Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Business

Frank Morsani writes of business, philanthropy in memoir

TAMPA

Seeing his name on buildings is not what made auto dealer Frank Morsani one of the Tampa Bay area's biggest philanthropists.

Rather, living the American Dream is what made him want to share his good fortune, as well as the values that helped create it and the responsibility it brings, all of which Morsani writes about in a new memoir, To Be Frank: Building the American Dream in Business and Life.

"The capitalist system is pretty doggone good, and I wanted to tell the story we've been privileged to live," Morsani said during his first book signing, a reception last week at the University of South Florida's Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation. Co-authored with former Tampa Bay Times writer Dave Scheiber, To Be Frank is available on Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com and at bay area Barnes & Noble stores.

Over the years, Morsani, 84, and his wife, Carol, the high school classmate he took to the prom and married a year later, have donated tens of millions to arts, education and health organizations, including the University of South Florida (which is not their alma mater), Oklahoma State University (which is), as well as to the University of Tampa, Moffitt Cancer Center and the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

"He works hard and gives hard," USF Foundation CEO Joel Momberg wrote in the book's foreward. "The Morsani name on a building is a seal of approval."

The biography tells of Morsani's journey from poverty in Arkansas to owning more than 30 dealerships nationwide through his company, Automotive Investments.

From his boyhood, he remembers the "sense of wanting to do the right thing" as he watched his mother feed the men who came knocking at the back door during the Depression. "Never the front door," he said. "Too much dignity." Never mind that nine family members were squeezed into a two-bedroom house without plumbing or electricity.

"We didn't have anything, but neither did anyone else," Morsani said. "We didn't know we were poor. Everybody was poor."

Morsani enlisted as a mechanic in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. Serving aboard the aircraft carrier USS Antietam shaped his management philosophy.

"The military teaches you to reduce everything to the lowest common denominator, and I managed my companies that way," he said. Decentralizing responsibility "permits many things you couldn't do if you were a micro-manager."

"Growing people to be successful" and "improving a person's price tag" has given him the most satisfaction, he said.

Later, Morsani supported his wife and two daughters as a master car mechanic for Ford Motor Co, The family moved to Tampa in 1970 when a Mercedes-Benz dealer fell ill and sought Morsani's help. A year later he bought the business from the dealer's widow.

Success is often a matter of timing, he said. He sensed Toyota's potential in the United States sooner than most. So in early 1973, when he opened University Toyota on Florida Avenue, he was the carmaker's sole dealer in Hillsborough County.

He also saw an advantage to accepting federal regulations on the auto industry.

"That's when a lot of people wanted to get out of the business, and I could get them out," he said. "I bought them out for nothing."

Other chapters chronicle the 10 years he chaired the board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and traveled extensively on behalf of American business. "I gave five speeches a week between here and Beijing and Frankfurt in the '70s."

Morsani also shares his frustration about a personally costly, decade-long attempt to bring Major League Baseball to the Tampa Bay area.

In the latter third of his years, Morsani, who lives with his wife in Brooksville, continues his charitable ways, though he is now sought after as much for his business acumen as his philanthropy.

"We live our lives in thirds," Morsani said. "We learn, we earn, and then we return."

Comments
Clearwater’s Clegg Insurance Group buys Advanced Insurance Brokerage

Clearwater’s Clegg Insurance Group buys Advanced Insurance Brokerage

CLEARWATER - Clegg Insurance Group of Clearwater announced on Wednesday it has bought Brandon-based Advanced Insurance Brokerage.The merger creates a firm with more than 2,000 customers and more than $10 million in annual premiums. Terms were not dis...
Updated: 17 minutes ago
Wine dinners, beer projects and more will wet your whistle this summer

Wine dinners, beer projects and more will wet your whistle this summer

FILIPINO FOOD: WELCOME CHISMISHave you been to the Heights Public Market at the 73,000-square-foot Armature Works yet? It’s the buzzy food market in Tampa Heights with more than a dozen vendors offering up everything from rolled ice cream to Cuban sa...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Citizens considers hiking homeowners insurance rates about 8 percent

Citizens considers hiking homeowners insurance rates about 8 percent

Citizens Property Insurance Corp.’s is weighing another round of hefty rate hikes.Staffers with the state-run insurer of last resort have proposed raising the average rates for homeowners by 7.9 percent — just under the legislative cap of 10 percent ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
A tight supply cuts into Tampa Bay homes sales while prices keep rising

A tight supply cuts into Tampa Bay homes sales while prices keep rising

Tampa Bay’s two largest counties showed anemic home sales in May as prices continued to rise due to a tight supply.In Pinellas, sales of single-family home plunged nearly 12 percent from the previous May, the second-worst showing in a year. Prices, t...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Pinellas County files suit against companies who built Public Safety Complex

Pinellas County files suit against companies who built Public Safety Complex

CLEARWATER –– The Pinellas County Public Safety Complex was built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane, but officials now say the $81 million fortress has water leaks and cracked walls.The county filed a lawsuit this month against Harvard Jolly, the S...
Updated: 2 hours ago
CEOs are calling the separation of children and families at the border ‘inhumane’ and ‘tragic’

CEOs are calling the separation of children and families at the border ‘inhumane’ and ‘tragic’

Democratic and Republican lawmakers have spoken out about the Trump administration’s hard-line "zero-tolerance" immigration policy that has resulted in a sharp rise in children separated from their parents at the southern U.S. border. The president o...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Demolition looms for old Bromley office building at Midtown Tampa

Demolition looms for old Bromley office building at Midtown Tampa

TAMPA — Over the past month, demolition crews have gutted the old five-story Bromley office building at the future site of the $500 million Midtown Tampa project.On Sunday, the remaining skeleton of the building is scheduled to come down.The demoliti...
Updated: 2 hours ago
What historically high lumber prices mean for Florida home buyers

What historically high lumber prices mean for Florida home buyers

Blame a lack of rail cars in Canada or not enough semi trucks in the United States. Forest fires didn’t help. Tariffs played a big role, too. Even the buoyant economy takes part of the rap for frothy lumber prices, which hit all-time highs las...
Updated: 6 hours ago
What historically high lumber prices mean for Florida home buyers

What historically high lumber prices mean for Florida home buyers

Blame a lack of rail cars in Canada or not enough semi trucks in the United States. Forest fires didn’t help. Tariffs played a big role, too. Even the buoyant economy takes part of the rap for frothy lumber prices, which hit all-time highs las...
Updated: 6 hours ago

Reopening date still elusive for Palace Grand facility

SPRING HILL — Palace Grand, an upscale event facility closed in 2016 because of sinkhole activity beneath the structure, remains shuttered. A reopening date remains elusive.Originally advertised as a "luxurious" setting for weddings, corporate events...
Published: 06/20/18