Eric Wright

Confronted By Contrast in Central Florida

One unique pleasure I have is the opportunity to hear and discuss the life lessons and stories of some of the most influential thought leaders in the region.

By Eric Wright

Building a Better Working Region 

Have you ever been confronted by contrasts? Maybe it is your Nissan and your friend’s Tesla or your Miami Dolphins and their New England Patriots.

My son Quentin, now a broker in Atlanta, recently recounted to me how he and his friends were confronted by contrasts.  They had gone to a large thrift store to buy outfits for a party to kick off the new school year in high school. The three of them were laughing and cavorting, as they searched the racks for outlandish coats, slacks and ties.  

As they were foraging, he saw another teen, who was his age, glancing up at he and his friends, then diverting his eyes away. He was there with what Quentin assumed was his mother.  But he quickly grasped they weren’t looking for funny outfits for a party, rather, they were looking for clothes suitable to wear to school. It hit my sometimes-sensitive son like a punch in the stomach. Realizing the guy’s embarrassment, he hushed his buddies and they immediately left. The image was still emotionally etched in his mind, over 10 years later.

Those impressions can be seminal in our life, altering our paradigms or in some cases, spurring us to action. Recently, I heard another compelling example.  


Making the World Work Better 

One unique pleasure I have is the opportunity to hear and discuss the life lessons and stories of some of the most influential thought leaders in the region. This one I heard talking with Tom Sittema of CNL. It was an experience that occurred when he was going to a game at the Citrus Bowl for the first time. Sittema and his wife were driving on West South Street towards the stadium, when like most people making the journey for the first time, noticed that the closer they got to the stadium, the more depressed and blighted the community looked.

Then came that defining moment for Sittema. As he took in the environment surrounding the stadium, he glanced up in his rear view mirror and saw the towers of CNL and the majestic skyline of Orlando just east of I-4. The shock almost caused him to hit his brakes. He was confronted with the world he lived and worked in, juxtaposed against the neighborhoods he didn’t know existed, but could actually be seen from his 14th floor office.  


Synergy That Transforms

The image was inescapable. When he shared the experience with Steve Hogan, he saw a passion and determination about the neighborhood in Hogan.  He had been working on this very issue since he took the helm at Florida Citrus Sports.  

Unlike many who would simply, a) place the experience in the denial file; b) delve into the problem, but be overcome by the challenges of systemic poverty and make a mental U-turn; or c) salve their conscience by just writing a check; Sittema, Hogan and others like them instead spent months studying the problem like businesspeople, who make their living solving problems, often do. Together, they began to design a 15- to 20-year road map towards a lasting holistic solution known as LIFT Orlando.

Their goal is transformation, not a patch or a platitude.  LIFT Orlando is one of the many examples of igniting the power of business to make our communities better, which is what partnership and collaboration are all about.

This article appears in the July 2015 issue of i4 Business.
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