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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Dec. 19, 2003 14 years ago

Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

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This week's items: Farewell to Hough?Builder of the yearLawyer: Gonzalez was loyal to ColonialCounty governments rank among the highest techs

Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

Farewell to Hough?

Coffee Talk is going to take a wild guess and say William R. Hough is retiring.

In a little more than two weeks, a bank where Hough is the largest shareholder and a brokerage firm where he holds the controlling stake have announced they are being sold.

Republic Bancshares Inc., holding company for St. Petersburg-based Republic Bank, went to BB&T Corp. on Dec. 2 for $436 million. On Dec. 16, Royal Bank of Canada, rumored to have been in the hunt for Hough's bank, had its Dain Rauscher Inc. investment subsidiary pick up broker-dealer William R. Hough & Co. for an undisclosed sum.

As the curtain is pulled down on 2003, we could very well be also witnessing the final act of the 76-year-old Hough's successful business career. Hough has been a pillar of the St. Petersburg establishment for more than 40 years. But, like Florida Power Corp. and others before him, his family is yielding to economic reality and turning over important locally owned businesses to out-of-state (and, in the case of the brokerage, out-of-country) interests. BB&T's headquarters is in Winston-Salem, N.C. and RBC's in Toronto.

Hough, chairman emeritus of Hough & Co., and his son, Chairman and President W. Robb Hough Jr., told The Bond Buyer that their firm had desired to build a derivatives group. With only $50 million in cash, however, the firm lacked adequate capital even to attempt the expansion, father and son say. They needed the heft of a Dain Rauscher to grow.

Philanthropy will probably be a bigger preoccupation with the elder Hough now. Just how big, maybe only the Internal Revenue Service will know.

But we can always speculate on the figure that the elder Hough will be penciling in on his 2003 income tax return as his take from the sales of his bank and brokerage.

By Coffee Talk's count, Hough shall receive about $108 million before taxes from the Republic deal.

The proceeds from the brokerage sale aren't so easy to gauge. The Bond Buyer reported that RBC most likely did not pay more than $100 million. Susanne Walker, underwriters and dealers editor at the daily trade newspaper, told GCBR that her sources in the debt markets believe RBC probably spent somewhere between $50 million and $80 million. At the low end, that puts Hough's share of the brokerage sale price in the neighborhood of $25 million.

So Mr. Hough should have at least $133 million, before Uncle Sam gets to him, to spread around to his favorite charities and heirs.

Hough is president of the $5.5-million-asset Hough Family Foundation. Recent beneficiaries have included the Canterbury School, Eckerd College, the Hospice Foundation, and the Palladium Theater, all in St. Petersburg, as well as the University of Florida Foundation in Gainesville. Perhaps those causes can expect even greater largesse from Hough in the new year.

Builder of the year

Talking about philanthropy, many people in the Sarasota area building industry know about Lee Wetherington's philanthropic efforts. He's the namesake of the Lee Wetherington Boys & Girls Club, a $5 million community center under construction.

Partly because of such philanthropy, the nationally distributed Builder magazine has chosen Sarasota-based Lee Wetherington Homes Inc. as one of its three national builders of the year. The magazine, which made the selections from around 3,000 applications, will honor the company next month as part of the National Association of Home Builders' 60th annual convention and the International Builders Show in Las Vegas.

While the company's philanthropy figured in the selection, the magazine also puts the candidates through a rigorous evaluation process. The company had to submit a business and profitability plan. Then the magazine checked on its customer satisfaction.

"We had a good growth period," Wetherington says. "Our profitability was rated in the top 1% in the nation. We had a very high customer satisfaction rating."

The Sarasota-based homebuilder expects sales on about 300 homes this year to reach $107 million. That's about a 49% increase over last year's sales of $72 million.

But Wetherington takes only partial credit for the award and the company's success. "The 81 people in the company are the ones responsible for this honor," he says. "The gratitude comes from 81 people pulling the same way."

Lawyer: Gonzalez was loyal to Colonial

Tampa attorney Hallie S. Evans took issue with GCBR for what she says was our mischaracterization of a court filing in the "Colonial Battle" story published in the Dec. 12-18 edition. Evans works for a law firm that represents Anthony F. Gonzalez, who has filed two lawsuits over his dismissal as chairman of Colonial Bank's Tampa regional board.

The Nov. 21 pleading supported the disqualification of another lawyer who works with Evans, Stanford R. Solomon, from representing Gonzalez in one of the lawsuits. An attorney for Joseph V. Chillura, who fired Gonzalez, filed the pleading.

The pleading reads in part: "Attached here as Exhibit A (a stock offering circular for the Bank of St. Petersburg) is a document that shows what this case is really (italics in original) about. Mr. Gonzalez is now competing with Colonial Bank in his role as Chairman of Bank of St. Petersburg. Mr. Gonzalez has been working on this plan for some time, and his connivance in this regard while still at Colonial was a prime reason why he was fired there."

Evans says she did not interpret the filing by Chillura attorney William F. Jung to mean Gonzalez was working for the Bank of St. Petersburg while still at Colonial, only that he may have been planning to work for the Bank of St. Petersburg while still at Colonial.

Regardless of how the Jung filing is interpreted, Evans says Gonzalez denies that he was either working for or planning to work for the Bank of St. Petersburg while on the Colonial payroll.

Prior to publication of the "Colonial Battle" story, Solomon did not return GCBR's calls seeking his comments on the dispute.

County governments rank among the highest techs

When it comes to high-tech governments, the Gulf Coast of Florida has three of the most digitally oriented counties in the nation - Lee, Sarasota and Hernando counties.

In a survey conducted by the Center for Digital Government, in partnership with the National Association of Counties (NACo) and Government Technology magazine, these three counties ranked among the top 10 in the nation in their population categories.

The Digital Counties Survey examined how county governments have progressed in utilizing information technology to improve the overall delivery of services to their customers and citizens. In the 250,000-to-499,999 (population) category, Lee ranked fourth and Sarasota ranked sixth. In the less-than-150,000 category, Hernando ranked second.

In the 500,000-or-greater population category, two Florida counties ranked among the top five - Miami-Dade County, second; and Orange County, third.

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