Guiding Lights

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JoAnn Elardo

Founder and CEO of Wicked Dolphin Rum Distillery—Cape Spirits Inc.

As mid-level Communist politburo leaders across eastern Europe grabbed incriminating documents from their office safes in preparation for civil collapse in 1989, a young American woman came looking for business opportunities.

“You couldn’t even get a plane ticket into Eastern Europe,” says JoAnn Elardo of Cape Coral. “I took the train from Berlin and got off in Warsaw at 10 or 11 at night. I found one of the few hotels, and the next morning, I was up walking around—that was my start. There were no American goods yet. Most trade was done with street markets.”

Elardo was one of the few Westerners who established a business in the troubled region as the Iron Curtain lifted. At 27, she founded Amer Sports, a distribution company in Central Europe that supplied Converse, Merrell, Caterpillar, Harley-Davidson and other highly sought U.S. labels to store owners in Poland, Ukraine and other countries. “I was there four years before McDonald’s,” says Elardo.

She again hit the mark in 2012 when she launched Wicked Dolphin Rum Distillery, the first legal distillery in Southwest Florida since the Prohibition era. Her various flavors of award-winning rums are sold in more than 1,800 retail locations in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, South Carolina and Washington, D.C.—including ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, Total Wine, Winn-Dixie, Publix and Sam’s Club.

She credits her father for teaching her self-reliance, and her Aunt Mary for showing her the importance of finishing everything she starts.

“My father was a hero of mine; he could do and fix anything,” she says. “He told me, ‘Remember, if that person can do it, you can, too.’ My aunt and I would work on projects together and she would push me to finish when I wanted to walk away.”

 

Craig Albert

CEO of Sanibel Captiva Community Bank

Family is important to Craig Albert, CEO of Sanibel Captiva Community Bank. He did this interview by phone while helping his elderly in-laws and other family members in Pennsylvania. Albert learned about work from his father and grandfather.

“I watched my grandfather work late into the night repairing shoes in Wisconsin, which taught me the value of hard work and ensuring customers are happy,” says Albert, 60, who leads one of SWFL’s banking success stories. “My father also worked very hard in the food industry. He was very honest and gave all of his customers a fair deal.”

After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 1982, Albert worked in banking Monday through Friday, while cooking and delivering pizzas at night and on weekends.

Chartered on Sanibel Island in 2003, SanCap Bank began as a small community bank with loans and deposits totaling $48 million and $30 million in assets. SanCap Bank now has eight locations and more than $610 million in assets— growth that occurred as Florida saw a 40% decline in banks, according to American Banker.

He also counts Lyman Frank III, his former boss at Community Bank of the Islands, as his professional mentor. Albert was vice president and loan officer of that bank at the time. “Not only did he teach me how to price a loan (determine the interest rate), he taught me how to negotiate and structure loans,” Albert says. “In addition, he taught me how to manage the bank and to focus on one customer at a time.”

 

Russell Budd

CEO of PBS Contractors

If you are in SWFL, you probably know Russell Budd, the straight-talking CEO of PBS Contractors. He was chairman of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, chaired the Collier County Planning Commission and was president of the Collier Building Industry Association. He also dedicates time to Southwest Florida families as board chairman of the David Lawrence Center for Behavioral Health, which provides mental health care and substance abuse services to Collier County.

He might not be where he is if it weren’t for the late Hank Krehling, owner of Krehling Industries. His early teacher was a colorful construction chief who also mentored other construction leaders in the area. Krehling, like many in the building industry, could drive through barriers.

“He was a bigger-than-life personality and he taught me by his examples,” Budd says. “He was smart and savvy. He was very abrupt, coarse, but very smart, real streetwise.” The 63-year-old Budd’s approach is less dramatic. “Look, what it boils down to is our customer can tell us, ‘I know you, I trust you, when we hit a little bump, you handled it completely and fairly,’ and that’s how we get our work.”

Budd says, “As the chairman of the board of directors for the David Lawrence Center, I’m particularly proud of the sober-home we opened last year in Naples. The groundwork was put in place by the chairman prior to me. It takes an engaged community to stand with those that are struggling with addiction.”

 

Gail Markham

Founding partner of Markham Mosteller Wright & Company

Put simply, Gail Markham, founding partner of one of the most visible CPA firms in Southwest Florida, helps make things right— financially. Years of coaching lawyers on accounting helped her forge a role in the courtroom.

