Leadership (T)Amplified

The Vault filled with so many people April 23 the crowd began to spill out on to Franklin Street. Inside the event venue, balloons bounced off ankles, people posed for photos and dance hits filled the air. Folks readily fulfilled Earth, Wind & Fire’s musical request, Let’s Groove Tonight. For most, the festivities represented a monumental moment for Tampa: the election of a new mayor. For Leadership Tampa Alumni, however, the victory party for Jane Castor held special meaning. When the former Tampa Police chief defeated David Straz, she became the first Leadership Tampa Alumnus to hold the city’s highest office. 
One of our leaders now leads us all.
The significance wasn’t lost on Castor, winner of the 2016 LTA 2016 Parke Wright III Award. In the glow of the win, while still trying to catch her breath, she reflected on the role her Leadership Tampa experience played in helping her earn the trust and confidence needed to become the city’s 59th mayor.
A lot of LTA folks are taking great pride in your election. Are we right to think your LT experience contributed and will continue to contribute to your new role? 
There is no doubt that my Leadership Tampa experience helped guide me into the Office of the Mayor. I have never hesitated to tell everyone that Leadership Tampa is the best experience that I had while at the police department. From the amazing things I learned about my hometown (was surprised there was so much that I was unaware of), to the networking opportunities – it was all great.
I attended LT’00, greatest class ever! The connections and friendships made during my LT experience are still alive and well after almost 20 years. It really is an incredible program that benefits individuals, businesses and our community on a number of levels.
What’s the biggest thing you learned in LTA? 
Best lesson learned from LT was that Tampa is, at the same time, a large metropolitan city and a small town. We have the amenities and cultural experiences of the larger American cities and the friendliness and charm of a small town. My vision is to grow the city without losing our identity.
Were there LTA members who supported your campaign (a few attended the victory party)? What did that support mean to you? 
Just about everyone from my LT class supported me as the chief and during my campaign for mayor. Our class has remained very close – supporting each other’s causes (my two Humane Society rescue dogs stand as proof of my support for Nancy Newman LT’00), business, socializing, being there in times of need and just staying in touch.
As a point of position, now that I am “honorable,” I would like to make public the fact that Rudy Fernandez (LT’00) owes me big time. He personally held just under 100 mayoral debates/forums (may be a slight exaggeration) and I attended them all! Having the support of my LT classmates means the world to me. The personal and professional diversity of each class means that there is always someone to call upon no matter the need. I have advocated for LT since graduation and will continue to do so in any fashion they need.
Leadership Tampa is the best program that I have been involved with and the experience has continued to pay dividends both personally and professionally. Not sure if I mentioned that LT’00 was the best class ever.
Ernest Hooper, LT’03
2018 Newsletter/Annual Review Chair
Editor and Columnist, Tampa Bay Times
Follow him @hoop4you

Leadership (T)Amplified

The red and white striped pinafore dress gave birth to Denise Young’s desire to serve oh so many years ago. The first time she walked into Miami’s Mercy Hospital as a 14-year-old candy striper, she started developing a heart for helping, and that drive continues today for the Leadership Tampa Class of 2003 class champion.
So, when Young made up her mind to help a new nonprofit, you knew it had to be special. Year Up is a national bridge program for young adults that recently expanded to St. Petersburg. They work to close the occupational divide between people 18-24 who long to work but don’t necessarily have the training and businesses that struggle to find viable candidates for jobs that pay a livable wage.
Year Up’s students are trained for IT and business jobs with a focus on professional etiquette. They’re asked to come each day professionally dressed, and the program launched a clothing drive to help outfit its newest participants. When Denise learned of the drive, she flew into action and asked if I could meet her and some of the program’s leaders at Hawkers in St. Petersburg. How could I tell my LT ’03 classmate no?
The next thing I know, I’m literally writing a column in between bites of food. The Year Up officials said the column did indeed spark interest in the clothing drive, and Denise herself got several companies she works with as a construction business consultant to contribute. And, I ended up giving a presentation to the latest cohort about the power of writing and the need to avoid pitfalls as they rise up.
I can’t say I’m surprised. When Denise reaches out, guided by that heartfelt longing to make a difference she first developed at Mercy Hospital, I always answer the call. It’s an approach that should typify Leadership Tampa Alumni. We need to lean on each other to elevate goals and achieve missions that mean the most to us.
We shouldn’t just remember the good times from years gone by, we should answer the call and strengthen the bonds that united us at the beginning.
That’s all I’m saying.
Ernest Hooper, LT’03
2018 Newsletter/Annual Review Chair
Editor and Columnist, Tampa Bay Times
Follow him @hoop4you

