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Business Observer Friday, Sep. 27, 2019 2 months ago

Bold approach: Community leader encourages others to lend a hand when asked

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A Tampa area civic and business leader — she's been on some 40 boards — forged her career path with one clear objective: to seize every opportunity.
by: Jay Schlichter Lee-Collier Editor

Just say yes.

That is one of the key messages Tampa marketing executive Dianne Jacob tells people she speaks to at presentations and during one-on-one conversations.

Instead of turning down opportunities, the 67-year-old vice president and director of client and community relations at PNC Bank recommends people challenge themselves, volunteer when asked and constantly make new connections.

The long-time Tampa resident, who has served on more than 40 nonprofit boards and held a multitude of community leadership positions, says taking risks — saying yes — allowed her to travel to numerous countries, take on new roles and work on a team that helped secure a Super Bowl and Republican National Convention for Tampa.

“Looking back, I had no idea how much being on those boards would enrich my life,” she told a large crowd at the Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual awards ceremony Aug. 29 as keynote speaker. “I found myself looking for more. Each one led to the next and the next.”

Prior to her executive level position at PNC, Jacob was the senior vice president of marketing at Visit Tampa Bay, a vice president of business development and a director of marketing at construction companies, along with working as a director of leasing for a real estate firm. She also has experience in commercial interior design, commercial real estate and tourism.

Current boards she sits on include the Tampa General Hospital Foundation, Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County, Tampa Downtown Partnership, Champions for Children and the Tampa Museum of Art. Jacob helped develop the Emerge Tampa Bay organization for young professionals and developed the Connect Florida Institute leadership program.

Jacob considered running for office due to having such a strong passion in improving early childhood education. She put her energies elsewhere. “I’m not sure I like the [election] process anymore, but think I could be effective,” she says. “But the older I get, the less I worry about what other people think.”

Prior to the chamber event, Jacob spoke with the Business Observer about her career, challenges and Tampa's rise nationally as a premier city.

What did you learn from being a woman in the male-dominated construction industry?

Dianne Jacob gave a presentation to a large audience at the Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce's annual awards celebration at the Hyatt Coconut Point in Estero. Photo by Jim Jett.

The first thing I had to do was toughen my skin. I’ve been in a male-dominated profession all of my life. My father told all of us (Jacob and her two sisters and one brother) that we were smart and capable and that we could be anything we want to be. The other thing he told us is, "Don’t rely on a man. Be self-sufficient." We have all succeeded really well.

As a result, getting into the workforce originally, I wasn’t prepared for some of the discriminating remarks that happened. I hadn’t heard that type of thing before. My response was to laugh, thinking that they weren’t being serious. It served me well. Maybe in my own naivety, it helped me to move past it.

What has the Tampa region done right in growth? What mistakes has it made?

We don’t leap forward real fast. We tend to take our time, look at things and make our decisions based upon that type of information. 

The region hasn’t overbuilt tremendously. But on the other hand, we haven’t taken a lot of risks. The one thing that comes back to haunt us is transportation issues. There hasn’t been much done to solve it. People are coming to Tampa at a staggering rate.

But the thing the region has done very well is in health care. We have Tampa General Hospital here. It has a wonderful reputation, along with some of the top-ranked cancer hospitals like [H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute].

What can fast-growing communities like Fort Myers or Naples do to not become Miami or Fort Lauderdale?

Through my work with statewide organizations, I’m all over the state. I’ve found that there’s not one community in this state that’s the same. The best thing we can all be is the thing that makes our community unique.

For example, St. Petersburg has a really cool vibe going on right now. Their downtown area is small but really walkable and congenial. It’s like a very small version of what South Beach is like. Along their waterfront park, it’s loaded with restaurants. They have wonderful museums, small and quirky ones. We have downtown envy in Tampa over what they have done in St. Petersburg.

The communities in Southwest Florida are all very different. Play to your strengths. The transportation issues are not going to be solved by one community, but statewide. 

In another respect, honor what your communities are. Let them be what they are.

How were you able to secure the Super Bowl in 2009 and the Republican National Convention in 2012 for Tampa?

Well, it’s a team effort. When I was with Visit Tampa Bay, the request to bid for a Super Bowl came from the NFL to the mayor of the city (who then sent it to her team). 

Responding to that is an enormous task. It revolves around the three counties near Tampa because it required a hotel room block of 40,000.

Everyone who was in the (Visit Tampa Bay) organization — my team being marketing and public relations — we packaged it and made sure it was properly written and addressed all issues.

Then you make an incredible presentation at the NFL owners meeting, along with four other communities. They then make a decision on the spot.

It’s amazing but it’s also one of the most stressful things I’ve ever been through.

The Republican National Convention took three times before we got it. You make the same kind of response [like the NFL]. They bring in leaders from the Republican Party. They come to the city for 2 1/2 days, and we show them everything spectacular about it. It’s fanfare like you’ve never seen before.

What business advice do you often give others?

I mentor a lot of people. I don’t know how many to be honest with you, but it’s a lot. Some of the relationships last a couple of years, some months and some over lunch. 

But I also receive mentoring from others. My current mentor is 40 years old, and that’s because he has an expertise I don’t have. He keeps me attuned to what’s happening in those areas that I don’t have experience with. 

Frankly, I’ve got a world of experience, but he’s the regional president here [at PNC Bank in Tampa]. I’m not a banker, so I’m constantly listening and watching what he’s doing. We have the kind of relationship that is strong. We listen to each other.

At 37, he was anointed as our president. He sat down with our whole team and wanted to know our goals and objectives.

When I sat down with him, he said, "So what’s your plans?" I told him my short-term goal is to make sure you get your feet under you completely. And goal No. 2 is to leave you as strongest regional president ever for PNC. He said, "We’re going to get along just fine."

It’s fun to be at this point in my life. Experience gives you perspective that you don’t have when you’re younger. None of us believe that until we’re older.

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