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September 21, 2018


Florida's Most Influential People

Florida Trend looked broadly across a range of disciplines and activities -- from business and philanthropy to politics, sports and science -- to try to identify the state's most influential people. The exercise, we found, is very subjective.

Identifying the most influential people from among the 16 million who now live in Florida is very much a subjective exercise. Reproducing the roster of the Florida Council of 100 could easily generate a viable list; likewise a compilation of the state's most powerful elected officials.

In arriving at our list, we tried to cast our net more widely, across a range of disciplines and activities. We looked both for business heavy-hitters who can get the governor on the phone as well as for scientists whose work might be a yawn to most Floridians but is hugely influential nationwide or internationally.

We looked for people whose influence seemed to transcend the boundaries of their jobs -- the president of a major university is by definition powerful, but how big a force is he or she in moving the state forward in a way that benefits the state and all schools as well as the president's own school?

We tried to stick with people who've been in the state for awhile and who -- by virtue of civic and philanthropic involvements -- seem committed to being Floridians.

We ended up not putting people on the list based just on either job titles or fame. So the head of the Drug Enforcement Agency in Miami, who's fairly influential in his line of work, won't be on the list. Nor will rocker Rod Stewart, who has a mansion in Palm Beach.

We also created a category for families; some members might make the list on their own, but collectively the family certainly deserved to be on it. And we created a separate "emeritus" list of people who are important Floridians but have reached a point in their careers where, while still influential, they're less engaged in either their disciplines or the state's affairs.

In compiling our list, the staff at Florida Trend consulted hundreds of people across the state, from the heads of major companies to executive assistants to public relations professionals and government officials. Their help was invaluable in winnowing the list down to a manageable number. Ultimately, however, the list is subjective: Good, bad or indifferent, it reflects the collective judgment of the publisher, editor and Trend's editorial staff.

We hope this list stimulates a lot of discussion about the people on it -- and the nature of "influence." We certainly hope to hear from readers with ideas about who else belongs on the list -- and who they think doesn't. Ultimately, it's important to remember what one reader pointed out when we solicited suggestions from readers about Florida's "most influential." In no uncertain terms, he reminded us that however "influential" our choices might be, in the end each Floridian gets one vote. An appropriate -- and timely -- sentiment this month.

What About ... ?

So how do we leave a guy like Tiger Woods off our list of influential Floridians?

Fair question. Fame and wealth alone didn't get anybody on the list because they don't necessarily bring influence. Tiger is hugely influential: He's changed the way we look at who can be a golfer, and he's changed the perception of what's possible on a golf course -- and, in the process, the way golf courses are designed. The only problem with Tiger from the standpoint of influential Floridians is the "Floridian" part: He's got a house in Orlando, but his connections with the community there and the rest of the state are slim. He does national-level charity work but almost nothing that's specific to the local community.

Others with considerable influence didn't make the list for other reasons. Following are some other "what abouts'' that may help readers understand why we picked whom we picked.

Bernie Machen, the new president of the University of Florida, is plenty influential just by holding the job he has, but he hasn't been here long enough to have a real track record of influence.

Barry Diller, president and CEO of InterActiveCorp, with its Home Shopping Network subsidiary in St. Petersburg, has big interests in the state but doesn't live here.

Maj. Gen. John G. Castellaw, chief of staff at the Tampa-based U.S. Central Command, helps oversee the war in Iraq, giving him considerable influence. The general's influence derives essentially ex officio, however -- he will likely rotate out of the job within a year or so.

The Glazer family owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and has had a big impact on Tampa with the team but doesn't extend itself much via charitable or civic activities in the community or state.

O.J. Simpson is now a full-time resident of Miami, but he's infamous, not influential.

Tags: Around Florida

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