The long view of business
For James Seneff and his billion-dollar real estate powerhouse, the social sciences offer as much strategic guidance as hard economics.
Among Seneff’s prize possessions is a complete collection of books and speeches by Winston Churchill.
“Churchill was a great predictor of the future because he knew the past so well,” he says. “He says the further you look back, the further you can look forward. It teaches you to think in time. Thinking in time means you look at the past, you look at the future, you look at the present and you’re able to think about what will happen next. Most people don’t do that; they don’t synthesize.”
Synthesizing — finding the narrative context in disparate volumes of information — is the leader’s job, Seneff says. “We try to create a context out of all the information because information all by itself isn’t really valuable, to give us a sense of what we should be doing in the future and trying to find out where the puck is going to go as opposed to where it is.”
CNL Chairman Jim Seneff’s business philosophy and religious convictions are intertwined. Seneff serves on the board of the Reformed Theological Seminary, a non-denominational Christian school with campuses or branches in seven cities. Seneff says his faith has helped shape CNL business practices.
The CNL Charitable Foundation has made million-dollar donations to the Central Florida Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Valencia College and the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute. Additionally, the foundation gave $160,000 to the University of Central Florida College of Medicine. Seneff estimates the company has contributed or pledged more than $15 million over the last five years, with $10 million alone going to the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.