect process.

Some stuff works better than you could have imagined and some stuff fails miserably. But you keep going. You keep working together, you keep promoting, you keep inviting people to participate and you hope that the entrepreneurs show up and take you places you could never imagine.

By the way, those entrepreneurs come in all kinds of styles. Some, like Mr. Menin, invest tens of millions of dollars and do things that make you say “wow”, others like Mark Sauer– who visited our table during the opening—start non-profits to help kids find a future. Some like Jeff and Julia Kadel make it possible for children to play baseball (see the Miracle League) and others like C. Ron Allen and Emmanuel “Dupree” Jackson devote their lives to creating the next generation of game changers.

In Delray, we also had entrepreneurs working at City Hall designing innovative programs and policies. Some of our best civic entrepreneurs wear uniforms and serve as police officers and firefighters figuring out ways to protect and serve us while making it safe for investment.

Thank goodness for all of them.

One might ask, where’s it all going?
Who knows.

I attended a webinar by a futurist last week and he said the 2020s would be the most consequential decade in human history. That’s quite a statement. We are off to an interesting start with a pandemic and war raging in Europe.

Here at home, I hope we remain safe and stay healthy. One thing we can bank on is more change. Let’s shape it, let’s embrace it but let’s not forget the values that created the opportunities we enjoy and remember to do what we can for those who need our help the most.



Good Begets Good

Carl DeSantis

What do Kim Kardashian, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett have in common with the gentleman I share Jimmy John sandwiches with every Monday and Wednesday?

I asked myself that question last week when the annual Forbes Billionaires List was released and my friend Carl DeSantis’ name appeared alongside a who’s who of international business icons.

Unlike many flamboyant titans on the list, Carl is a quiet and private person. You won’t catch him tweeting, showing off or bragging about his accomplishments which are many. His modesty is why we were so thrilled to see Forbes include Carl and do a feature story on him as well. We feel strongly that he deserves the recognition he works hard to avoid.

After all, very few business leaders have helped steered two companies to multi billion dollar valuations like my friend Carl.

He founded Rexall Sundown which became the world’s biggest vitamin company and he’s been a guiding force for Celsius which is rapidly becoming one of the hottest beverage brands in the world.

It’s a staggering achievement in a career that started modestly as a store manager for Walgreens.

Along the way, he has changed lives, nurtured careers, delighted investors in his companies and given generously to causes and organizations he believes in. In a word, he’s a mensch.

When we got the call from Forbes, those of us who work at his family office CDS International Holdings in Boca Raton, were more excited than Carl was. In fact, he wasn’t excited at all. As I mentioned, he doesn’t really like the attention but we were thrilled that such a prestigious publication was recognizing our friend and mentor. When we made contact with the editor of the project, he told us that not only did Carl make the list for his ownership stake in Celsius (NASDAQ: Celh) but they were interested in doing a feature on his one of a kind career.

With some gentle cajoling, we convinced him to do an interview and I promised to sit along side him for our phone call with Forbes. Joining us was Carl’s long time friend and assistant Jim Steinhauser who has been at Carl’s side for 34 years.

That’s how Carl rolls—loyalty, family, collaboration. He promotes a culture of input from everyone and lives by a simple credo: “good begets good.”

In short, he has been a blessing to so many lives.

Wealth and riches are not the true measure of a life well lived and while Carl certainly has both, he knows that the only scorecard that really matters is how we treat people and how we use our gifts to benefit the communities we touch. We can all attest that he lives up those ideals. He’s kind, gentle, compassionate and extremely generous. He’s also very unique.

Carl’s innate talent is his uncanny ability to discern whether a product will resonate in the hearts and minds of consumers. He can look at an idea or a brand and tell you with certainty whether it will succeed.

He believes the gift is innate or G-d given; refusing to take credit for a special ability or talent.

In the case of Celsius, he was a steadfast believer even when, especially when, the brand was left for dead a number of years ago after being delisted from NASDAQ and when product was shipped back off the shelves of stores nationwide.