Leadership (T)Amplified

By Ernest Hooper
The Hillsborough Education Foundation and Hillsborough County Public Schools partner every year to celebrate “Excellence in Education” and recognize some of the school district’s most deserving employees.


The event annually celebrates outstanding teachers, school diversity contributors and instructional support personnel. It draws thousands to the David A. Straz Center.


Yet what all those people don’t know is the event has doubled as a Leadership Tampa 2003 reunion.


For the past four years, I’ve had the honor of hosting the event. Bruce Faulmann, the Tampa Bay Times’ vice president of advertising/marketing, has watched from the audience for each of those award celebrations as a member of the education foundation. For the past three years, Suncoast Credit Union vice president Gary Vien has joined me on stage as the presenter for the instructional support award finalists. The credit union serves as the event’s primary sponsor.


Bruce, Gary and I spent a magical year together as members of the Leadership Tampa 2003 class. Everyone in LTA insists their class was the best, and we’re no different. We spent days immersed in various aspects of city dynamics, and evenings in debriefings, debating everything from politics to sports.


At the time, Bruce worked for the Times’ rival, the Tampa Tribune, and Gary toiled for Busch Gardens. Now Bruce is with the Times and Gary works for Suncoast. Of course, we’re still the same guys, albeit a little older and wiser. We’re always excited to see each other at the event, and excited to help the foundation.


As a HEF board member for many years, I see firsthand HEF’s impact on the school district, its teachers and students through their many programs from the Teaching Tools Store to scholarship and mentoring,” Bruce told me after the event. “But absolutely my favorite is our celebration of Hillsborough County’s best teachers and staff at our annual Excellence in Education awards.”


This year, the theme was “A Night in Paris,” so I donned a beret. Truth be told I looked more like Rerun from What’s Happening and little like a French gentleman. That’s okay. If humbling myself by resembling a 1980s sitcom star leads to honoring teachers, I’m all for it.


It’s always an inspiring evening with many moving moments the ceremony always produces. A student escort introduces each of the finalists, and the kids frequently offer cute but poignant tributes. The teachers gush and blush and the winners never fail to bring emotion to the podium.


“The evening warms your heart and takes you from laughter to tears,” Bruce said. “The kids can sell! You’re rooting for them all.


“Adding to awesomeness of the evening is watching my talented LT ’03 classmates. Hoop, aka Rerun, as the ever-charming emcee, and Gary, as the presenting sponsor, representing Suncoast Credit Union. Both could stand-in for Pat Sajak or Alex Trebek if either needed a night off.”


This year, when the Ida S. Baker Diversity Award winner, Newsome High’s Sandra Misciasci, heard her name called she sobbed and offered a long list of tearful thank yous. Gary and I could only look at each other and think, “This is what this event is all about. This is why we show up every year.”
“Never could I imagine back in 2003 while at Leadership Tampa, that I would be presenting at the 2019 Excellence in Education awards with others from our Leadership Tampa Class. Being able to congratulate 678 nominees and the 13 finalists is very heartwarming.”

“This is Tampa. This is why we continue to give back. What a fantastic journey and one that continues to give back as much as you put in to a city focused on the future.”

As Leadership Tampa Alumni looks to create a partnership with the district, I think it would be thrilling to have a larger contingent of LTA members at this event next year. We can come to not only show our support for the current education system, but to embrace the concept of paying it forward and thanking the teachers who helped change the trajectory of our own lives.


