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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Monday, Jun. 19, 2006 16 years ago

Coffee Talk

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Name change, 2.0: The DOS Computer Center is getting a name upgrade.Sparkling ethics: Most would agree that Gary Trippe is one of the most ethical people around, which is why few will begrudge him keeping a $10,000 diamond he won at an ethics-award banquet.Wealthy people have feelings: The majority of the wealthiest Americans - and Floridians - are pessimistic when it comes to the housing market (who isn't?) yet as a group, these big spenders are almost at record high-levels when it comes to being optimistic about the overall economy.Mercantile pays premium: Quincy, Ill.-based Mercantile Bancorp paid a healthy premium for Naples-based Royal Palm Bancorp of Naples-about three times book value.Really smart people: Sarasota-based New College is Florida's honors college, so by definition, the school has a lot of smart people walking around its leafy campus a few miles north of downtown Sarasota.Sailing delayed: Material delays and labor shortages have forced Bonita Springs-based Expoships to move up the inaugural sailing of its Grand Luxe ship from December 2006 to June 2007.Money in the bank: It's much too early to count the cash, but organizers of the not-yet-chartered Insignia Bank have reason to feel positive.Lead by doing: Surveys and polls from various outlets show the poor numbers when it comes to employee job satisfaction.Insurer to grow in Florida: At a time when insurance companies and brokers are figurin
by: Adam Hughes Staff Writer

Coffee Talk

+ Name change, 2.0

The DOS Computer Center is getting a name upgrade.

The Sarasota based-computer technology firm, known as DOS since it was founded in 1977, was in dire need of a hipper sounding name, President Dale Ott says. The new name will be Vitil Solutions, Ott tells Coffee Talk.

The name is a play on words related to ITIL, a recently created system that defines computer technology industry standards. The new name is also a better moniker for the firm's core business, Ott says, which includes hosting Web sites, computer consulting and systems integration.

Ott and some employees set out a few months ago to come up with the new name. One name they liked, Integris Technology (IT, get it?) was already trademarked. Several evenings (and beverages) later, Ott says he and his team had come up with nothing.

Then, Vitil just came to his staff as they were talking to a few Sarasota County IT employees about the county system; the county has been a big Vitil client since 2004.

In addition to a new name and forthcoming new logo, in a few years, Ott's firm might have a new home.

Ott recently signed a deal for downtown office space in the yet-to-be built The Atrium on Ringling.

The building, projected to be 88 luxury condos combined with two floors of office space, is closer to the county office than Vitil's current home in the Northgate office park on U.S. 301.

+ Sparkling ethics

Most would agree that Gary Trippe is one of the most ethical people around, which is why few will begrudge him keeping a $10,000 diamond he won at an ethics-award banquet.

Trippe is chief executive officer of Fort Myers-based insurance broker Oswald Trippe and Co., the main sponsor of the area's first business ethics award from the nonprofit Uncommon Friends Foundation.

As the sponsor, though, Oswald Trippe could not participate in the competition because it might have been perceived as an unethical conflict of interest. Many business community insiders speculated the well-respected firm would have been a finalist for the award.

But during the reception that preceded the awards dinner, Uncommon Friends sold glasses of champagne for $100 each to raise money for the group. At the bottom of each glass was a diamond, though only one of those was a real one from Congress Jewelers, worth $10,000.

When Gary Trippe's name was announced as the winner of the diamond, the crowd erupted with laughter and cheer. Trippe, grinning widely, seemed at a loss for words.

So what will happen to the rock? Trippe says it will likely bedazzle the finger of his wife, Gay Trippe.

+ Wealthy people have feelings

The majority of the wealthiest Americans - and Floridians - are pessimistic when it comes to the housing market (who isn't?) yet as a group, these big spenders are almost at record high-levels when it comes to being optimistic about the overall economy.

This information and other tidbits about how the super-rich think stems from investment firm U.S. Trust's annual survey of the top 1% of wealthiest Americans. Among the findings was a big drop in people who think real estate values are going to increase over the next year: Forty-eight percent expect an increase in home values, compared to 72% who thought that way in 2005. And 33% of this year's respondents said they think real estate values will drop over the next 12 months, compared to 14% who felt that way in last year's survey.