He never stopped believing in Celsius and he never stopped putting his money behind his belief.

It was going to work, he insisted and because he believed we did too. All of us.

Carl doesn’t know it but he’s inspiring in his own unique way. He doesn’t give flowery speeches but he has a special way of letting you know he believes in you and the mission we are on—and that if we stay the course we will succeed.

That’s leadership. The ability to instill that belief in a team. There is nothing more powerful.

The story of Celsius is still being written but it’s a remarkable saga of resilience, hard work, belief, investment, trial and error and a miraculous breakthrough.

The brand that was born in a small warehouse like office in downtown Delray is now sold internationally and is valued at close to $4 billion.

There have been many key players in this ongoing story and I hope someday that the full story will be told because it contains many lessons for budding entrepreneurs.

But the steady thread has been my friend Carl.

We’ve been working side by side for years now on a variety of projects and he has taught me more than I can ever adequately describe.

I adore him.

I’m not alone. Like I said earlier, he has touched a lot of lives.

And at an age when many have long retired, he continues to make some noise. I love that about him.

For all the success he has experienced, he’s never grown complacent. He still wants to win—the right way through generosity, teamwork, love and concern for others.

He knows that success is never final and failure doesn’t have to be fatal. And now we know that too.

A few years back, on the occasion of Carl’s 80th birthday, a colleague and I produced a book on some of the lessons we have learned from out friend over the years. We gave it to Carl and his family which includes those of us who work for CDS, his family office.

When the Forbes piece hit last week, I thought it might be a good time to take a look at that book. Maybe we could flesh it out, freshen it up and publish it because it might help others.

We tried to capture the wisdom and essence of a very special man. Of course, we won’t be able to come close but even if we can distill a little of what we’ve learned it would be worth it.

My friend is that special.

Here’s the link to the Forbes article. It’s awesome. So is Carl.



Go Celsius! From Humble Beginnings….

The line-up.

Wall Street is giddy over a local stock that has been on a tear of late.

Celsius, born in Delray and based in Boca, is a beverage company that is delighting consumers, investors and those of us who love a good story of a small company slaying the giants.

When Celsius (CELH on Nasdaq) released record results last week, the stock soared continuing a run up in price that has caught the attention of CNBC’s Jim Cramer of “Mad Money” fame and lucky investors who remembered a time, not too long ago, when the stock traded under a dollar Over the Counter.

While the results reported were stupendous, nearly $37 million for the quarter an 80 percent increase over last year’s results, Celsius is far from an overnight success story. The team, both past and present, has been hard at work building a brand for more than a decade.

Celsius is a tale of belief, commitment, hard work, love, passion, sweat, a few tears and a whole lot of investment— especially from a local entrepreneurial legend who discovered the drink while dining on Atlantic Avenue.

I would venture to say that if you look closely at most successful brands you will find a familiar tale of perseverance. Each company is unique in their journey but there are commonalities including a bedrock belief that you have something special.

In Celsius’ case, there was a unique selling proposition. The energy drink burned calories—up to 100 per can. The claim was clinically proven by more than a half dozen university studies.

That’s pretty unique.

But the beverage business is brutal and capital intensive. The competition includes huge conglomerates and hundreds if not thousands of upstarts all vying for our taste buds.

But my friend and business partner Carl DeSantis knows a little something about picking winners.

He built Rexall Sundown into the world’s largest vitamin company launching hit product after hit product from its headquarters in Boca.

After selling the company for $1.8 billion in 2000 he went back into business running a vast array of enterprises ranging from hotels and restaurants to clothing companies and an up and coming hot sauce company called Tabanero. Keep your eye on Tabanero; friends it’s the next big hit.

My friend Carl has what you might call an eye for what will work and what won’t. He believed in Celsius and never wavered in his conviction that the  healthy energy drink, with the clean label (no sugar, low sodium, vitamin infused and delicious) would be a winner. It just took a while.

Successful brands are built  brick by brick, sometimes you take two steps forward and three back but you keep going because you believe and failure is not an option.

