Insights from Leaders at Modernizing Medicine, Virgin Voyages, Crystal Lagoons

By Andrea Richard

South Florida long has suffered from brain drain, but, in recent years, attracting and retaining top talent to the region is no longer a feat. Thanks to the tri-county area’s growing market, attractive lifestyle and burgeoning cultural scene, South Florida has become a place where people want to live and work, panelists at the South Florida Executive Roundtable say.

For the Dec. 14 Executive Roundtable, the panelists convened on the Nova Southeastern University campus in Davie to talk about company culture, recruitment and the region.

The moderator was Alan Kleber, managing director at JLL, an international financial and professional services firm that specializes in commercial real estate and investment management.

The panelists:

• Daniel Cane, CEO and co-founder of Modernizing Medicine, a cloud-based health care company.

• Tom McAlpin, CEO of Virgin Voyages, a cruise line of megaships set to launch in 2020.

• Uri Man, CEO of Crystal Lagoons’ U.S. headquarters, a developer of man-made lagoons.

SFBW is the exclusive media sponsor of the monthly roundtable, an invitation-only affair. Here are the key takeaways discussed by the panelists.

Geography Plays a Role

There’s a rich history of technology and innovation in South Florida, but we haven’t done a great job at marketing and promoting it, Cane says.

“South Florida is untapped. We produce a tremendous amount of high-quality employable talent right out of school here, but recruiters from around the country would seek out the brightest at FIU [Florida International University], FAU [Florida Atlantic University], UM [University of Miami] and Lynn [University]—and then send the grads to New York, Austin, Boston,” Cane says. “And before a few years ago, we didn’t have an anchor and magnetism to draw and retain people. So, at Modernizing Medicine, we have employed 95 percent homegrown talent. We have way more talent here than companies would have room for. Five years ago, we did find a skills gap.”

Now, South Florida companies are drawing talent from outside of the state. People want to come here because it’s vibrant, rich and sexy, McAlpin says.

When students graduated 10 years ago in South Florida and wanted to work for a large or prestigious company, they looked to cities such as New York, Boston, Chicago or Los Angeles, Man said. “Back then, in Florida you had two options—you either worked in tourism or real estate. And that has really changed. There are so many opportunities now and new housing. Miami and South Florida are exciting. Miami has all these new neighborhoods—Wynwood, the Design District and Midtown—that make people from across the country want to live here.”

Man grew up in South Florida and says it’s a strategic location for his business.

Finding Capital

“South Florida is a target-rich environment with access to tremendous capital to do early-stage raising,” Cane says. “That early-stage capital is hard to do, but for innovators, entrepreneurs, we have an unfair advantage.” Money follows money, he adds.

South Florida is the next place to be and a top growing market, Kleber says.

Unique Customer Experiences

“Break through the clutter with innovation. Provide programming with a new way of doing things, with a new look and feel,” McAlpin says. “Sometimes, it’s not about creating a new product but taking a product to a new market. Creativity starts with the company’s core culture.”

Culture Begins with the Team

Culture is the heart of any company, Cane says. “All of my team is made up of caring individuals,” he says. “It’s expected of them to take time to get to know each other. I’m a big fan of sharing meals, breaking bread together.”

Adds McAlpin: “We have a saying that we don’t have any brilliant jerks. There are a lot of smart guys out there, but they can’t work as a team.”

Man says customer service is integral. “We need to always make sure we are managing expectations and offering world-class service,” he says. “Strong personal relationships will make you feel like a team and working together as though they are part of the bigger group.”

Tackling Rapid Growth

Scalability has been Man’s biggest challenge. To solve the problem, “we began outsourcing our engineering to create drawings,” Man says. “Partnering with these other companies helps us to stay creative and focus on what we do best—creating beach life as an original art—without evolving into something else: an engineering company, a construction company.”

Recruit Young Blood

Look for students well before they graduate, Cane says. “Go right to the university’s dean and faculty to sponge up the best students; they know who the best students are,” he says. “The universities in our backyard are doing ground-breaking research. Great professors attract great students. And students want to go to a school where there are jobs lined up at the end.” ♦

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