The good news, U.S. Trust southeastern region CEO Mark Stevens tells Coffee Talk, is that people "aren't voting with their pocketbook" yet and selling off high-priced homes. Stevens says the old real estate axiom holds true, that location - such as coastal Florida cities like Naples and Sarasota - is the reason why the wealthiest are not selling their homes: They are already in the best spots.

Stevens, though, has no explanation for one of the survey's more interesting findings: 63% of the respondents say they are feeling optimistic about the overall economy and market, a jump from 48% who felt the same way last year and near the all-time pre 9/11 high of 66%. With all the negative news about Iraq and gas prices and market volatility, Stevens says he expected people to be less positive about the future.

Other results from the survey include an interesting note on estate planning, or lack thereof. The survey found that 63% of the super-rich plan to leave estates of at least $5 million, with 32% expecting to leave more than $10 million.

Yet 9% of the respondents don't have a will and 20% haven't put together a formal estate plan. Small numbers, sure, but Coffee Talk wonders what these wealthy folks are waiting for. Stevens calls it old-fashioned procrastination.

The survey also broke out where the wealthy people live, both by states and county. No surprise: Florida and Gulf Coast counties rank high.

The state rankings are based on the ones with the most people considered ultra-wealthy, with at least $5 million in investable assets. Florida ranks third nationwide, with 12,986 people in that category, behind New York and California.

WHERE ARE THE WEALTHY?

Total Mass High Net $500-999K $1 million+ $5 million+

Total Affluent Affluent Worth Wealthy Investible Investible Investible

COUNTY METRO AREA HOMES ($500,000+) ($500K-999K) ($1 million+) ($5 million+) Assets Assets Assets

Charlotte County Punta Gorda 71,693 12,242 4,078 8,164 722 3,244 4,955 181

Collier County Naples-Marco Island 126,554 27,622 5,413 22,209 1,965 7,319 11,886 434

Hernando County Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater 62,946 8,569 3,403 5,166 457 2,270 3,292 120

Hillsborough County Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater 434,840 50,552 19,647 30,905 2,735 13,395 18,371 670

Lee County Cape Coral-Fort Myers 223,379 38,013 11,381 26,631 2,356 10,072 15,258 557

Manatee County Sarasota-Bradenton-Venice 126,705 19,334 6,281 13,052 1,155 5,123 7,718 282

Pasco County Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater 170,404 20,574 8,740 11,834 1,047 5,451 7,728 282

Pinellas County Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater 421,980 55,999 20,287 35,712 3,160 14,838 21,673 791

Polk County Lakeland 203,233 24,126 9,460 14,665 1,298 6,392 9,053 330

Sarasota County Sarasota-Bradenton-Venice 165,658 32,329 8,273 24,056 2,129 8,566 13,639 498

+ Mercantile pays premium

Quincy, Ill.-based Mercantile Bancorp paid a healthy premium for Naples-based Royal Palm Bancorp of Naples-about three times book value.

Some local bankers thought that was pricey for a bank with just $147 million in assets. But it shows just how much banks want to jump into the Florida market as local economies in other areas of the country such as the Midwest slow down.

Royal Palm Bancorp is the parent of The Royal Palm Bank of Florida, which has three locations in Marco Island, Naples and South Fort Myers. Mercantile Bancorp is the parent of six banks in Illinois, two banks in Missouri and one bank in Kansas. Also, Mercantile has minority interests in five banks in Missouri, Georgia and Florida, including a 5% interest in Integrity Bank in Jupiter.

"We're trying to diversify our marketplaces so we're not so dependent on agriculture," says Dan Dugan, Mercantile's president, chairman and CEO. "We think it's in line with what is being paid down there."

The last significant deal in Naples was Synovus Bank's purchase of Naples-based Banking Corporation of Florida, parent of First Florida Bank, for 3.5 times book value. However, First Florida had $365 million in assets.

The management team at Royal Palm will remain, headed by Arnold Haake.

