Joseph Duda & John Hopkins Join Notable Laureates

In an age when the latest technology is practically obsolete by the time it hits the market, it is important to remember the sage advice of Booker T. Washington who said, “The future is always built out of the materials of the past.” In other words, in the midst of constant change and innovation, there are timeless things that don’t change and it is these priceless lessons honed over time that build bridges for us into the future.

Two local businessmen who have helped shape the present we enjoy and the future we are moving towards on the Space Coast are Joseph A. Duda, retired president and CEO of A. Duda & Sons, as well as the founder of The Viera Company, and John R. Hopkins, CPA, one of the founders of Berman Hopkins Wright & LaHam CPAs and Associates. These two goldmines of wisdom and experience are being recognized this month, not for one goal or accomplishment – there are frankly too many to count – but for their lifetime achievements, a body of work which spans decades.

John Hopkins and Joseph Duda set the bar for visionary leadership, professional integrity and community involvement, helping to shape this area in ways those who now enjoy the culture, the opportunity and the caring that is characteristic of the Space Coast may never realize. How many see the Scott Center for Autism Treatment at Florida Tech, but don’t realize that one of its most ardent supporters is John Hopkins, whose granddaughter is dealing with that very condition? Or who stroll through the courtyards at The Avenue Viera or attend a ballgame at Space Coast Stadium and realize they are experiencing the reality of a vision one man had while working his family’s cattle ranch on the same property?

Joseph Duda: Making the Connection

For Joseph Duda, the connection to Brevard County started early in life. “I never had a doubt I would work for the family business. I suppose part of that was because early on my father and my uncles regularly talked with my brothers and cousins about the company. They shared their mistakes and their successes, along with the desire to leave the business to the family, to build a legacy.” Few young people today are privy to that kind of inspiration
and insight.

“My father also wanted us to learn the value of work, so I started on the farm when I was twelve. Well…what does a twelve-year-old kid do?” Then, chuckling in his distinctive southern drawl answered, “Get in the way.” Actually, my father told the foreman I was under that if I didn’t work to send me home.”

“I knew then that farming wasn’t for me, but in a couple of years I went to work on the ranch (which still exists west of Viera, but at that time included all the area bordering I-95 to the St. Johns River) and said to myself, ‘This is where I want to be – horses, cows, wide open spaces,’ in fact that is what I planned to do for the rest of my life. I didn’t even want to go to college; I wanted to go to work right out of high school. But I had some solid mentors who advised me to add formal education
to my experience, which I did at the University of Florida.”

In those early years his bond, not only to the Duda ranch but to the area, began to take root. “I always felt this county was perfect. It isn’t in the mainstream of Orlando, but if you want that, you can go over there for a few days and enjoy the theme parks or the city; then you can come back here to live. We have all the amenities – an international airport within an easy drive, so you can get to Europe or anywhere. Where do you find a county that has rivers which run parallel to the ocean, the Indian and the Banana River, with the St. Johns bordering it on the west? It is a paradise, a secret, and so few know is here.”

Then with characteristically reserved exuberance he added, “I tried to get Duda to move their corporate offices here (from Oviedo). I thought it would demonstrate that we are committed to the community we are building. But it was hard to get all of those employees and families to pick up their roots and move. But I did move my family here.”

John Hopkins: Making the Connection

John Hopkins charmingly admits, “I got to where I am partly by trial and error.” He enrolled in the engineering program at the University of Kentucky after high school because of his interest in ham radios and electronics. “But,” he said, “I soon discovered that many of the subjects had no interest to me, so as a junior I went into the College of Business. There I got a taste for accounting and decided to get my degree in it.”

“My wife’s family lived on the Space Coast, but at the time, I wasn’t enthusiastic about relocating here on a permanent basis. When we moved to the area in 1973, my plan was to move back north after a few years, perhaps to Lexington. But there was something about the community that just captivated me. I got a job with one of the two accounting firms here and eventually was able to set up our first company in 1977-78. Then in 1982, Lewis Berman and I joined in this partnership” – a partnership that has grown for over thirty years and today is the largest independently and locally-owned CPA and business consulting firm in Central Florida.

“The people, the diversity of our business base and the natural environment are what make Brevard County so attractive. The combination of outstanding community leaders, along with the opportunities to develop new leaders, will ensure the county thrives in the future,” he proudly declared.

Building On Vision  

Duda freely admits, “I’m a vision guy; I would rather spend my time thinking about what and where we ought to be rather than what we are. Most people have a ‘show me’ perspective on life. There aren’t that many of us (visionaries) and admittedly I tend to get ahead of people, sometimes way too far. Then I have to come back and show folks how to catch up. In fact, I come from a family that’s very pragmatic, very ‘show me’ oriented, at least most of them, and I find myself at odds because I get way ahead of them in my thinking.”

“But it is vision that unites and motivates people to a common and achievable  goal. I love the visioning processes of challenging our mindsets and challenging the status quo, imagining what you could be, thinking about tomorrow and losing your fixation on yesterday,” Duda said. He then added, “Our uncles were incredible in allowing us and supporting us in building our dreams. All my brothers and cousins had aspirations; some of our plans were successful, some weren’t, but overall more were successful than not. I admit one or two of my ideas out of five might not be so great, but three of them could really work! That was their approach – you learn by trying and it’s always been my approach as well.”