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Buzz worthy

  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 10:00 a.m. November 21, 2014
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
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Beer distribution executive John Saputo has fought his share of real-life battles.

He was a U.S. Marine for three years and then rose up the ranks of the Reserves. He retired with the rank of colonel in the Reserves, after a 32-year career that took him everywhere from Panama to Iraq for Operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield.

But at work, Saputo fights his business battles from the Lakewood Ranch headquarters of Gold Coast Eagle Distributing — a fortress of beverages. The company sells Anheuser-Busch, Modelo/Corona and a host of import and craft beers to nearly 2,000 customers in Sarasota and Manatee counties, including supermarkets, bars and restaurants. The 170,000-square-foot facility that opened in 2008 on 23 acres is hurricane-fortified, with walls more than 20 inches thick. The company calls the facility a castle, and Saputo runs it from an expansive and highly decorated office on the second floor.

Here's a peek inside Saputo's office.

1. Buckeye ball: Saputo was born in Michigan, but he proudly displays an Ohio State University football autographed by former head coach Jim Tressel. Now president at Youngstown State University, Tressel has a condo on Siesta Key and he and Saputo are friends.

2. True north: The walls behind Saputo's desk are filled with pictures, a mix of family, military and political memories. One picture is of Oliver North, who retired from the Marines with the rank of lieutenant colonel. Saputo worked under North in the Marines. “He taught me everything I know about ambushing and patrolling,” says Saputo. “He and I are still close.”

3. Battlefield: A picture prominently displayed is one of Saputo with his brother, Joe Saputo, back when both were high school football players at University of Detroit High School. Joe Saputo runs Carolina Eagle Disturbing, also an Anheuser-Busch distributorship, in Rocky Mount, N.C.

4. A few good sayings: Pictures of Saputo's six grandchildren dot the office, and next to one is a brick with one of his mottos. It states: “Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way,” under a U.S. Marines emblem. “That's one of my favorite sayings,” says Saputo. “Typical marine thing.”

5. With honor: Saputo earned 14 medals with the Marines in a career that began right after the Vietnam War ended in 1975. His medals include a Bronze Star for valor, for actions in a battle in Kuwait in 1990. “I'm pretty proud of that one,” says Saputo. “I damn near got killed five times for it.” Another award in the box hanging in his office is a Humanitarian Relief Medal. That's for a mission Saputo led in Bangladesh in 1991 to assist a town ravaged by a cyclone.

6. Open seas: One of Saputo's non-work pastimes is boating with friends and family. He also donates his boat to area charities and nonprofits that auction it off for weekend gateways to raise money.

7. Distinguished career: Saputo has many mementos from his long career with Anheuser-Busch, including this bottle opener from 1890. Saputo's grandfather was in the beverage distribution business, before and after prohibition. And Saputo's father owned a 10-truck operation in Detroit. John Saputo bought Gold Coast Eagle in 1996, and he ran other distributorships in Michigan, New York and North Carolina before that.

8. Strong words: Out of several framed letters in the office, one written to Saputo from U.S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks stands out. The letter, in which Franks calls Saputo “a true citizen warrior,” is recommendation for a military promotion.

9. Sharp blade: Saputo's Kabar knife has a prominent place on a dresser opposite his desk. Kabar knives, made by a company named Ka-Bar for U.S. Marines dating back to World War II, are a symbol of a Marine's resourcefulness and capability.

10. Drink up: Outside of medals and pictures, Saputo saves room in his office for his collection hobby: beer steins. He has a wide variety of the traditional beer mugs from countries all over Europe.


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