It would be great if I could look out from that stage next year and thank LTA for its support and recognize more than just Bruce and Gary.


That’s all I’m saying.

Ernest Hooper, LT’03
2018 Newsletter/Annual Review Chair
Editor and Columnist, Tampa Bay Times
Follow him @hoop4you

Leadership (T)Amplified

Mark House hasn’t jumped out of a plane since leaving the U.S. Army in 1985, but not a day goes by he doesn’t refer to the experience or his days as a West Point cadet.
“West Point gave me my foundation,” said House, the managing director and director of strategic projects for the Beck Group, an architectural, engineering and construction firm.
“My parents first and foremost, but West Point really gave me a lot of the core values, professional values that I use every day.”
House often calls on the leadership qualities instilled in him by his mother, Sue House, and his father, the late Army colonel and fellow West Point graduate, Joe House. And those qualities have served him well as a businessman and a community leader.
He’s twice served as chair of the Hillsborough County Economic Development Corporation, is a board member at ZooTampa, guided the Leadership Tampa Class of 2013 as its chair, and currently holds a spot on the West Point Association of Graduates Board.
His work recently led to him winning the prestigious Leadership Tampa Alumni Parke Wright III Leadership Award. House spoke to Ernest Hooper about winning the award, leadership and what LTA means to him.
How surprised were you?
I was completely shocked. I borrowed a coat to come. There was a guy in the office who does work for us. Someone said you’ve got to go to this luncheon because we’re giving an award to one of our subcontractor partners. They said you need to be there for that. This is 30 minutes before the luncheon. There’s a young man in the lobby that does a lot of work for us. He’s a consultant. I didn’t have a sport coat. I looked at him. He’s my size. I said, “What are you doing today at lunchtime? I need to borrow your coat.” I got to the luncheon and sat down and it wasn’t until I turned and saw my wife standing by the wall and realized something was up.
They came in just a little bit too early.
Yeah. Then, I was reflecting on it and every time I went to one, somebody gave a great, big long nice speech. I thought, I’m screwed. Then, I started trying to put some things together. My legs were shaking. My calves were twitching.
That’s surprising to see a leader like you a bit unnerved.
Well, it was about me. It’s usually about everybody else. You’re very, very honored, but you’re going, “This is about me and I’m about everybody else. I love everybody else.” It was very humbling, especially when you have the people speaking in the video. To hear the things they said really choked me up. You see everybody very frequently and people don’t say emotional things to each other.
We don’t say I love you enough.
That’s one thing about I love you – man, woman, whatever – you talk to people I work with and I tell them I love them. They’re my family as much as my real family. So, I got pretty emotional.
You support a lot of causes. Which one are you most passionate about?
It has changed a little bit. Right now, I’m on the board of advisors for West Point. That’s my current passion. But in 2008, when the recession came, it was devastating for our industry. Unemployment in Tampa went from about 4 percent, and our industry it was less than that. But by 2010-2012, in the architecture, engineering, construction industry, it was in the 40 percent range. It was devastating. Our annual revenue dropped by 70 percent. We dropped our total employee base by 70 percent, from 140 local employees down to 25. During that time, nobody did anything wrong. People were working as hard as they could. There just wasn’t any work. If you don’t have any work, you can’t build anything. Some people changed industries. They moved out of town. I felt like the only thing I could do was lead the way by trying to create work.
So you decided to move into Tampa Heights?
We put a stake in the ground. We needed to be in a place where we designed and built a cool building and we needed to be in a place where we could make an impact, try to give back and be the first people out there. We weren’t the very first, but we were pretty close to it. So, I got very involved in the EDC, which was part of the Chamber’s old Committee of 100. I chaired that for a couple of years and did everything I possibly could to try to get companies to come to town. If a company would come to town, it didn’t necessarily mean we would build anything for them, but it created this kind of a pyramid you know, they came and trickle down happened.
What did you learn?
I learned more and more about the city. I thought I knew a lot about the city. I thought I knew a lot about people. But during that time, it was, “Hey man, we gotta all lock arms together and figure out ways in which we can help our community grow and get out of this recession.” I got some great friends out of that. You know, in hard times when people bond together, you end up having some really, really good friends.
I always say Tampa is the biggest small town in America. Do you agree with that?
Yes, I do. In my job now, I’m responsible for our strategic projects throughout the company: our healthcare business, our life science business, which is the pharmaceutical business and I travel around to all our different offices. We have offices in Denver, Fort Worth, Dallas, our headquarters, Austin, Charlotte, Atlanta and Mexico City. I’m biased, but this is the place that I want to be. We’re not a small city anymore. We’re competing on the stage and we’re starting to act like that. It used to be the best kept secret in America. It’s not a secret anymore. People go, “Oh, you’re from Tampa.” They know about Tampa.
What’s been the biggest benefit of Leadership Tampa and Leadership Tampa Alumni?
When I went through Leadership Tampa, it was the hook that said look at all this stuff that Tampa does. There’s so much more about Tampa than you could ever know. In Leadership Tampa, you had 55 classmates that you became really good friends with. There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t see somebody who was a classmate. It’s probably the single best organizational experience that you can have in in Tampa. And if you call a Leadership Tampa classmate or an alum, they’ll pick up the phone. That’s something that’s very important.

