Friday, November 17, 2017
Business

Here's what 12 Tampa Bay CEOs have to say about confronting these demanding economic times

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It's one thing to hear what one area CEO has to say. But it's quite another to glean what a bunch of executives face these days in trying to grow — and sometimes trying not to shrink — a significant Tampa Bay-based corporation.

Here's a thin slice of what a dozen CEOs of publicly traded companies here have said to analysts or the financial media in recent times. The quotes and compilations, some from this past week and others from recent months, are meant to capture some core concern or challenge confronting each of these chief executives.

What emerges in many of these shorts is that the U.S. and international economies are distracted at best — fearful at worst — in ways that make it tougher to grow and also make a buck. Consumers may still be spending money, but cautiously, after more deliberation and comparison shopping.

Not all is bleak. CEOs at several companies cited here are making strong strides in their respective industries, sometimes after suffering leaner times. Nobody said competition was easy.

•••

Diners get picky about where, how often to eat out

Liz Smith, CEO of Tampa's Bloomin' Brands, parent of Outback Steakhouse and other casual dining chains:

"This quarter's performance reflects a combination of lower-than-expected traffic from our marketing programs, increased competitive activity and industry traffic that has continued to soften. …For the last 11 years, casual dining traffic has declined. Price promotion, which ramped up in earnest during the recession, continues to increase but has not restored traffic growth."

Outlook: Guarded

Consumer fear hurts sales, and the election isn't helping

Mindy Grossman, CEO of St. Petersburg online/TV retailer HSN Inc.:

"There's this incredible uncertainty, distraction, negativity, I would even say, in a small way, fear," Grossman told CNBC on Thursday. "I think that's weighing in on retail, as the consumer has a lot of rationalization right now. When you think about the want side of retail versus the need side, I think (consumers) will wait for what they want, and we are seeing it across the segments. … I have been (at HSN Inc.) for 10 years, and the uncertainty is definitely more pronounced than I have seen in the past."

Outlook: Frustrated

Boating industry resurfaces, but big boats booming

Bill McGill, CEO of Clearwater's MarineMax, the country's largest boat retailer:

"All in all, it was one of the best quarters in our history as it represents our third-largest revenue quarter and the second-highest pretax profit quarter ever. What is even more important to understand is that the industry is still off about 45 percent from a unit perspective from the prior 20-year average before the financial meltdown. … In particular, we had an unusually strong quarter selling larger yachts over 60 feet."

Outlook: Rebounding

Pushing to diversify as the Apple iPhone craze dims

Mark Mondello, CEO of St. Petersburg electronics manufacturer Jabil:

"I acknowledge that the earnings in the back half of fiscal year 2016 (Jabil's fiscal year ends Aug. 31) are disappointing, especially coming directly on the heels of a record first half. I'd ask that we keep this in perspective. … We're dealing with a single issue, albeit an issue that today cuts deep. The company is in great shape, and we'll get past these product demand issues that emanate from one sector of our business, a business that's quite broad."

Outlook: Resilient

Employee burdens only boost temp staffing demand

David Dunkel, CEO of Tampa's Kforce, a temporary staffing provider:

"The expanding and evolving regulatory and employment law environment, including the new wage and hour requirements, mandatory sick leave benefits and employee classification, among others, have created a higher risk and burdensome employment environment for clients. This trend should continue to benefit the staffing industry. …Over the past few weeks, employers are becoming increasingly uncertain about near-term prospects, particularly in financial services where expected Fed rate increases have not materialized."

Outlook: Patient

Deliver or delever? New company must do both

Hubertus Muehlhaeuser, CEO of recent spinoff and New Port Richey food service equipment supplier Manitowoc Foodservice:

"2016 is a transition year for us as we begin life as an independent company with a focus on delivering and delevering. That is, we are focused on delivering the operation improvements through excellent execution of our simplification and right-sizing initiatives, which will drive improved profitability and cash flow. And we will focus on delevering our balance sheet using our improving cash flow to reduce debt."

Outlook : Enthusiastic

Auto lending risk rising as more players enter market

Ralph T. Finkenbrink, CEO of Clearwater auto industry lender Nicholas Financial:

"During our first quarter, new loan originations were below company expectations. We experienced a greater number of potential loans, which did not translate into acquired loans because they did not meet the company's risk pricing criteria. The market continues to be highly competitive, and we have seen some large competitors reduce their originations as a result of tightening underwriting guidelines."

Outlook: Risk-averse

Pro-growth, pursuing wealth across the U.S.

Paul Reilly, CEO of St. Petersburg investment firm Raymond James Financial:

"It was just a very solid quarter in a very volatile environment. If you look from the big picture, all the strategic drivers of our business look in good shape. … As many companies have struggled to grow revenue, we've continued to grow revenue, which I think is a good long-term indicator."

Outlook : Confident

Brazil downturn 'hurt us' and Zika could, too

Joel Manby, CEO of Orlando's SeaWorld Entertainment (which owns Busch Gardens Tampa):

"We are incredibly disappointed in the Brazilian situation. … We are being hurt more than we thought we would be in Brazil. … Zika? We absolutely take it seriously and are working closely with the Florida government and tourism industry. Could it impact us? Yes. We're doing everything we can to make sure we're on top of it."

Outlook: Disrupted

With jobless rates so low, where to find next hires?

Chuck Sykes, CEO in Tampa of international call center company Sykes Enterprises:

"You're touching on a subject that in the years ahead — maybe even next year, depending on where we are with the elections and everything — I believe the labor market is going to be a subject that as an industry we're going to have to be talking about in the United States."

Outlook: Positive

Ever anticipating what tech customers want next

Bob Dutkowsky, CEO of Clearwater tech distributor Tech Data Corp.:

"Tech Data's strategic position in the IT ecosystem is stronger today than ever. We are poised to take full advantage of the next set of opportunities being created, such as the emergence of cloud computing, the endless potential of the Internet of things and the never-ending challenge of securing an interconnected world."

Outlook: Adaptable

Foundation rebuilt, with a 'runway' for fresh growth

Ken Burdick, CEO of Tampa managed-care provider WellCare Health Plans:

"We will continue to pursue growth, not just in Medicaid, but we are equally bullish about pursuing our Medicare business. … This management team feels like we are finally making some good, tangible progress. We have a lot of runway left. That's our entire focus — building out a strong company based on a much healthier, stronger foundation than we had just a couple of years ago."

Outlook: Bullish

Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected] Follow @venturetampabay.

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