For more than 20 years, the Founders Forum has inspired, educated and connected both established and budding entrepreneurs on the Space Coast. Originally a forum where new businesses owners could meet with funding sources and potential investors, Founders Forum has evolved into an educational and networking organization where entrepreneurs can learn from and build relationships with many of the regions’ most successful business leaders. The Founder of the Year is an annual recognition that highlights and celebrates some of the most successful entrepreneurs in our region and offers like-minded community leaders the opportunity to learn from their business and personal journeys.
That maxim has not only guided him personally, it also is part of the driving force behind the success of his firm, which launched in the mid 90’s. Unlike many realtors, and especially commercial realtors, who regularly and individually deal with various types of commercial properties, Lightle instead has assembled a core team of partner/specialists who deal with specific sectors of the business. This has helped his company build a reputation for expertise, much like a cardiologist versus a general practitioner would. If a client is looking for office space, a member of the team specializes in that particular sector. The same is true for industrial or retail needs. “Many people told me this market couldn’t support a firm organized around particular sectors, but I believed that was the best way to deliver the kind of service clients were expecting,” he said. For example, “when someone lives industrial real estate 24-7, they are the people you want to talk to if you are seeking industrial space,” he said.
The theory has clearly paid off, with Lightle Beckner Robison having sold or leased more than 15 million sq. ft. of commercial real estate in Florida, Georgia and Alabama.
After graduation from Florida Southern in Lakeland, where he served as senior president, Lightle initially pursued a career as a stockbroker, starting his first assignment with Merrill Lynch. Quickly enough, he discovered that he was not interested in pursuing this path; however, and quite fortuitously, he did complete one of the leading sales programs in the financial industry, which helped facilitate his career in property sales and management.
“I still set aside one hour a week for all of our team, myself included, to do cold calling and prospecting… it keeps you sharp and in tune with the market,” he said.
Lightle is a passionate ambassador of the Space Coast and has advocated for it through a number of positions, including as as past chairman of the International Council of Shopping Centers for the Melbourne/Palm Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, board member for the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast, past president for the Founders Forum Board of Directors, and board member for Circles of Care.
“When you look back 10 years and see where this county has come and where it is going, I am thrilled to be a part of it and humbled by the success our company has enjoyed and the people God has let me partner with.”
If there is one truth you can bank on about Dana Kilborne’s career in business, it’s that she relishes entrepreneurialism; not only being an entrepreneur, but also working at it with others.
“I get to work with entrepreneurs, which is even more fun. I get to work with them and be one, which is very satisfying,” she said.
Since 1985, Kilborne has participated in the growth of several banks, such as the 2004 founding of Prime Bank, where she served as president and chief executive officer. In 2010, Prime Bank merged with Florida Bank of Commerce, which she joined to serve in the same roles before that bank merged with yet another. And so it went.
Kilborne again is serving as president and chief executive officer, this time at Palm Beach-based Cypress Trust Co., which she joined in 2018. Additionally, Kilborne, a resident of Brevard with plans to open an office in the county, has entrepreneurial tentacles in insurance and other business sectors across the state.
So, what does entrepreneurialism mean to her?
“Identifying a need and really building a viable business around it,” she answered in an instant.
On reflection, Kilborne then adds context. “I really enjoy building things,” she says. “And I get a tremendous amount of satisfaction in putting some very smart, talented people together and understanding the synergies that come with having an amazing team.” She cites that the prevalence of “behemoth competitors” in the financial services industry have both intensified the challenge and increased gratification.
Not that the entrepreneurial journey has always been easy. Lessons learned? “Well, there’s a bunch,” Kilborne said, but her fundamental guiding principle is to build relationships. “This is easy to say, but no matter how technical the world becomes, to be successful you must be able to forge relationships, she asserts. “It’s still all about relationships. We may form them differently now. We may establish trust in different ways, without shaking someone’s hand, maybe. But the underlying importance of relationships in any business is always going to be a huge driver.”
Entrepreneurialism is special, Kilborne concludes: “My observations of entrepreneurs is they often start with the impossible, move to improbable and then to inevitable.”
In her case, inevitable success.
Peter Dyson laughs when asked about his experience with entrepreneurialism. He’s had only one encounter — and it has lasted more than 35 years.
“I dabbled in other areas, but I resisted temptations and ‘put all the wood behind the arrow’ to focus all my time and energy on this,” he says. “That’s why I call it perpetual entrepreneurship, not serial entrepreneurship.”
The this is Modus Operandi, a software company serving the U.S. defense and others with information-based intelligence capabilities, that he cofounded in 1985. Prior to that, Dyson was a business and financial operations senior executive at nearby Harris Corporation (now L3 Harris Technologies).
Dyson’s direct and targeted approach has helped his company’s win contracts from the U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps, among others.
His father was involved in small business, and a young Dyson grew up active in Junior Achievement. That background “planted seeds” and made him “predisposed” to the startup culture. As a bonus, Dyson eventually realized that entrepreneurialism also translated to control.
“It’s fully your ability to have control over your own destiny,” he says. And, “You own your decisions.”
Dyson’s decisions didn’t always go as planned. Or, as Dyson describes it, “I learned through experience, and always the hard way.”
His most important lesson begins with adaptability. “Usually the plans that we write don’t end up being exactly how things will play out. … Then the focus becomes ‘what are we good at?”
Another lesson he has paid attention to is that of customer relations. Dyson calls for a dose of truth serum in the form of honesty. He recounts a time years ago when he had to deliver bad news to a customer. He was hesitant because of the difficulty in breaking the news but he finally faced the challenge and spoke up. The customer remains a business partner to this day.
Dyson advises perseverance and in seeking “faith in your own abilities.”
“You will come out the other side. We never gave up, even a couple of times when we were up against the wall. There are things you can do that you know will work if you give it enough time. And don’t take your eye off the ball.”