Ernest Hooper, LT’03
2018 Newsletter/Annual Review Chair
Editor and Columnist, Tampa Bay Times
Follow him @hoop4you


A salute to our local military leaders  

They pace in the lobby outside the meeting room, mobile phone pressed firmly to their ear.

Maybe they quickly squirrel away to a corner to take a conference call or respond to an email. Some whip out their iPads and resolve a pressing issue in mere minutes.

It’s the Leadership Tampa hustle: a break between that fascinating panel discussion and the presentation from the CEO that doesn’t always serve as a break. In 10 minutes or less, these titans of business must address an issue that requires their immediate attention.

Every Leadership Tampa member must balance between the demands of the program and the requirements of their everyday jobs. Yet it can be even more taxing for the MacDill Air Force Base leaders hoping to immerse themselves in lessons on what makes Tampa tick.  

The average LT member may be worried about job security, but the average MacDill leader is worried about national security. It can be company incidents versus international incidents. Employees versus airmen. Trade secrets versus state secrets.

“Events across our nation and around the globe directly impact the duty day of any military member,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Emily Farkas, deputy commander of the 6th Maintenance Group and a LT 2018 graduate. “We typically have a consistent peacetime work schedule, but it can change instantly when the unit receives a task to deploy or to support real-world missions from home station, i.e. MacDill Air Force Base.

“In supporting a military nominee, careful consideration is given to deployment cycles in an effort to honor the commitment to the program.  Furthermore, military members typically do not have more than two or three years per assignment so the timing of participating in the program is another important consideration.”

Clearly, the stakes can be higher for Leadership Tampa’s military representatives, but they never fail to make the commitment. For decades, Leadership Tampa has found a spot for MacDill’s finest. The leadership at MacDill supports a nominee(s) from the base for Leadership Tampa so they can share their perspective as one of the more than 19,000 uniformed members at the base.

“Since the Armed Forces became an all-volunteer force in 1973, the military-civilian gap has widened, and less Americans have a connection to the military as only less than 1 percent have served,” Farkas said. “In my experience with programs like Leadership Tampa, they have been able to connect uniformed service members with community business leaders to exchange leadership experiences and to share personal stories of the military journey … much like MacDill’s Honorary Commander Program prioritizes engagement with our civic leaders.  

“Additionally, it gives military members the opportunity to know more about the community that supports them and their families.”

Few, if any, have regretted the decision. Irving Lee, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, said he enjoyed his time in Leadership Tampa Class of 2004, but the involvement was significant for him and for all MacDill members.

