Missed Opportunity and a Lesson Learned

By Brian Rowland
Rowland Publishing, Tallahassee, Florida

Recently I attended a conference where Jerry Ray, Senior Vice President for External Affairs for the St. Joe Paper Company, shared some local North Florida history and advice.

In the late 1920s as Florida experienced a real estate bust, Alfred I. DuPont and his brother-in-law Edward Ball moved to Jacksonville and began buying up Florida land for often a buck an acre, accumulating 1 million-plus acres for their St. Joe Paper Company. When DuPont died in 1935, Ball became the estate’s trustee and kept buying land, the bulk between Tallahassee and Pensacola.

Fast-forward to the 1950s, and the story focuses on a man hoping to purchase a mere 3,000 acres from St. Joe, north of Panama City, and a chance to convey his vision for the land. Ball agreed to give him an appointment.

On the appointed day, the visitor arrived early at Ball’s office. But as each hour passed, Ball’s secretary would go into his office with stock reports, then return to tell the visitor he would still have to wait.

After dining alone on a lunch provided by Ball in the company boardroom, the visitor returned to Ball’s waiting room. The afternoon passed, and each hour the story was the same. Until 4 p.m. After the final stock reports of the day arrived, the secretary emerged from Ball’s office and handed the visitor a note, folded eight times that reportedly said, “I’m not selling land to you. I don’t deal with carnival folk.”

The patient visitor was Walt Disney who, undaunted, turned his eyes to Central Florida. Over the next decade he quietly acquired land that would eventually become Walt Disney World® and the rest is history.

Was this a missed opportunity for St. Joe and the North Florida region? Who knows what Florida would look like today.

One never knows what one may learn by taking an appointment or returning a phone call. In this case, Ball apparently had no idea. Those who walk around with the mindset of “I have made up my mind – do not confuse me with new facts or ideas” are the ones who sometimes hold back progress and prosperity. It is sad that success has gone to their heads and they are no longer the conduit for growth – not just for their companies, but for others who strive to make life better. The time has come to be open to new ideas and change. And to think big.

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