Best Bosses

Photography by Matt McCourtney By Nancy Wollin Cook April 30, 2010

At first blush, our 2010 Best Bosses don’t seem to have much in common. One runs a vacation rental business, another leads a small nonprofit. One is a 30-year veteran banker who seems worlds away from the seasoned academic, the nurse-entrepreneur and the mission-driven community dynamo. But if you read their employees’ heartfelt nominations, you’ll find a common thread. These Best Bosses have earned the loyalty of their staff by modeling a good work ethic, displaying a generous spirit, promoting a passion for their profession and bringing much-needed balance to the workplace during a period of economic crisis.

On behalf of Biz941 and our judges (Lisa Krouse, vice president of human resources at FCCI and the president of the Sarasota-Manatee Human Resources Association; Linda Tiffan of T2 Management Consultants; and Felice Schulaner, the former senior vice president of human resources at Coach Inc.), we salute them all!


Work and Fun

William Burnley

owner, Anna Maria

Gulf Coast Rentals

The way Anna Maria Gulf Coast Rentals employee Pamela Maroney sees it, a good boss is “a leader, resourceful, creative, determined and has a great sense of humor.” Not only does her boss, Bill Burnley, embody these qualities, she writes in her nomination letter, he brings out the best in

his staff.

Burnley oversees the operations of his 200-property vacation rental business staffed by “my 10 ladies, one of whom is my wife,” with a mixture of old-fashioned discipline and lighthearted fun. “A true English gent,” writes another employee.

The properties Burnley manages rent from $1,500 to $5,000 a month, and he expects that each guest will leave with a great story to tell about vacationing on the Gulf Coast. He insists his staff follow the procedures set forth in the company’s extensive operations manual and enforces a strict dress code. “It’s important that everybody knows what expectations are,” he says. 

Burnley maintains an open door policy, is always ready to listen to any concerns, and has created sales incentives with a self-styled silly side. If the staff exceeds daily sales goals by 30 percent, he shares a bottle of wine with them after work. If they double the day’s target, he serves them champagne.

Recently the company had its biggest sales day in its history, and Burnley was pondering what reward he could offer that beats after-hours bubbly. “I have to think of something special for them,” he says, “and it has to be something fun!”

Tackling Trouble with Integrity

Anne Lee

retail banking

president, First Bank

As president and CEO of beleaguered Coast Bank, which suffered huge losses during the 2007 mortgage banking meltdown, it was Anne Lee’s unenviable job to keep Coast employees informed of the status of the bank’s troubles and a pending merger.

“I operate under the philosophy that if there’s bad news, it’s better to tell people than have them get caught up in the rumor mill or learn what is happening in the paper,” explains Lee, now retail banking president with First Bank. “During the tough times at Coast, we had regular communications with every level of employee. From the clerical staff to upper management, everyone was told the same information. We ended up being acquired by a great family-owned bank, and I am proud to say that of the 16 managers I hired at Coast, every one of them is still with me today at First Bank.”

Lee’s openness and honesty made a profound impression on her staff. “Anne led the bank through devastating times, buyout and conversion with grace and professionalism,” says First Bank Dunedin-based branch manager Sharon Dropp. Bradenton-based financial services representative Patricia Woodard agrees. “Through conversions, changing work environments, loss of regional managers, Anne has been a positive force holding this team together,” Woodard says.

Lee’s open management style may stem from her own beginnings as a bank teller 30 years ago. She now oversees retail operations in 38 First Bank branches throughout Texas and Florida, including eight in Manatee County. “The key to good management,” she says, “is selecting the right people. Then you just have to clear the obstacles and let them run. Never underestimate what somebody can accomplish.”

Providing a Personal Touch

Susanne Wise

executive administrator and owner, Take Care Private Duty Home Health Care

Each December, every member of the administrative staff of Take Care Private Duty Home Health Care receives a paid day off to do holiday shopping. That’s on top of four paid hours off each month to volunteer in the community, Friday “wellness celebration” lunches, birthday and Nurses’ Week gifts and finally, “Caregiver of the Month” awards.

“I’ve never worked for anyone more generous,” says administrative assistant Patricia Bell. “I keep writing ‘thank-you’ notes. I can’t keep up!” 

“Everything we do at Take Care is a reflection of the staff,” explains executive administrator and owner Susanne Wise, herself a registered nurse. “I like to show our appreciation in ways that will be meaningful.”

In 15 years, Wise has grown Take Care from 17 employees to 600 people working out of four offices in Manatee and Sarasota counties. Her billings, which range from $18 an hour for simple housekeeping up to $37 an hour for skilled nursing care, total about $14 million annually.

