For more than 40 years, Sanibel-Captiva Beach Resort has been the preeminent vacation destination on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Tony Lapi, now CEO, was there in 1976 when he and a co-founder Lloyd Wright purchased one property and ran it with two employees. By 2008, when Vistage contacted him about joining a local group, Lapi had grown the business to 137 units and nearly 140 employees.
“I was rather reluctant to try Vistage because I’d already proven my success and I wasn’t sure how much they could help,” he said.
Turns out, working with Chair Dan Brunell and his group of CEO peers may have been one of Lapi’s best decisions. Since joining Vistage, Lapi has created a succession plan (and identified Doug Babcock as his successor), expanded the resort by 104 units in a merger with West Winds Inn on Sanibel, is working on his third strategic plan, and served a term as chairman of Visit Florida, the most respected tourism promotion organization in the United States.
“Chairing Visit Florida was a great experience, but without Vistage I probably would have shied away,” he said. “It wasn’t in my comfort zone to deal with government, politicians and the really big players in Florida’s hospitality industry, but Vistage gave me the confidence I needed.”
The peer-to-peer counseling – open, honest and confidential conversations — about business challenges identify issues that CEOs may not have even thought to address. “It’s a chance to talk to somebody who has been down that path before and knows what to expect,” he says. “We may all be in different businesses but the challenges we face at the top level are all very much the same.”
Succession planning is a prime example for Lapi. “Even though I’m 60 years old, I hadn’t thought much about succession. My Vistage group not only made it a priority, they showed me what I needed to look for in a successor.”
Having Babcock on board also gave Lapi the confidence to pursue a complicated merger with West Wind Inns. “He spent most of his career on Wall Street so he understood the options. I don’t know that I would have taken it on by myself but having Doug and my Vistage team on board made it a very smooth operation.”
One-on-one coaching with Brunell forces Lapi to be accountable on a more regular basis than meetings three times a year with his board of directors. “We talk about the issues I’m dealing with in a monthly meeting and decide what to do and when I need to do it, so I move forward in a timely fashion. Without that accountability, I’d probably spend more time working in my business than on it.”
And about those retirement plans? “I’m very very lucky to have a job I love and a wife of 43 years who has made it clear that she doesn’t want me at home all day every day,” he says. “With Doug on board, I can work when I want – as long as I don’t become a buttinsky – and enjoy retirement at my pace.”