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Power Lunch

  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 10:09 p.m. April 19, 2012
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
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The Business Review recently met with six Tampa-area top executives, who either run or have founded successful businesses, from insurance to fitness to technology.

As members of the CEO Council of Tampa Bay, a leadership organization founded in 2002, they spoke with the Review over lunch about a variety of issues they face as business leaders. Here are some excerpts of what they had to say:

Most of the executives talk about the current economy in a fighting spirit kind of way, a place where enthusiasm meets reality.

To Chris Peifer, with Tice Financial Services Inc., the alternative would be too gloomy. Says Peifer: “Even if the economy, with all its excessive regulations and rules and interference, is bouncing along the bottom, our members still see opportunity for growth and success.”

Eric Bailey, with CapTrust Financial Advisors, adds that from an overall markets perspective, there is muscle behind the hopefulness. Bailey says after a rough first three quarters in 2011, the market has since picked up. “The last six months have just been incredible,” says Bailey. “It's like we ran the one-minute mile.”

Nonetheless, M.E. Wilson Company's Guy King has some trepidation. “What concerns me is there are so many new threats today,” King says. “How much of this economy is total B.S.? Are we creating something that's false, just like the false economy we were operating under for several years?”

The six CEOs have all made investments in technology at their firms over the past few years. The majority said they spent well into the six figures.

“In December 2009, I was under no illusion that anyone was going to be running out to buy learning management systems and invest in training and development,” says eLogic Learning's Mark Anderson. “But we said OK, we've accumulated this amount of earnings and revenues, so it's time for us to reinvest. We began the process of rebuilding our technologies with the expectation that in a couple of years the market would return. It was clearly a premeditated thought process.”

Andrew Cohen with All Covered, an IT services firm, says many of his clients want do more with less, so they look to technology for help. “Technology is an enabler,” says Cohen. “It allows you to go into different markets and to be able to take advantage of those markets.”

On the technology front, the executives, in unison, agree that Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and the rest of the social media world is a force that's upended their jobs, and their companies. “At this point in time we need to understand social media and how to leverage that because it's a totally different marketing world today,” says Geoff Dyer, founder of Lifestyle Family Fitness. “The conventional systems of print, TV and radio just aren't working anymore.”

Business climate
The stench from foreclosures lingers in the Tampa area, most of the executives say. It's one reason why the group isn't thrilled with the current business climate.

Says Cohen: “When you look at the core of what Tampa Bay is about — tourism, hospitality and homebuilding, those areas are still extremely weak right now.”

Anderson says even though his firm does a lot of business outside the Tampa area, he's not overwhelmed locally. “I would say it's a soft climate,” says Anderson. “I just don't see as much activity as I think people want to talk about.”

Adds Dyer: “I don't see there being a real resurgence in growth at the moment. You still see a lot a lot of stores closed and restaurants continue to struggle.”

Some executives lauded Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn for setting a strong pro-business tone. “I think we have a very practical mayor,” says King. “He's coming out with meaningful changes to the regulation and the inhibitions to doing business in Tampa.”

CEO Council
The CEO Council, celebrating its 10-year anniversary in 2012, has more than 200 members, who run companies in four Tampa-area counties. The mission of the group combines three ideals: Networking and relationships with other top executives; ideas and strategies about how to grow companies; and how leaders can solve non-industry specific issues. The group doesn't allow solicitations.

Members are CEOs or presidents of companies with at least 25 employees and a minimum of $3 million in annual revenues. All six executives say their membership has been a key driver in their business, and life, success. “I think we are a nice secret weapon here,” says Peifer, who adds that cities like Orlando, Austin and Charlotte would love to have a similar group.

Moreover, the CEO Council isn't about mere networking or education sessions, says King. It's essentially a group of doers who strive to help their fellow members. “I know we've saved people millions of dollars,” says King. “We've also saved people from really ignorant decisions.”

• Mark Anderson, eLogic Learning. Anderson's business designs and implements training and development programs for other businesses.

• Eric Bailey, CapTrust Financial Advisors. A Tampa native, Bailey is a founding principal of CapTrust, an investment consultant firm founded in 1998.

• Andrew Cohen, All Covered: A division of Konica Minolta, All Covered provides IT services. Prior to All Covered, Cohen was president and CEO of Vertical IT Solutions.

• Geoff Dyer, Lifestyle Family Fitness: A native of Australia, Dyer founded Lifestyle Family Fitness, a chain of fitness centers, when he opened one in Lakeland in 1982.

• Guy King, M.E. Wilson Company: Founded in Tampa in 1920, the firm provides risk management, insurance and employee benefits to large corporate entities. King's maternal grandfather, M.E. (Gene) Wilson, founded the firm.

• Chris Peifer, Tice Financial Services: Peifer has been the president of Tice, a financial consulting firm, since its founding in 1987. He's also currently on the board of Tampa-based Bay Cities Bank.

Click here for more information on the CEO Council of Tampa Bay.


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