St. Petersburg Times Online: Times 50

 
 St. Petersburg Times
Online: Times Fifty
Times Fifty
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Times 50 Roundtable: Further excerpts

From the loneliness of the CEO's job to the challenge of luring tech workers to the bay area, here are further excerpts from a roundtable discussion with three of the Tampa Bay area's top business leaders.

The participants are chief executives of the three top companies on the Times 50 list of best-performing public companies based in the Tampa Bay area. They are: Steven A. Raymund, chairman and chief executive of Tech Data Corp. of Clearwater; Robert D. Fagan, CEO of Tampa-based TECO Energy Inc.; and Gerry Chastelet, CEO of Digital Lightwave Inc. of Clearwater.

Q: Being a CEO can be a lonely job up there at the top. Who do you listen to for counsel on business issues?

FAGAN: My wife. And you get a couple of folks within the company that you're close to, that you can talk to. And you get key board members that you can bounce things off on. And you have to have somebody that you talk about all the issues with. I think it's not unusual that that becomes a spouse.

CHASTELET: I certainly have at least two guys that virtually every decision we make in the company we talk about. And I would also echo, that's what you want in a board. You want your board to be an adviser to you. That's a very complex job to run the company and whether our wives like it or not, they're always the advisers.

FAGAN: Whether we like it or not. (laughter)

RAYMUND: I suspect being a CEO was much more lonely 20, 30, 40 years ago than it is today. Companies were structured in a more hierarchal (manner), more formal lines of communication. These days we dress down informally, we have e-mail that means that even the lowest level individual can have instantaneous access to the CEO. So I think it's less lonely at the top and I think it makes for a lot more fun 'cause you really feel like you're part of a team.

Q: Do you all get a lot of e-mail from non-management employees?

RAYMUND: I have a program where I send out an e-mail once a month to all our employees worldwide inviting them to ask any question that's on their mind.

CHASTELET: You see a lot of it in a very small company because we only have 200 employees, so everybody knows everybody.

FAGAN: I come from a non-traditional utility executive role. It's a more open-door policy. In the past, you might have to make an appointment three days in advance. My door's open.

CHASTELET: With the Internet and the Intranet, employees today are much more informed. It wasn't that many years ago what happened in the board room fundamentally stayed in the board room. Today every one of your employees has access to all of that information. You need to appreciate they're going to ask a lot more questions.

Q: Is it any easier right now, given the slowdown in the economy, to attract and retain any of these workers?

CHASTELET: I think retention becomes easier whenever there's a slowdown in the economy but it's not just about retention. It's still not become any easier to attract people who have, in fact, maybe lost their jobs in another area. There's not enough technology business here, so they don't want to uproot their family to come for a company and then what happens if it doesn't work out? They would rather take their chances in existing environments like Boston or Research Triangle Park or Menlo Park.

FAGAN: We don't have problems attracting people that I see to the area. There are drawbacks. The schools here are probably not the best in the world.

Q: Are we doing anything really substantive to build that base and perception that there are technology options here? Or will we constantly struggle through this for generations?

CHASTELET: Many regions have set up incubation-type environments for what I'll call the entrepreneurial intellectual property. I think eventually we can start to build that. If you've got new technology and you're on the west coast of Florida, but the majority of that technology is sold to companies in California, I mean, it's a two-day trip every time you've got to make a sales call.

Q: Is the president's tax cut enough?

FAGAN: No.

Q: Why?

FAGAN: Personally, do I think could the country afford more of a tax cut and get more stimulus? I think it could have.

CHASTELET: No further comment.

RAYMUND: I would take exception with the structure of this tax cut. I think they should have cut taxes more for poor people and less for rich people. I think they shouldn't touch the estate tax. It's absurd that somebody with a billion dollars is going to be able to pass on his fortune intact to kids without being taxed.

Q: Would you care to grade President Bush on his first few months in office?

FAGAN: A lot of personal bias coming in here. He gets an A from me.

CHASTELET: I would echo that. Under the circumstances of when he entered office and how he entered office, I think he's done a good job of recovering some credibility, dealing with the issues that he's had to deal with today.

RAYMUND: I think he's doing a reasonable job. He's a little conservative for my taste in some areas, but by and large, if you were just to grade him on effectiveness, you know that he's got a clear message, that he's working very hard to execute on his program, on the platform on which he was elected.

Q: Who would you like to see run for governor of Florida?

FAGAN: I would just as soon see the governor run. I hope that he comes back and decides to go forward and put himself back in to run for a second term. I think there are a lot of folks on the other side looking at it and at this point in time, there's a fairly big list and some probably are more attractive than others.

FAGAN: I would echo that. I would stay with the current governor.

RAYMUND: I think that Jeb's a bright guy and that he's been effective. He's capable and has done a good job leading the Florida government.

Q: Would you want to be governor?

CHASTELET: Absolutely not.

QUESTION: What advice would you give to a young person, even high school or college or going into college, about what they should study or what businesses hold promise?

FAGAN: Absorb as much as you can in all the various areas. The broader you can make your base, the better off you are in anything today. I studied to be a chemical engineer and never really was one.

Concentrate on your strengths. And beyond that, I think, have a good time when you're in school.

CHASTELET: It sounds a little biased, but I think no matter what discipline we're taking in school, all of us have to have a feel and understanding for technology. And the second most important thing, I think, as you embark upon that next step beyond school is social skills - communications and interpersonal skills. It's great to have business acumen, but if you have no social skills, it really doesn't matter what you embark upon.

RAYMUND: Challenge yourself by selecting the most demanding courses possible. I'm always impressed by people who can reason and articulate their views succinctly and effectively. I get lots of e-mails and sometimes it's just stunning how poorly educated even middle managers can be. The poor-quality composition reflects sloppy thinking.

Q: Would you encourage your children to pursue the same type of work that you're in?

FAGAN: Why not? It's a lot of fun. My background has been the independent power side which has been more of an entrepreneurial business. It requires multifaceted skills. You really do have to have some technical knowledge, you have to have financial knowledge, you have to have some legal understanding, contractual basis, you have to have some marketing and sales skills and you've got to put them all together. You're basically a developer, and developing can be a lot of fun.

CHASTELET: I have a 5-year-old. Obviously I'm in a very high-paced, high-growth, constantly changing industry and every day's excitement in the technology industry, so I would absolutely encourage him to be in this business. I think CEO roles aren't meant for everybody. It's a phenomenal commitment in your life.

RAYMUND: I think Bob said that in recommending to students that they should build on their strengths, and I would say the same thing to my own children, so whatever they're interested in, really push that as far as they can and see where that takes them.

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