Carl recruited me to be Celsius’ COO in 2008. I was a year removed from being mayor of Delray and while I knew of Carl, I didn’t know him personally. But he saw something in me and we became friendly.

Carl is kind, generous, gentle and sensitive. There’s also more than a bit of magic in his personality.

He has a sixth sense about products, people and places. His instincts tend to prove true. So all of us who work with Carl listen closely when he has a feeling about something.

I’ve seen him predict hurricanes,  whether businesses will work and he even assured me I would survive COVID.

Over the years, Celsius hit more than its fair share of rough patches. As I’ve noted, the beverage business is brutal. Even Coca Cola failed when it released a calorie burner beverage a few years back.

But when you deploy a great team behind a great product you will break through–eventually.

Celsius has been blessed with a tremendous array of sales, marketing, management and board talent currently led by CEO John Fieldly who is a terrific young leader. He had a terrific predecessor in a gentleman named Gerry David.

Gerry and I sit on the board of Hyperponic, a promising startup which provides technology to the cannabis industry. Keep an eye on that company too. We are doing some groundbreaking work in Michigan and Oklahoma.

Still, the business world is a tough place.

Entrepreneurship can be thrilling and terrifying sometimes all in the same day.

All of us associated with Celsius have enjoyed watching this company grow.

There’s a thrill when you walk into Publix and see an end cap. It’s fun to see someone at the gym drink a Celsius and yes it’s very cool to see a company you care about listed on a major league stock exchange and sold at 74,000 stores domestically and across the world.

Those of us who know the story know that none of this would have been possible without Carl’s foresight and fortitude; without his good natured belief in a little beverage brand that occupied a small warehouse space on Fourth Avenue near the tracks in downtown Delray.

Back then, we were excited to see the cans on the shelf at the local gas station. Today, we have a market value of over $2.3 billion and are loved by thousands of consumers who enjoy a healthy energy drink with no corn syrup, preservatives or aspartame.

The Celsius story story is truly inspiring. It’s about the power of belief, commitment, vision and hard work. That’s what it takes to succeed in any endeavor.

Thanks Carl. Your belief in this amazing company has touched a lot of lives.

We can’t wait to see what’s next.




A Legacy & An Ecosystem

BDB President Kelly Smallridge honors Brendan, Tom and Connor Lynch for their business leadership as Plastridge Insurance celebrates its 100th year.

Eight years ago, while serving on the board of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, I had the opportunity to co-chair a brand new task force focused on entrepreneurship in our community.

While the BDB is well-known and highly respected for its economic development efforts and its ability to recruit, retain and help businesses expand we felt there was a gap when it came to helping and celebrating local entrepreneurs. So we created a task force and held a successful event that filled the vast ballroom at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. We clearly had tapped into something.

The task force continued on and eventually my good friend Connor Lynch, the talented and super smart CEO of Plastridge Insurance became chair. I’m proud to report that Connor, the task force and the BDB have taken the effort to a whole new level.

The recent “Entrepreneurship Luncheon” presented by JP Morgan Chase & Co., attracted a large crowd, included a hallway full of booths featuring new companies and was graphic evidence that something special is happening here. And that’s a good thing.

The entrepreneurs are here. They see Palm Beach County as fertile ground to grow their companies and they are impressed with the talent that is available in the local job market.

For sure, we aren’t Silicon Valley, Boston, New York or Austin. But we don’t have to be. We can grow something special here. Something unique. Something sustainable.

Groups like Palm Beach Tech, 1909 and yes the BDB are playing a critical role as are our universities and the FAU Research Park.

The luncheon’s two keynote speakers were two young entrepreneurs who are proving that companies can start here, grow here and thrive here using local talent and attracting talent from other markets.

Ryan Gay, CEO of Levatas, an AI solutions firm and Shay Berman, founder and president of Digital Resource were beyond impressive to listen to—they were downright inspiring.