“The time commitment is one of the biggest issues,” said Lee, who was the 6th Mission Support Group Commander while stationed at MacDill. “The people who are the best candidates have insane schedules so in addition to picking from amongst a pool of well qualified candidates, schedules also have to be considered.”

Lee said, however, it’s about more than picking a leader who has the time. Base leaders also examine what’s best for their mission, and which candidate makes the most sense in helping with that mission.

“Another key consideration is figuring out where the best ‘return on investment’ will be for the base,” Lee said.  “Of course, we want to send the best ambassador to the community, but what will it cost in terms of time and opportunity costs to let someone make a 10-month commitment?”

Both Lee and Farkas have fond memories of their time. Lee specifically recalls a special surprise he hid from his classmates during their visit to MacDill on “Military Day.”

“I still remember (former Bucs safety) John Lynch being on our KC-135 flight,” Lee said. “I believe he had been traded and Chief Lew Monroe helped get him a flight suit and a seat on the LT flight. The ladies in the ‘04 class were amazed to see him walk up the stairs to get on the plane. I still have our group photo somewhere.”  

After completing the class, many choose to remain involved after they “graduate,” while others find themselves deployed to the next city after completing their two- or three-year tour in Tampa. Farkas has extended her commitment through LTA.

“I remain involved with Leadership Tampa Alumni because I now feel a personal connection to Tampa and desire the opportunity to give back to the community,” Farkas said.

With Veterans Day on the horizon, let’s remember to salute not only every man and woman who has served, but those LTA members who have managed to go through the class while fulfilling a commitment to the nation.

That’s all I’m saying.



Ernest Hooper, LT’03

2018 Newsletter/Annual Review Co-Chair

Editor and Columnist, Tampa Bay Times


Follow him @hoop4you

Leadership Tampa Class ’18 Prom Gives Back to Community


LT18On August 10, 2018, the LT ’18 Class hosted a prom with over 160 registrations and raised over $22,000 for the Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa (CDC). The proceeds benefited the CDC’s Youth Success Center’s high school seniors as they explore post-secondary educational options.

“The original intent of this event was for us as a graduating class to think about how we could contribute something that would also continue to be an ongoing effort for our Leadership Tampa class to give back to the community,” said event co-chair Lindsay Grinstead. “The second piece of the program was that after the prom 30 classmates are getting paired with students who are at the CDC and are seniors in high school to engage in a mentorship program over the course of the school year to help them in the college search process.”

LT ‘18 took a very structured approach when looking at what they would do to give back to the community. Once they figured out they wanted to focus on education and the youth, they looked at organizations in Tampa that could benefit from the fundraiser. Representatives from each of the organizations being considered presented to the class to explain how they could benefit from the support. In an effort to support a fellow classmate’s organization, and work with an organization that supports education, LT ’18 members agreed on the Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa (CDC).

“Each one of us will get the chance to mentor one of the students to help them through the process of applying for college, visiting colleges, preparing for college, and then continuing that mentorship as they’re in school, and hopefully as they continue on in their careers,” said event co-chair Randy Prescott.

The LT ’18 Class is already planning and preparing to hold the event again next year at Amalie Arena, with dates to come soon.

The event was possible due to the support of the Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa (CDC) and the generosity of the following sponsors: The Mosaic Company, JP Morgan Chase, Lightning Foundation, GTE Financial, Tampa International Airport, Tampa Bay Rays, Wehr Constructors, Inc., TECO Energy, Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, Valley National Bank, The Beck Group, Visit Tampa Bay, Johnson Jackson LLC, KCI Technologies, CS&L CPAs, and Stacey and Brandon Pittman.

Leadership (T)Amplified

I’ve long held a fascination with bumper stickers.

From the cute to the clever to the controversial, I have an appreciation for how people far smarter than me can craft such provocative and poignant thoughts in such a finite space.

How they came to be a staple in my column, however, remains somewhat of a mystery. I did a little digging through our archives and found one of the earliest references to a bumper sticker in a 2004 column. In noting my 40th birthday, I remarked at the wisdom of this nugget: Today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.

