E. Paul Hovey once said: “A blind man’s world is bound by the limits of his touch; an ignorant man’s world is bound by the limits of his knowledge; a great man’s world is bound by the limits of his vision.” Most of the founders of successful businesses don’t lack a vision for their product or its market, but few have a vision for what their business can and will be in the generations that follow them. Andrew Duda, an immigrant who came to this country from Slovakia early in the last century, was an exception. However, I wonder if even he could see the celery growing company he started turning their ranch land into a master planned residential and commercial community, housing the county government, school board and professional baseball training facilities at the center of Brevard County? Or that in the fourth generation, the CEO of A. Duda and Son’s development company would not be a son, but a daughter, Tracey Duda Chapman?
SCB: Transferring businesses from one generation to another has an extremely high mortality rate; successes are the exception rather than the rule. What do you credit the success of A. Duda & Co. to?
TDC: First, our family still shares the values, vision and faith Andrew Duda had when he came to this country. He never saw us as a strictly agricultural company, but as a land company; agriculture, like development today, was simply the best way to steward the land. Secondly, we hired a family business consulting firm, which works primarily with European family businesses that have histories much longer than ours. Out of that the Duda Family Council was formed to ensure that as the family grew and the business grew that the relational bonds between us stayed strong.
SCB: Please explain that dynamic.
TDC: We may disagree on a business decision, but not on the value of our relationships. Family members are elected to the Council and though they may advise the business, they don’t manage it. The Council also handles our philanthropic efforts and plans family gatherings and family job fairs. The job fairs are the first step in grooming family members for various roles in the company, which is an important factor in keeping a family business, in the family.
SCB: You obviously grew up around the business, but I’m sure you had other options. When did you decide this was where you wanted to invest your life professionally?
TDC: My father, the former CEO of the business, always told us we could do anything we set our minds to. After completing my undergraduate degree, I did a one-year internship, which gave me an overview of everything from planting celery and running a packing plant, to working in the accounting department. Then I went to law school and planned to practice law, specializing in real estate and property, separate from our company. But our corporate attorney, Cal Livingstone, kept asking me to come and work with him, as he had to outsource more and more work. I did and he was not only a tremendous man, but a great mentor. When he left I stepped into his position as general counsel.
SCB: Then you transitioned into The Viera Company?
TDC: A portion of the work I was doing with the company involved government affairs, working with the state and local officials as well as community representatives. I wanted to move from managing legal affairs to managing projects and people. When Joseph Duda became the CEO of A. Duda and Co., I transitioned into this role.
SCB: What is your vision for the future of Viera?
TDC: From the outset we wanted Viera (Slovak for “faith”) to be a community people wanted to live in. With the changes in the economy we are trying to create more purchase options for people. We are even planning some multi-use developments for those who want a more urban feel, where they can walk to work, to shopping and to recreational venues. We want Viera to be a place where people want to raise a family or retire to, with not only great amenities like the new hospital or Pro-Health and Fitness, but thousands of acres of land along the St. John’s River that will be pristine and untouched.