Mr. Gay started out in 2006 with a small team: a visionary, an operator (himself) and someone with a big brain. They paid their first employee with Taco Bell meals—he was joking (I think). But from those humble beginnings, Levatas now has 80 employees and does digital work for clients such as IBM, Intel, Dell, Office Depot and Nasdaq.

Mr. Berman came from the cold of Michigan to West Palm Beach and started a company on a couch that has twice made the Inc. 500 list as one of America’s fastest growing companies. He has stayed true to his adopted hometown, growing his company while remaining in downtown West Palm.

He started the company with $5,000 and a dream. Today, at age 27, he is growing by leaps and bounds.

At the luncheon, my friend Connor, his brother Brendan (another super smart businessman) and their dad Tom, a former Delray mayor (among the very best in my opinion) were recognized for Plastridge’s 100th anniversary—an astounding achievement in today’s complex and fast changing world.

All three Lynch’s are devoted to Palm Beach County making significant marks in business, entrepreneurship, government, education, philanthropy and economic development. They are writing an amazing legacy. I’ve been fortunate to watch them and occasionally work alongside them.

Brendan and I serve on the board of a company we’ve both invested in and 30 years since meeting Tom, I still find myself seeking out his advice and counsel. Connor and I have served on several non-profit boards together and he’s always brought good ideas and insight to the table.

Kelly Smallridge, President and CEO of the BDB, noted that she if ever wrote a book about the history of economic development in Palm Beach County Tom Lynch would be at the top of the list of contributors.

It was heartening to me to hear that, because I believe that Kelly is right and that Tom is immensely responsible for so much of the good we see in Delray and also in Boca where he was also very active as a past chamber chair and School Board chair.

To see his sons run with that legacy of civic achievement makes my heart sing with gratitude.

In order to build a better community one that will support entrepreneurs and everyone else frankly—we need civic leaders. We need champions and long term thinkers who focus on the horizon and then do their best to make things happen.

It’s called leaving a legacy.

The job is never done. Success is never final. We will never arrive at the destination but we still need to commit ourselves to the journey.

Check out www.bdb.org and make sure you get tickets to next year’s entrepreneurial event. Better yet, let’s commit to helping grow entrepreneurs—whether it’s trying out a new product, spreading the word, becoming an angel or seed investor, starting your own company or encouraging someone who has done so we all have a meaningful role to play.


The Joys & Benefits Of Optimism

We all know the type….the glass is always half empty.

The rain clouds are always coming.

Failure is around every corner.

Pessimism is a trait that is especially acute during stressful times, such when we watched incessant news coverage of Hurricane Dorian as it threated South Florida before turning north.

I know folks who predicted Armageddon and they are not crazy—we dodged a bullet and the footage that we see from The Bahamas could have easily been us. I get it and I’m grateful.

But these folks were sure—rock solid sure—- of the hurricane track even when the experts weren’t and so to my mind they lean toward the pessimistic side. They are lovable. They are well-meaning and they are caring. But if you lived with them you would need intravenous Xanax.

The sky is always falling, your ideas are always full of holes and they are always there to poke a hole in your enthusiasm.

If you are an entrepreneur, these folks—within reason—are needed and necessary. They keep you sharp, they force you to answer questions and think through solutions to the weaknesses in your ideas.

But you can’t be a pessimist and succeed.

There’s no progress without risk.

In fact, I would argue that the key to success can be found in the following sentence: “do what everyone else is not doing and be right.”

If you scratch under the surface of every business you will often stumble across the notion that nobody thinks (fill in the blank) will work.

Do you really think someone is going to rent a room from a stranger? (AIRBNB)

Do you think someone is going to hail a ride from a stranger and abandon taxis? (Lyft, Uber).

Blockbuster will be here forever, every American visits it once a week to rent a video. You think you are going to compete by mailing DVD’s? (Netflix, before streaming).

Delray is Dull Ray. It will never turn around. (Delray Beach)

Boca will never survive IBM leaving, Big Blue built that town. (Boca Raton)

Doing something that nobody thinks is right or possible is the beginning of every success story.

Pessimists make the definitive statements.

Optimists defy the naysayers.

