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55+ AND ALIVE: The best businesses give back to their community

Davis College of Business Dean Dr. Don Capener
Davis College of Business Dean Dr. Don Capener

How do we define business success?

In my September column, I highlighted several individuals in the prime of their lives making a big difference by donating their time and expertise on behalf of several Jacksonville area not-for-profits, including Jacksonville University. We had an outpouring of response, including a request to extend the column to businesses making a real difference.

Entrepreneurs and small business owners debate what it means to be a successful company in Northeast Florida. Many people believe the most successful companies maximize profits with the least amount of risk. As business dean for the JU Davis College of Business, I disagree with this widely held perception.

The most successful companies in the Jacksonville area balance their profit motive with a sense of responsibility to make this community a great place to live and work. That means they dedicate resources that could go directly into their pockets toward investing in their employees. Their owners provide resources and allocate flex time for themselves and their employees to donate their expertise and financial support to making Jacksonville a better place to live.

Of course, I teach young entrepreneurs that a successful business must make a substantial profit or it won’t remain in business. And many good companies in Jacksonville do just that.

However, there are other companies that do much more than make profits and provide excellent products and services; they define what I call the ideal balanced approach that emphasizes profits, people and a passion to make the places they do business better for everyone.

Later in this column, I’ll highlight three of these successful, lesser-known businesses. They all have a triple bottom-line philosophy centered on profits, their people and a strong sense of place.

Profits must and should come first. When your company successfully generates profits, it feeds the prosperity engine that allows it to do more good locally than you can imagine.

The most successful leaders find ways to offer more people good, well-paying jobs, and expand their reach outside of Jacksonville. There are plenty of local examples of leaders practicing this “holistic” approach, such as Ben Davis at Intuition Ale, Shad Khan of the Jacksonville Jaguars or Matt Kane of Greenshades Software. Few could provide evidence that these leaders are simply focused on profits.

Meanwhile, Preston Haskell and The Haskell Co. have enriched our community by supporting the arts and local music scene, among others. These are leaders who care just as much about the people and their livelihood as the profits generated by them. They care about their families, their health and their overall well-being.

A sense of place should matter to any business owner, because their company depends on local customers, talent and the support of the business community in the areas it operates.

In addition to profits, I believe business owners must think about six questions:

1. Do I make a positive contribution to my neighborhood?

2. Does my company consciously try to make Jacksonville a better place than when we started operations here? Do we think about the prosperity in the neighborhoods in which we do business?

3. How can my company make Jacksonville better for other complementary businesses?

4. How can we as a company and business community attract and keep the best talent?

5. Am I providing competitive jobs compared with some of the top markets nationally? With good benefits?

6. Do I allow my employees time away from the office to dedicate time toward community involvement and the betterment of Jacksonville? Is that flex time a priority?

With those goals in mind, let’s talk about those three successful companies I mentioned earlier:

Perdue Office Interiors continues to balance profits and people.

“It is all about the people,” said the company’s president, Vince McCormack. Starting with his employees, some of whom have been with the company 30 years, Perdue provides a great work environment. Vince is the model of someone heavily vested in the Jacksonville community, and he encourages his employees to get involved, too.

Miller Electric’s practice of giving back to the community is “ingrained in who we are,” said Henry Brown, president of the firm. “The company’s core values include community and stewardship.”

Miller Electric stays very connected with the Jacksonville community through its large involvement in such organizations as the United Way, the American Heart Association and Dreams Come True. Henry is also one of the principal forces behind the executive advisory board to help JU stay in touch and relevant to the business community. The company recently enhanced continuing education opportunities for its employees at all levels.

Trasca & Company Eatery, specializing in the famous panino sandwich, has a mission statement that sums up owner Sara Frasca’s feelings about connecting with customers: “Make the Beaches community more culturally vibrant, and enrich the lives of our team (through offering great food and service).”

Frasca recently agreed to help advise the Davis College of Business on how to grow a consumer goods and service specialty. She will mentor future entrepreneurs in that specialty. Sara believes there is nothing more honorable than serving others. Her passion spills over into the community through her time, talent and, of course, paninos.

“Do the right thing and the right thing will happen,” she said.

How is Jacksonville a better place today than five years ago? It is people like Vince, Henry and Sara who are making our business community the envy of cities all over the Southeast.

Dr. Don Capener, Dean of the Jacksonville University Davis College of Business, lives in Jacksonville with his wife, Annie, and their two youngest daughters. His 55+ And Alive is an occasional column in The Florida Times-Union’s PrimeTime section. He can be reached at dcapene@ju.edu.