“What we do is, if you’re in a car accident, and you’re injured badly and can’t work for a period of time, we are the financial experts to quantify those financial damages,” she says. “I and my team calculate the financial impact of wrongful death, as well as identify business fraud through forensic analyses, or find hidden assets and income in high-end divorces.”

Her early years taught her how to spot bad behavior from a mile away.

“I had an awful childhood; my father was an alcoholic abuser,” she says matter-of-factly. “My mother was on the run with us four children all the time. I didn’t want to live like my mother did. After he tried to kill us all, I decided I didn’t want to live that kind of life.

“I decided that in both my personal life and business life, I would build a positive world so I could thrive and not just exist. I applied myself and earned a bachelor’s in accounting at the University of Maryland.”

Unfortunately, her first job after college was “a world that created intimidation, negative energy and stress,” she says. “Those first few years in the industry allowed me to realize what not to do for success and team/culture building. I wanted to enjoy each and every workday, so I resigned and opened my own firm.”

Her mentor? “Lois Courter is a client and dear friend of mine to this day, and while she did not know it at the time, I was inspired by her actions and business acumen, especially since she was a female entrepreneur succeeding in a male-dominated profession.”

 

 

 

Gary Tasman

Founder of Cushman & Wakefield / Commercial Property Southwest Florida

Gary Tasman has a great reputation among real estate and commercial property pros in Southwest Florida. David Hare, principal with Southwest Financial Group, has this to say about the 60-year-old exec who has been in real estate for more than 32 years: “It has been a pleasure dealing with Gary in both prosperous and tougher markets. Gary has impressed me as a straightforward, no-nonsense commercial Realtor who will strive to make things happen in the existing marketplace rather than sit back and wait for things to get easier.”

“I have worked around the greatest people in real estate markets I’ve been in,” says Tasman, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in nance from Eastern Kentucky University in 1983. “I’ve gotten the best from a lot of people, and I’ve seen how to do it and how not to do it.”

He adds, “By practicing real estate properly—with speed and accuracy, leaving things better than we found them and adding value in everything we do and say—we won’t have competition.”

It was that vision that grew Tasman’s company, Commercial Property Southwest Florida LLC, into the only independently owned and operated member of the Cushman & Wakefield Alliance in Florida in March 2009.

“I’m very proud of the philanthropic work my wife Karen and I do, including Junior Achievement of Southwest Florida Inc. The program teaches workforce competence, entrepreneurship, financial literacy and other workforce readiness to prepare kids for the workplace.”

 

Blake Gable

CEO of Barron Collier Companies

CEO Blake Gable gained top-notch experience from great mentors in his career. After graduating from Tulane University in New Orleans in 1993, he was legislative director for U.S. Rep. Ed Pastor, D-Arizona, who served on the House Appropriations Committee. The committee and its 12 subcommittees decide what gets funded in the federal government.

“I was very young when I was his legislative director,” Gable says. “He taught me very quickly that in that environment, you have to have people around you—internal or external—who you trust and who trust you. You learn very early on how to process the kind of information that comes through that office on a daily basis.”

After five years in Washington, D.C., where he met his wife, Janet, he planned to move west, where the two already had their things in storage. But then-Barron Collier Co. CEO Paul J. Marinelli, the driving force behind Ave Maria, La Playa Beach & Golf Resort, Grey Oaks and the Mercato in Collier County, convinced Gable to find his future at Barron Collier.

“I sat down with Paul, and he said, ‘Let’s get to work.’ I thought he was talking about an internship, but he said, ‘I want you to come here to work; see you here at 8 a.m. on Monday.’”

Under Marinelli’s guidance, Gable served for 10 years in a variety of roles before becoming president of real estate and minerals management in 2010. Managing property in eastern Collier County is a familiar tango to Gable, who must negotiate with lawyers, environmentalists, politicians and fellow developers.

“We are one of a handful of other families in the eastern part of the county involved with the Rural Lands Stewardship Program, which incentivizes preservation of the most important environmental lands, including large, connected wetland systems and significant habitat for listed species,” he says.

“I will put this family’s record up against anyone,” Gable asserts. “We are one of the reasons almost 80% of Collier County is in some sort of preservation, through decisions the family made decades ago.”

Gable, whose first job at 13 was pumping gas on the Tamiami Trail, said his company recently enlarged its options to residential and commercial development projects—including office space, self-storage units and, potentially, industrial development in Charlotte, Nashville, Denver, Dallas and Austin.

 

Photo Credit: Graphic by Sinelab; Photography By Vanessa Rogers

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