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Business Observer Friday, Jun. 1, 2012 8 years ago

Two Worlds

A leading nonprofit executive has embarked on an unusual career shift. She will enter the for-profit world - in a big way.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

The grow-or-die business mantra never resonated with Betsy Kane-Hartnett.

Indeed, it was a philosophy she figured didn't apply to her line of work: early childhood education and family services. Kane-Hartnett co-founded Forty Carrots Family Center in Sarasota in 1993, and as executive director, she helped the center become one of the top facilities in the region.

“I've always thought bigger isn't better,” says Kane-Hartnett. “I've focused on quality over quantity.”

Kane-Hartnett admits there are other business themes she knows little about. But that's set to change. Kane-Hartnett, 58, retired in May from Forty Carrots to take a leadership role in Kane-Miller Corp., a land and real estate development firm founded by her father, prominent local businessman Stanley Kane.

Sarasota-based Kane-Miller's properties are spread nationwide. One local holding is Kane Plaza, a 10-story office building east of Main Street in downtown Sarasota. The firm also has an interest in two businesses, including a staffing firm in New Jersey and a large investment portfolio. Kane-Hartnett declines to say how much the portfolio, or the company, is worth.

In addition to the investments and real estate, Stanley Kane and some relatives have been part of several lawsuits filed against Sarasota attorney David Band since 2008. The suits accused Band of malpractice in leading a multitude of sour real estate investments that cost the Kane family millions of dollars. Band has denied the accusations.

Kane-Hartnett declines to comment on Band. Her focus instead is on her career change, precipitated by some health issues with Kane, 92. The shift twists the executive retiree handbook: For-profit executives commonly seek to volunteer at nonprofits when they retire, but few go from nonprofit to real estate development.

“I'm one of the only nonprofit executives in town with a foot in the for-profit world,” says Kane-Hartnett. “I'm asked for money as much as I ask for money.”

Kane-Hartnett, however, says the switch was easy because it's about her family. That includes her husband, adult children, two sisters and their husbands, and their children — a total of 13 people. Says Kane-Hartnett: “I'm now responsible for my family.”

Officially a vice president with Kane-Miller, Kane-Hartnett realizes there will be a long learning curve to understand the nuances of running a business. But she has an edge in two areas. One, she's not shy about taking on a leadership role, and two, she says she likes to make decisions from her gut.

“I'm a take charge kind of person,” says Kane-Hartnett. “I'm bossy. Just give me a whistle.”

Another factor that should aid Kane-Hartnett's transition is experience in making difficult recession-era decisions. For example, in 2009, when the downturn strangled incoming donations, Forty Carrots was forced to layoff a few employees and freeze salaries. Kane-Hartnett says she learned fast that tough financial decisions are sometimes necessary to preserve the greater mission.

“We were nurturers,” Kane-Hartnett says. “But (Forty Carrots) needed a little tough love.”

Kane-Hartnett hopes to bring that newfound tough love to Kane-Miller. The firm was once publicly traded, and was once also a billion-dollar Fortune 500 conglomerate in the grocery business and food processing industry.

Kane-Hartnett has planned for the transition for several months, though leaving Forty Carrots is nonetheless bittersweet. Despite the unique challenges, Kane-Hartnett looks forward to her late-in-life career change. “I feel middle-aged,” she says. “I don't feel old.”

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