+ Really smart people

Sarasota-based New College is Florida's honors college, so by definition, the school has a lot of smart people walking around its leafy campus a few miles north of downtown Sarasota. The smart quotient jumped up significantly recently, as the school hosted the fourth annual Fluid Power Net International Ph.D. Symposium from June 13-17.

The conference, a gathering and study session for mechanical engineers researching ideas for fluid power technology, was co-sponsored by Sarasota-based hydraulic valve producer Sun Hydraulics; this is the first time the conference was held in the U.S.

The upshot was that roughly 100 Ph.D. students, industry leaders and professors came to hear about the future of their field. Robert Koski, the co-founder and chairman emeritus of Sun Hydraulics, says the conference was a great opportunity for engineers in all areas of the world to see what their peers are up to.

A reception held on the opening night, June 13, resembled a mini-U.N. Countries represented included China, Finland, Germany, Italy Poland, South Korea and Sweden. Some domestic future scientists had a seat at the table, too, including a USF student, whose presentation was titled Determination of K Coefficients for Irregular Conduit Geometrics in Hydraulic Manifolds.

Safe to say that topic is a tad over Coffee Talk's head.

+ Sailing delayed

Material delays and labor shortages have forced Bonita Springs-based Expoships to move up the inaugural sailing of its Grand Luxe ship from December 2006 to June 2007.

The company and founders David and Lee Ann Lester were featured in a recent issue of the Review. The Lesters plan to lease space to art dealers on a $60 million yacht.

The boat's builder, Nichols Brothers Boat Builders of Freeland, Wash., says it has had trouble getting steel and steelworkers made scarce by hurricane rebuilding.

+ Money in the bank

It's much too early to count the cash, but organizers of the not-yet-chartered Insignia Bank have reason to feel positive. Board members for the bank who hoped to raise an auspicious $25 million for a fourth quarter opening recently sent out an unofficial letter to people who had expressed interest in possibly investing.

The response already put the board at more than $25 million.

"We've still got a long way to go, but it's a good indication," says Tim Clarke, founder of Sarasota-based Clarke Advertising & Public Relations and a member of the board. The bank board can't collect any investment money until it receives final approval of its prospectus from the state and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

+ Lead by doing

Surveys and polls from various outlets show the poor numbers when it comes to employee job satisfaction. One recent survey shows that as much as 70% of the respondents don't like or aren't engaged in their current jobs. Not good news for CEOs, especially considering the astronomically low unemployment rates on the Gulf Coast these days.

Robert Bailey, the retired president, chairman and CEO of Columbus, Ohio-based State Auto Insurance Companies says the solution to engaging the troops starts with leading by example. But "most leaders fail because they are unwilling to set the right example," Bailey told a future generation of chief executives at a June 8 luncheon sponsored by the Sarasota Young Professionals Group, a branch of the Chamber of Commerce designed to foster networking opportunities for the area's young up-and-comers. Most leaders, Bailey says, "aren't willing to make the sacrifice to pull it off."

That sacrifice starts with communication. Be open, transparent and clear with all employees. Let everyone know the long-term vision and short-term plan on how it's going to get done. "You can't delegate and empower unless people understand the vision and where you are going," says Bailey, who has written several leadership books, including Plain Talk About Leadership.

And give fast feedback. To energize the workforce, Bailey says, a great leader will regularly let each employee know how they are doing and what they can work on to do better.

+ Insurer to grow in Florida

At a time when insurance companies and brokers are figuring out how to avoid overexposure to Florida, one company is expanding in the Sunshine state.

RTI Insurance Services of Florida, whose national headquarters are in Pittsburgh, is getting ready to move into a new two-story building in Lakewood Ranch that will be its Florida headquarters. Since 1997, the firm has expanded to Fort Myers Beach, Bonita Springs, Fort Myers, Bradenton and Cape Coral.

"Our corporate goal is to continue to acquire or open agencies from Marco Island to Sarasota and Lakeland," says William Schomer, vice president and general manager.

"Our niche has been working with the mortgage brokers and insuring newcomers," Schomer adds. "We have found that our offices are as busy as they've ever been."

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