Still, her employees say with pride, she makes each and every one of them feel important. Wise’s employees were full of admiration for her work ethic. “Sue Wise continues to include herself in the 24-hour ‘on-call’ nurse rotation,” says Wanda Woods, RN. “I am sure this is not the norm for the majority of wildly successful companies.”

Wise shrugs off the compliments, pointing out that holidays are especially stressful for home health caregivers so it’s only natural employees should have extra time. “We need to rejuvenate ourselves,” she says. As for the paid hours off each month to volunteer, “We are about community; it’s what we do,” she says.

Leading with Passion and Humor

Cindy Kaiser

executive director, Education Foundation

of Sarasota County

Cindy Kaiser and her staff of six share a passion for the Education Foundation’s vision of “preparing every child for tomorrow’s world.”

This shared passion translates into $1 million raised annually by the organization and $250,000 in grants awarded each year to Sarasota County teachers.

“People don’t necessarily have to be friends to work together,” Kaiser explains, “but we are small, and we work in a close environment; so it is important that we all like each other and get along. The staff here has an incredible work ethic.”

Kaiser doesn’t micromanage. “I don’t have to,” she says. “I articulate my expectations and try to give each employee the freedom to manage themselves. I guess you could say my management style is ‘relaxed.’”

When told that along with her unfailing optimism, strength of character and model of accountability, her staff praised her infectious sense of humor, Kaiser, who decorates a flamingo Christmas tree in her office during the holidays, was relieved her staff appreciated her funny side. “I admit I try to use humor,” she says.

Kaiser’s levity isn’t the only reason executive assistant Lindsay Letts nominated her boss. “Cindy has a great ability to laugh at herself,” she wrote, “but it is the passion that she is able to convey to the board, the staff, our donors and our community about public education that is truly inspiring.”


and Valuing Every Employee

Dr. Arthur Guilford regional chancellor, University of South Florida, Sarasota-Manatee

University of South Florida, Sarasota-Manatee Regional Chancellor Arthur Guilford is described by his employees as a man of many qualities: dapper and down-to-earth, flexible as well as someone who runs a tight ship, self-deprecating as well as bursting with pride when he speaks about this regional USF campus.

Mailroom employees to executive-level professionals say that in the three years Guilford has been regional chancellor, he has dealt with $5.96 million in budget cuts without implementing layoffs or furloughs (with faculty and staff at 200, the campus’s annual budget is currently about $22 million). He’s traded in his business suit for an apron in order to cook hot dogs during homecoming, implemented an alternative work schedule initiative for employees to promote a healthier work/life balance and has been leading an effort to make USF Sarasota-Manatee an independently accredited campus from USF Tampa, all the while participating on local boards and community events.

By all accounts, including his own, Guilford, who came to the Sarasota-Manatee branch after 31 years at the Tampa campus, most recently serving as associate dean for faculty, is unflappable. “I have a calm demeanor,” he explains. “I don’t think it ever helps a situation to get all wrapped up in it. If I’m not happy about something, I try to convey that in a straightforward, balanced way.”

His management philosophy reflects that straightforwardness. “I think that every single person, no matter the job, is worthy of my attention,” he says. “Everyone makes a valuable contribution.”

Mission-Driven Management

Teri Hansen

president and CEO, Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice

For Teri Hansen, president and CEO of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice, it’s all about the mission. And to her 16 staff members, Hansen’s dedication and leadership serve as a daily inspiration to do the best they can do to make

a difference.

“We are committed to improving the quality of life in the community. That is our mission,” says Hansen. “With our kind of work, it’s not hard to motivate. I try to select people with passion and then allow them to have the kind of experiences that encourage them to grow.”

Aside from giving her employees opportunities to develop professionally, Hansen serves as a model, according to her employees. “Teri maintains what seems to me an impossible schedule, yet she can turn on a dime and address whatever issue arises in order to help others maintain momentum and productivity,” says employee Greg Luberecki

The foundation has awarded $100 million in grants to the community in the areas of arts and culture, health and human services, education, civic affairs and the environment since its inception in 1995. This success, say her employees, comes from Hansen’s daily message about the importance of philanthropy and the role of the foundation’s employees to work together to create a better, stronger community.

“Being a part of an organization that strives to improve life for everyone is a humbling experience,” employee Julie Miller says. “Teri is a big advocate for teamwork, and she has put in place the dynamics and structure with the foundation to help us all work well together.”

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