tampabay.com

This tough lady makes one very smart move

Let's get this out of the way right off the bat: Deanne Roberts - entrepreneur, leader and mentor in Tampa Bay business circles, and, by my take, one of the top handful of folks this community should be darn glad to have on our side - just began a round of treatment to fight a rare, aggressive form of cervical cancer.

By Robert Trigaux Times Business Editor
Published December 9, 2007


Let's get this out of the way right off the bat:

Deanne Roberts - entrepreneur, leader and mentor in Tampa Bay business circles, and, by my take, one of the top handful of folks this community should be darn glad to have on our side - just began a round of treatment to fight a rare, aggressive form of cervical cancer.

Last week, Roberts packed two suitcases and headed to the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Bag One was meant for a few days stay and some tests. Bag Two was packed for a six-week-plus stay on the chance - Roberts' personal preference - to plunge at once into radiation and two types of chemotherapy treatment. She got her wish.

"They will throw the book at me," she says of her doctors.

If you know Deanne, you've probably heard of her situation - she majored in mass communications, after all. She even has a Web site affiliated with the cancer facility for updates and messages of support - 200, at last count, from people like Alex Sink, Stu Rogel and Pam Iorio.

Roberts resisted my request to talk before Thanksgiving. She needed time to tell her aging parents who, she says, "were very shook up about their little girl."

Roberts helped introduce regional economist Richard Florida and the entire "creative communities attract creative people that companies will want to hire" movement to Tampa Bay. She helped establish Emerge Tampa, the popular group for young business people ages 21 to 35, emulated in towns across this metro area. Roberts pushed to take the idea statewide when she headed Leadership Florida. Now she will bug her peers from afar to keep pushing for mass transit.

Roberts does not want some sappy column that smacks of obituary. She talked to me because she is proud of doing one thing very right. As founder and CEO of Ybor City-based Roberts Communications, her PR/marketing firm which turns 30 next year, Roberts decided to pick her successor and keep her business independent long before she learned she was sick.

In 1997, Roberts wrote down the name of Colleen Chappell, a client and manager at Verizon Wireless as someone who could take the PR firm to the next level. "I wanted someone with the same energy level," she says.

Chappell - the Energizer Bunny, says Roberts - joined the firm in 2002. That overlap gives them time. Chappell becomes CEO next year and can slowly build her compensation in company stock. As chairman, Roberts gets slowly bought out and hopes to spend more time at her home on the coast of Maine.

Big dreams. Rough road. Tough lady. Godspeed.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.