Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Business

Who's been naughty and nice in business this year

In 2012, who was naughty and who was nice on the Tampa Bay and Florida business scene? We've made a list and checked it twice. So here are the Naughty and Nice awards to those in the business community who this year made a difference — for better or worse.

Nice

The Too Big for Words Award goes to Drs. Kiran and Pallavi Patel for committing $12 million in their latest gift to the University of South Florida to help create the Patel College of Global Sustainability. This same year, the couple started building their 63,310-square-foot home of 12 bedrooms, 12 bathrooms and eight half-bathrooms in Carrollwood, which will become the largest single-family house in Hillsborough County.

Naughty

The Don't Mess With the Tax Man Award goes to John D. Stanton III, former president of Seffner-based Cast-Crete, who this month was found guilty of failing to file personal and corporate income taxes in the last decade. At 64, he could face up to 10 years in jail. Stanton was the protege of Cast-Crete chairman Ralph Hughes, now deceased, who used money and influence in Hillsborough County to back candidates who favored small government and low taxes.

Nice

The Shapewear Twins Award goes to Clearwater-raised Sara Blakely, who as founder of Spanx became in 2012 the youngest self-made female billionaire in the world. The award is shared with St. Petersburg's "Ahh Bra" creator Rhonda Shear of Shear Enterprises, who was named one of Ernst & Young's "entrepreneurs of the year" in Florida.

Naughty

The Abuse of Power Award goes to former state Sen. JD Alexander, who threatened big cuts to the University of South Florida system unless USF forfeited control of its Lakeland campus so that Polk County — JD's turf — could have its own university. Last month, USF handed the keys over to what is now Florida Polytechnic University. It's a tainted start for now-independent Polytech and a sour end to Alexander's public service career.

Nice

The Our Time Is Now Award to Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn for doubling as the Energizer Bunny promoting economic opportunity in his city and Tampa Bay as a place on the move after a deep recession. He was everywhere during Tampa's Republican National Convention in August. And when he's not at economic development meetings, he's at ribbon cuttings, on trade missions to Tampa "sister city" Barranquilla in Colombia or at the White House.

Naughty

The Mirage of Success Award goes to Tim Roberts, onetime CEO of Ybor City cloud-computing tech firm Savtira Corp. Roberts promised to quadruple in size and move its top executives to downtown Tampa. As beguiled city leaders waved incentives to keep Savtira happy, employees failed to see paychecks. By April, Savtira was bankrupt. Now fast-talking Roberts is gone, back to Missouri promoting a new tech gig: GoldenHeart Holdings.

Nice

The Leave 'Em Laughing Award goes to Greg Celestan, African-American founder of a defense firm and 2013 chairman of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. At the chamber podium this month, he urged a packed convention hall of mostly white businesspeople to take a close look at him, telling them he realizes they are not used to seeing someone at the helm … whose name is not Chuck. Chamber chairmen for the past three years have all been named Chuck. Chuckles Celestan: "It was fun to see the mayor squirm for a few seconds."

Naughty

The Political Tin Ear Award goes to two chiefs in the same year of state-run Citizens Property Insurance. Tom Grady, millionaire securities lawyer, spent lavishly while running an insurance pool full of desperate Florida homeowners. Successor Barry Gilway then fired internal investigators probing Citizens' handling of cases involving alleged misconduct by supervisors, phony credentials, drunken Coyote Ugly bar dancing and more than $750,000 in severance pay. Admits Gilway: "Even my wife looks at me and says, 'You did what?' "

Nice

The Rich Man, Poor City Award goes to Bill Edwards, new patron saint of the checkbook for St. Petersburg's financial inadequacies. BayWalk needs revival? Check. Mahaffey Theater needs freshening and sharper management? Check. St. Pete needs a "welcome tower" on I-275? Check. Just let Bill pay for it.

Naughty

The Machiavelli Award goes to Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers for Duke's nefarious handling of its purchase of Progress Energy. Historians say Machiavelli employed "cunning and duplicity" in his affairs. Now Florida ratepayers wonder: Is this how the new power company does business?

Nice

The Best Designs on Paper Award goes to Darryl LeClair, CEO of real estate development firm Echelon, for his uninvited-yet-inviting design proposals for a new St. Petersburg Pier and a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium in the city's Carillon area. If LeClair was a rebel without a cause, we would not care. If his Pier and stadium designs were lame, we'd care even less. But LeClair is sincere. And both the Pier and baseball park designs were striking.

Naughty

The Blood Money Award goes to Don Doddridge, who as CEO of St. Petersburg's Florida Blood Services oversaw the statewide merger with two other major blood banks to create OneBlood Inc. But that was no excuse to trigger megaraises for top managers of the not-for-profit blood supply service. Doddridge made $444,000 a year but was heading toward $191,000 more in salary and bonus. Other execs also lined up at the pay trough in what has become a bloody shame.

Nice

The CPR Award goes to Chris Steinocher for his serious resuscitation efforts this year of both the finances and membership trust in the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce. Now where will the chamber CEO take a re-energized chamber?

Naughty

Sure she got way too much attention, but that's the point. The It's All About Me Award goes to Jill Kelley, Tampa Bayshore Boulevard's financially stressed socialite. The international blowback sparked by her flirtatious ties to former top area military Gens. David Petraeus and John Allen will require time to mend Tampa Bay's community and business relations with this region's valuable economic engine that is MacDill Air Force Base.

Nice

The Whistle While You Work Award goes to Sean Hellein, a former financial analyst at Tampa's WellCare Health Plans. His complaint sparked a federal investigation that resulted in WellCare agreeing to pay a $137.5 million settlement to resolve claims of overbilling Medicare and Medicaid. As a whistle-blower, Hellein was rewarded in April with $20.75 million. Earlier, Hellein secretly recorded WellCare executives discussing ways to double bills for patient services. Those recordings prompted the FBI to raid WellCare's Tampa headquarters in 2007.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]

     
                 
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