Business Monday

In a year of challenges, CEOs took risks, learned and grew

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This week’s question to the Miami Herald CEO Roundtable: What's the biggest challenge you have faced as a CEO during the past year?

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As evidence of a growing economy, we have seen an incredible amount of senior staff turnover within our Chamber Membership. Often, the relationship is built around people so, when someone leaves an organization, the relationship often must start over. Though we might pick up new members through the transition, it takes twice the work on the retention side.

Steven N. Adkins, president and CEO, Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce

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As a fast growing technology company, recruiting talented people to join our team is always a challenge, especially those with specific technical skill sets. At e-Builder, we are leveraging many new development technologies so finding talent to support these initiatives is sometimes a challenge.

Ron Antevy, president and CEO, e-Builder

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It’s a challenge every growing business has faced: how to grow without losing the qualities that made you grow to begin with. For us, that’s hiring only the best, keeping our families first, and remaining a great place to work, even if it means slowing down growth.

Maria Arizmendi, behavior analyst and president, Progressive Behavioral Science

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With regional, national and global market uncertainty, being able to navigate unpredictable waters has been our leading concern. As we view new and existing developments, we constantly consider multiple backup strategies. We live by the motto: “Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised” (Denis Waitley, author of “The Psychology of Winning”).

Noah Breakstone, founder and managing partner, BTI Partners

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The practice of law is changing rapidly. Demand for legal services is flat or declining across the U.S. Although Shutts & Bowen is doing well against this backdrop, the biggest ongoing challenge is to ensure that our firm remains strong in specialized practice fields that remain in high demand such as those upon which we focus now, including legal services relating to complex real estate transactions, complex commercial litigation, international tax, mergers and acquisitions, financial institutions matters, healthcare and intellectual property.

Bowman Brown, partner and chairman of the Executive Committee and the Financial Services Practice Group of Shutts & Bowen

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Changing my relationship with my business. I used to think that my business was my baby, something I had to nurture, take care of, and make sacrifices for. Last year, I learned that if I kept treating my business as my baby, instead of my mule, I would keep putting myself second. If you have a business, its only purpose should be to provide you with the results and lifestyle that you want. Set up your business like a machine! That machine should be working nonstop for your benefit!

Patricia Elizee, managing partner, Elizee Law Firm

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Our biggest challenge this year has probably been restructuring the way we sell cruises in China. Historically, most cruises are sold via mega-groups organized by government-owned agencies. We are trying to shift the Chinese consumer to purchase directly, and to help the agencies sell to consumers on a more individual basis; our team has made great inroads and the momentum is swinging our way. This has been a major undertaking that has involved significant resources on our part and making some high-risk decisions. Many times in business you just have to put up or shut up.

Richard Fain, chairman and CEO, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

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This year, Miami Jewish Health took on a leadership role in driving toward a solution to adjust the complex methodology for reimbursement to our largest unit, the nursing home. I am proud that this challenge is being resolved in a way that is best for all parties: the state, Miami Jewish Health, and most importantly, those we are privileged to serve.

Jeffrey Freimark, president and CEO, Miami Jewish Health

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The biggest challenge I faced was simply the natural learning curve of being new to The Children’s Trust, and to all the agencies and networks in the social services sector in Miami-Dade County. So, this year was all about listening and learning, in order to lead the organization into the future.

James Haj, president and CEO, The Children’s Trust of Miami-Dade County

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As a private, selective research university, the biggest challenge is always balancing the budget without tax dollars in order to meet the needs of the students academically and keeping tuition competitive with other research universities. This past year, one particular challenge that I’m proud of was working with HCA to see a teaching research hospital built on our Fort Lauderdale/Davie campus, a major step toward bringing NSU’s Vision 2020 to fruition. We also spent a significant amount of time this past year re-securing the highest levels of accreditation in multiple academic programs. Our focus continues to be on the student experience, and we’ve been able to grow our incoming class of freshmen year over year, while increasing incoming GPAs and SAT scores. This is not just the job of our admissions team; everyone has a piece of it, whether by providing internships in business units, offering research opportunities to undergrads with grad programs, or offering study abroad programs. All of these experiential touch points will better prepare students for their first job out of college.

George Hanbury, president and CEO, Nova Southeastern University

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The biggest challenge over the past year was the integration of enhanced technology into our operations, especially to ensure it is guest-friendly and improves the overall experience of our guests. At the same time, it must be easy for our employees to use when generating data, reports and information critical to our review and analysis of procedures and processes.

Bob Hohenstein, president and CEO, Miami-Dade County Youth Fair and Exposition

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As a young chief operating officer, the biggest challenge has been to manage an executive’s most valuable resource: Time. Although I would like to have many more hours in a day, time is simply a scarce resource that has to be managed accordingly. Each day I wake up with a mission to improve our systems and processes as well as enabling our people to further develop themselves in order to make all of our departments reach higher levels of autonomy.

Juan Carlos Marchan, COO, Centurion Restaurant Group

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Several sectors of business are being impacted by technology. On the real estate side, it’s been a challenge to keep up with the changes over the short, medium and long-term. Especially when it comes to planning developments years in advance of when they’ll deliver, it can sometimes make it difficult to anticipate consumer investment behavior.

David Martin, president and co-founder, Terra

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We’re a full service marina with a significant repair and marine service business, in addition to our boat storage function. Demand for these services has been growing at a fast rate, so we’ve been working to keep up by scaling our parts and service operations over the past few years. This has meant streamlining our operating costs while maintaining a high level of quality and hospitality. This part of our business has really taken off over the past 12 months.

Aabad Melwani, president, Rickenbacker Marina and managing principal, Marina PARC

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Recently, the 28-member Florida College System, of which we are a part, faced a $98 million budget cut from the State Legislature. We have had to work diligently to minimize the impact to our students while prioritizing policies and programs that will help them succeed.

Avis Proctor, vice president of academic affairs and president, North Campus at Broward College

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Our biggest challenge in the last year has been managing growth. Housing Trust Group is a family business, and so our challenge is preserving the values and culture of a family business while scaling up. We’ve tripled our staff in the last two years and to do so has involved letting go, to a degree, and trusting that I’ve instilled in my leadership team the right values so that when they hire someone they will select the candidates who are not only the most qualified, but will fit in with our family-oriented culture.

Matthew Rieger, president and CEO, Housing Trust Group

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As the executive director of the Lincoln Road Business Improvement District (BID) one of my roles is as liaison between our 62 property owners and the City of Miami Beach. Government and the private sector (especially family businesses that have been on Lincoln Road for generations) can function at different speeds and not always align together. This can be a challenge; however, at the end of the day all of us want what’s best for Lincoln Road and the City of Miami Beach. I always keep this in mind in everything.

Ivannia Van Arman, executive director, Lincoln Road Business Improvement District

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The Miami Herald CEO Roundtable is a weekly feature that appears in Business Monday of the Miami Herald. Recent questions have included:

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