Tampa Bay's business scene might best be described as fluid. Lots of people come and lots of people go. Some stay long enough to make a significant impression — usually a good one, but not always. Here are nine notable leaders — many in health care but also in sports business, publishing and even a whistleblower against corporate wrongdoing.
Chances are you know some if not all of their names. Many you have no doubt lost track of over the months and years. Where are they now and what are they up to? Read on.
1. and 2. When Jim Burkhart suddenly resigned last fall after nearly four years as CEO of Tampa General Hospital, a regional mainstay in health care, questions swirled over the circumstances. Was he pushed? Burkhart later told the Tampa Bay Times — yes — that was the case. He said the hospital's finances played a role in his ouster by the board of directors. "They would like to see the finances be better because we're in an environment where you are trying to build a health care system," he said at the time. Then Burkhart went quiet as he planned his next step.
Well, he's back, having joined a potentially powerful start-up in Tampa called CSuite Solutions, a consulting firm based in Tampa's Westshore district that offers high-level advice to hospitals and other health care organizations to run more efficiently. Burkhart's title at CSuite is senior partner. The cofounders of CSuite include Steve Mason, the high-profile regional health care player who recently retired after a long career at BayCare Health System, the parent of 14 area hospitals and many BayCare Urgent Care centers.
3. Gay Culverhouse is best known in Tampa Bay sports business circles for her role as president of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in the 1990s. She was thrust back in the spotlight for personal reasons not long ago in the wake of her mother's death at age 96. She and her brother, Hugh Culverhouse Jr., accused their mother's grandson and two other men of taking financial advantage of her. Gay and Hugh Jr. had refused to allow disposition of her remains without an autopsy on her brain and access to her medical records. A judge refused the autopsy request and her mother was finally cremated earlier this year.
Gay served as Bucs president from 1991 to 1994 when her father, Hugh Culverhouse, owned the team. Now she is teaching part time at the college level, including at Columbia University in New York. But influenced by the concussion damage she saw in her NFL days, she also spends time via her non-profit helping retired football players with health issues and access to benefits. In 2011, she authored a book called "Throwaway Players: The Concussion Crisis, from Pee Wee Football to the NFL."
4. Sean Hellein hit the front page of business sections back in 2012 when it was disclosed he was a corporate whistleblower on track to receive a federal award of $21 million or so for triggering a successful federal inquiry into Medicare and Medicaid fraud at his former Tampa employer, WellCare Health Plans. His secret recordings of WellCare execs helped put then-company CEO Todd Farha and others behind bars.
Well, Hellein's not done. He's now affiliated with a Washington D.C. law firm called ProtectUS Law, described as a one-of-a-kind firm that includes non-lawyer whistleblowers as members of the firm. Attorney Neal A. Roberts recruited Hellein and other whistleblowers who had collected large sums but have not found it easy to rekindle a career. Now he helps other potential whistleblowers. As Roberts told the Times: Sean is "doing an outstanding job of being a resource to whistleblowers or potential whistleblowers who are exploring the role they can play under the United States False Claims Act."
5. Ben Eason was once the local king of the alternative weekly newspaper scene. His lively Creative Loafing publication in Tampa had counterparts in Atlanta and Charlotte that formed a vibrant family tabloid "alt" newspapers. A decade ago, Eason's Creative Loafing Inc. bought the Chicago Reader and Washington City Paper. But by 2010, with the recession in full swing, an overextended alt empire fell into bankruptcy. Eason and fellow family members saw their business fall into bankruptcy with Tampa's Creative Loafing acquired by SouthComm Inc. out of Nashville.
Earlier this year, Eason managed to repurchase Creative Loafing Atlanta, whose founders in 1972 were Eason's parents. The Tampa alt remains an asset of SouthComm, but Eason's a smart guy. We may not have seen the last of him in the Tampa publishing world.
6. Spending time with Stephen Klasko often entailed drinking Big Medical Ideas from a firehose. As the longest-serving dean in the history of the USF Morsani College of Medicine and CEO of USF Health, Klasko exuded a brash confidence as an MD with an MBA — in a hurry to turn USF's medical expertise into a health care network of regional hospitals. That never quite came together.
In 2013, Klasko left Tampa to become the new president of Thomas Jefferson University — a private health sciences university in Philadelphia — and CEO of its university hospital system. Four years later, it looks like Philly and Klasko are two peas in a pod. His goals, from workforce innovation to tele-health, continue to push the staid medical envelope. Earlier this year, Klasko even said Thomas Jefferson wants to establish the first masters program on cannabis medical education and research as more states move to legalize it.
7. In 1997, Mark Lettelleir joined Modern Business Associates (MBA), a St. Petersburg professional employee organization (or PEO, which lets client companies outsource employee management tasks like HR and payroll services). He rose to CEO and ran it for years until 2015 when he was shown the door. MBA never explained why. Some recent lawsuits now shed a little light. Last year, the company sued Lettelleir for allegedly violating a non-compete contract. The company later settled and agreed to pay him $30,000 per month for five years, a total of $1.8-million.
Now comes a new lawsuit from MBA claiming Lettelleir has since violated that settlement by contacting employees and clients and by raising the possibility of accepting a position with competitor RiskMD. MBA wants to end its $1.8 million commitment. Lettelleir's LinkedIn bio says he is executive vice president of sales at Prime Medical. Let's see how this all shakes out.
8. Debbie Sutherland, the first CEO of USF's Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation — the downtown facility that opened in 2012 known as CAMLS — stepped down in late 2015 after an internal audit found the robotic surgery training facility lacked sufficient internal controls and was not living up to its "lofty" expectations. The original concept was to train hospital surgery teams that would fly in from across the country and perhaps overseas facilities on daVinci robot-assisted surgery systems once deemed the future of surgery. Now we're not so sure.
CAMLS was intended to be a for-profit operation for USF. Now its less lofty expectation seems to be shaping up as a place to train medical students and play more of a teaching role as USF moves its main campus medical school to a nearby downtown location. Sutherland, a former USF Health vice president who has a PhD and experience in health management, has kept a low profile since her CAMLS exit. She describes herself online now as CEO at Healthcare Simulation Solutions LLC, a business here that so far has little public track record.
9. Brian Burns held the post as the last publisher of the Tampa Tribune, serving for nearly three years in the waning era of "The Trib" before it was acquired in 2016 by the Tampa Bay Times. Burns won praise from Tampa leaders for his willingness to get out into the community.
That reputation caught the eye of Gatehouse Media, owner of numerous smaller newspapers in the state, which earlier this year named Burns publisher of its Ledger Media Group. That group owns the Lakeland Ledger and News Chief in Winter Haven. His experience and knowledge in Tampa should serve him well in nearby cities in Polk County.
Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected] Follow @venturetampabay.