But it wasn’t until my column began appearing on the front of the Times’ Monday Metro section that I zeroed in on the practice of trying to include one in nearly every column. That column — limited to 300 words because of the design of the page and a request of my editors to keep it to the front page (no jumping inside) — essentially required the same tenets of a bumper sticker.

I needed to deliver a lot of thoughts in a finite space.

So began a quest that to this day prompts me to scour the back of cars even when I’m traveling at high rates of speed. At times, I’ve walked behind cars in parking lots and snapped a shot, even if it leaves me looking like a weird stalker trying to record someone’s license tag number.

Choosing what makes it into print requires a degree of discernment. I’ve learned over the years that it’s wise to stray away from political statements, but stickers seen on cars in this decade that referenced the Richard Nixon and Ross Perot campaigns made the cut.

I also include stickers that don’t necessarily reflect my opinion. The idea is to allow the sticker to make a statement about how some in our community may feel. So, a sticker that said, “I’ll keep my guns and religion, you can keep the change” made it into my column in the months after Barack Obama was first elected president.

I also must be careful not to offend. A reader once sent in this bumper sticker: If Life Gives You Melons, Maybe You’re Dyslexic.

Some readers decried the sticker as a poor attempt at humor, but I had to explain — and should have included this note in the column — that the sticker came from a reader who has dyslexia.

I’ve also relied on other sources, so you will occasionally read “Seen on a T-shirt” and “Seen on a church marquee.”

But to bring some clarity to the situation: I don’t see every sticker I include in the column. I’ve trained my friends and family to relay quality stickers, and I probably get more suggestions from readers than I see on my own.

However, every bumper sticker is indeed a bumper sticker. I don’t make them up. Oh, I wish I could be so philosophical, so brilliant, but my creativity doesn’t extend to those incredible pearls of wisdom and delectable nuggets of humor we all should cherish.

Without further ado, here’s a random list of bumper stickers I’ve used in columns over the years — just for my Leadership Tampa Alumni friends.

Seen on a bumper sticker:

  • I’d Be A Vegetarian, If Bacon Was A Vegetable.
  • If Your Dreams Don’t Scare You A Little, They’re Not Big Enough.
  • To Have The Last Word, Try An Apology.
  • Intelligent Ones Wonder — Idiots Are Dead Sure.
  • Yes, I Talk To Myself. But Only When I Need Expert Advice.
  • Friends Are God’s Apology For Relatives.
  • Johnny Cash Is A Friend Of Mine.
  • Follow Your Dreams – Except That One Where You’re at School in Your Underwear.
  • Comparison Is The Thief Of Joy.
  • I Do What the Bumper Stickers Tell Me.
  • Orwell’s 1984 Was A Warning, Not A Manual.
  • Paddle Faster, I Hear Banjo Music.
  • Just Give Me Coffee, And No One Will Get Hurt.
  • There’s No Shortcut To Anywhere Worth Going.
  • If we can put a man on the moon, why not all of them?
  • Don’t Make Me Use UPPERCASE.
  • You Never See A Harley Parked In Front Of A Shrink’s Office.
  • If going to church makes you a Christian, does going to the garage make you a car?
  • In Internet Years, I’m 19 and Hot.
  • I’m Out Of Bed and Dressed. What More Do You Want?
  • God wants spiritual fruits, not religious nuts.
  • All Work, No Pay Makes A Housewife.
  • If You’re Going Through Hell, Don’t Stop.
  • Good girls go to heaven, Bad girls go everywhere else.
  • I’m Not Paranoid. Why? What Have You Heard?
  • D.A.D.D. – Dads Against Daughters Dating.
  • A Smooth Sea Never Made a Good Sailor.
  • PMS allows women once a month to act like men do every day.
  • If ignorance is bliss, why aren’t more people happy?
  • I want a sensitive man. One who’ll cry when I punch him.

Ernest Hooper, LT’03
2018 Newsletter/Annual Review Co-Chair
Editor and Columnist, Tampa Bay Times
Follow him @hoop4you