April 23, 2014

Florida Icon

Icon: Gus Stavros

Businessman, philanthropist, Florida Board of Governors member, 82

Art Levy | 11/1/2007


Stavros, with kindergarteners at High Point Elementary in Clearwater, has championed financial literacy among schoolchildren. [Photo: Michael Heape]
» My father came to America when he was 14. At the age of 9, his parents sold him to a wealthy man in Athens to be a gardener’s helper. One day he was sent out to run some errands, and he got involved in some other things and he never finished the errands, so he got a pretty bad whipping. He ran away and worked in a factory until he saved enough money to come to America. He came to New York City, went to a Greek restaurant and got a job as a dishwasher. He stayed there until they taught him how to cook. For 50 years, he was a restaurateur. He owned diners.

» At the age of 19, I landed at Utah Beach, about 50 days after D-Day. We went across three campaigns: Northern France, Ardennes and Rhineland. I was wounded on Jan. 19, 1945. That was the last day I used my left hand.

» I was always frugal. My wife, always frugal. When we first got married, we had a budget. At the end of every month, she’d empty her purse, and I’d empty my pockets to be sure we hadn’t misplaced any money.

» We moved to Florida and my parents came down to stay with us awhile to see their grandchildren. My father said to me, ‘Son, I know you want to go into business, so I’ll look around for you.’ This was 1958. After awhile, he said the area was ready for a good hamburger, hot dog, milkshake and soda place, and I told him I didn’t go to Columbia University to open up a hot dog stand. But my father was right, and I was wrong. If I had listened to him, all these McDonald’s you see now would be called Gus’.

» I was one of three who started Better Business Forms. I eventually bought the other two men out, so I was the sole owner. We started with three employees and built it to 550. I used my philosophies of business: Take care of your employees; listen to the customer.

» I remember I transferred a salesman to Tampa, and a company he’d been serving came to me and said they wanted him back. I said whatever you want. That customer was Eckerd Drugs, and that salesman was getting $10,000 a year from them in business. Within a couple of years, he was getting $1 million a year in business from Eckerd.

» I had three salesmen who made more money than I did, and I owned the company. They were on commission. It didn’t matter to me. The company was growing.

» Let me tell you why I sold my company (in 1984). When my wife, a child of the Depression, found out that I owed the banks $11 million; she was very uncomfortable. By selling the company, I paid off the debt, and I got a good amount of money ($12.5 million).

Tags: Politics & Law, Florida Icon, Education, Government/Politics & Law

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