I've been to other places. They're fun to visit, but I see the potential in Tampa that a lot of other people don't see yet.
— Mike Griffin, as told to the Tampa Bay Times in 2004 at age 23.
I first met a forward-looking Mike Griffin more than eight years ago. Not long out of the University of South Florida, he was the inaugural co-chair of a new organization created in Tampa to better involve people 21 to 35 in the business community. Emerge Tampa, as the group is still named, has done just that by offering career networking, social opportunities and exposure to the Tampa and regional scene crucial for our future business leaders.
This summer, I ran into Mike during the Republican National Convention here. At 32, Mike's more involved than ever while working for Vertical Integration, a real estate firm. But his enthusiasm and optimism remain unchanged.
That's why the choice of Griffin as the winner of the first Deanne Dewey Roberts Emerging Leader Award is a good one. The award for service and dedication to the business community was unveiled Thursday evening at a soldout event held by Emerge Tampa, part of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, at Lowry Park Zoo.
Why highlight this award over others? Because this one is all about a new generation shaping Tampa and Tampa Bay's future.
Deanne Roberts, for those who never had the pleasure to meet her, was a longtime business leader, communicator, entrepreneur and fireball advocate for making the business community more attractive to talented young people. In her days as Tampa Chamber chair, she was instrumental in starting Emerge Tampa — whose membership of young businesspeople now tops 300. She helped launch the Creative Tampa Bay movement. She founded Roberts Communications, a public relations strategy firm, then sold it to Colleen Chappell, who now runs it as ChappellRoberts.
Roberts died in January at 59 after battling cancer. A service in Tampa for her drew an overflow crowd.
The Tampa Chamber decided the award was a no-brainer and ChappellRoberts has committed $1,000 each year to a charity of the award winner's choice.
In separate interviews, both Tampa Chamber CEO Bob Rohrlack and Chappell laughed over the indignation they said Roberts would have inflicted on them had she known of an award in her name they helped judge.
And both said they would not change a thing.
"She would have thought it silly, but it was exactly what needed to be done," Rohrlack said. "We wanted to recognize those leaders who are breaking away from the Emerge Tampa pack."
Griffin won this year, Rohrlack said, for his "core commitment" to his work in the business community, his humility and his maturity.
Chappell, reading from Griffin's own application, cited Roberts' faith in his helping start Emerge Tampa.
Griffin's greatest gift ahead is making sure more folks of all ages see the potential here that he recognized long ago.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]