And guess what, there is a reward for optimism and now it’s scientifically proven.

That reward is longevity.

That’s right. Optimists live longer.

But before we delve briefly into the science, what is optimism?

Optimism is a psychological attribute characterized as the general expectation that good things will happen, or the belief that the future will be favorable because one can control important outcomes.

Previous scientific studies reported that more optimistic individuals are less likely to suffer from chronic diseases and die prematurely. But new results further suggest that optimism is specifically related to an 11 percent to 15 percent longer life span, on average, and to greater odds of achieving “exceptional longevity,” that is, living to the age of 85 or beyond. These relations were independent of socioeconomic status, health conditions, depression, social integration, and health behaviors (e.g., smoking, diet, and alcohol use).

Hey, I didn’t make that up. That info comes from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

So bottom line: try to be optimistic. And if you have any trouble deciphering which side of the optimist/pessimist divide you might fall on try answering this simple question.

What’s the difference between a pessimist and an optimist?

A pessimist says “things can’t get any worse”

And optimist says “sure they can!”

We’re kidding with that one of course. A pessimist would say we did that on purpose, an optimist would see the humor in the line and forward this blog to everyone they know.


Many Soulful Miles

Yulia at Angel’s Landing, Zion National Park.

“Never underestimate your dreams. If there is a will, there is a way to get anything you want in life.” –Yulia


Did you ever want to chuck it all?
Start fresh.

Pick up and go.

Are you intrigued by adventure?

Do you admire the risk takers, the ‘go for it’ segment of our society who just seem to know how to live, really live?

I think it’s a feeling many if not most of us have experienced and while we may fantasize or even dip our toes into something different, the ties that bind tend to keep us in our place.

Not so for my friend Yulia Konovnitsyna.

She’s on a grand adventure as I write this. Or maybe that’s not the right word. Because an adventure implies a beginning, a middle and an end. My friend Yulia has changed her life and has adopted a new way of living.  I’m living vicariously through her travels with her dog Milo across our great country.

I’m having a great time doing so. Even if sometimes her posts stir a longing deep in my soul for change and transformation.

The Grand Tetons, Zion National Park, Antelope Canyon, Arches National Park and many, many stops along the way.

Yulia shares her photos and thoughts on social media—and they are sensational. She is a digital marketing entrepreneur and somehow she is managing to grow her business, serve her clients and live a life of adventure.

She’s sharing under the name “Many Soulful Miles” and I find that moniker fitting. Yulia is a soulful person and very much an old soul.

While she’s young in age, she positively oozes wisdom.

I started to hear about her a few years back through my friend Karen Granger, then the president of the Delray Chamber of Commerce.
“You’ve got to meet Yulia,” Karen would gush. “She’s amazing.”
Knowing Karen’s keen sense of people and her ability to spot talent I was intrigued.

So Yulia and I met at The Coffee District and I was very impressed.

My three passions are community, entrepreneurship and leadership—and Yulia ticked all three boxes. She was building a community through Creative Mornings Palm Beach,  she was clearly a leader of that movement and she was an entrepreneur with an inspiring immigration story.

We became friends. She asked me to speak to Creative Mornings (which was an honor and a thrill) and I was happy when she announced that she was hitting the road with her adorable dog Milo.

I look forward to her posts—the photos and videos are magnificent. But it’s the occasional long form posts that I relish. Her thoughts on travel, on work, solitude, narcissism, friendship, self-reliance and the beauty of the places she visits are just wonderful. Soulful too…and we all need a little more soul these days.

As I stare down my 55th birthday in a few weeks, chances are I will never quite replicate what Yulia is doing but who knows? Maybe, just maybe Diane and I will steal away with our rescue dogs for an adventure. But right now, it’s August and I’m still trying to plan a vacation.

I have a strong hunch that this is more than an adventure for Yulia. She may have found a way to live her best life, yet another reason to admire her.

Who knows where the road will lead? Nobody really does. But if you make them soulful miles, well then maybe, just maybe you’ll discover the answers to a lot of life’s mysteries.