Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

Around the State- Northeast- Aug. 2001

Guiding Light
Jacksonville's Eagle Forum helps minority executives try to beat the odds.

By Clennon King

African-American entrepreneur Jim Stallings listens as 25 black executives vent. They recount tales of missed promotions, insensitive comments and hostile work environments. All want the same thing from Stallings: To know how this former IBM vice president, who grew up poor, beat the odds to become captain of his own company.

The dialogue that follows is the heart and soul of Stallings' Eagle Forum, a non-profit effort he co-founded with friend and fellow black entrepreneur C. Ronald Belton. The exchange mixes tough love, motivation and sound career advice, says Belton, a former Merrill Lynch investment broker who now heads his own Jacksonville-based Riverplace Capital Management. It also provides mentoring that Belton and Stallings say they never got as they scaled a white and lonely corporate ladder. "We school them on how to stay, how to rise and how to leave corporate America," says Belton.

Stallings, one of six children of a truck driver and housekeeper, was born into a tough but loving household with no indoor toilets or lights. At age 3, he moved into public housing in Raleigh, N.C. At 17, he convinced then-U.S. Rep. Ike Andrews to help him gain admission to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. He graduated four years later with honors, was commissioned into the Marines and shipped out to Okinawa, Japan, to head up a rifle platoon.

That detail earned him an assignment to the White House as an honor guard during the Carter and Reagan years. After earning his MBA from American University, Stallings headed to the private sector, rising quickly through management ranks at General Electric and then IBM, where he was assistant to the chairman of the board and eventually vice president of IBM's North Florida division based in Jacksonville.

After a stint at medical equipment supplier PSS World Medical, Stallings entered the entrepreneurial world, founding e-House, a Jacksonville-based home automation firm that provides home builders with customized internet, cable, lighting and security systems wiring for high-end homes. Among his biggest customers are Arvida, Centex and the St. Joe Co., with which Stallings has just signed a multiyear deal.

First Union Vice President Nathaniel Herring, who has attended three of the Eagle Forum seminars, says Stallings "has taught us to expect unfairness, but still strive for excellence."

In the News

Amelia Island -- Independent filmmaker John Sayles completed shooting Sunshine State, starring Angela Bassett and Emmy-winning actress Edie Falco of HBO's The Sopranos. The film, shot on Amelia Island and in Jacksonville, is about two women who reluctantly return to their hometown and are forced to contend with past relationships and encroaching commercial development.

Clay County -- Fort Worth, Texas-based AmeriCredit Financial Services will open a 500-person customer-service center this summer.

Jacksonville -- The Duval County School Board extended Superintendent John Fryer's contract for two more years at an annual salary of $168,000 despite complaining about a communications problem with the superintendent. Fryer, who took over in 1998, was making $150,000 a year.

Laker Airways has started regularly scheduled charter jet service from Jacksonville International Airport to Nassau/Paradise Island in the Bahamas.

The Jacksonville Zoo will get a new jaguar exhibit as part of a $12-million expansion to be headed up by the Stellar Group. The company will break ground on the new five-acre tract in early 2002 and is shooting for an early 2004 completion.

Insteel Industries plans to lay off 128 employees from its Westside plant. The wire maker says the layoffs were the result of a depressed telecommunications market.

British Airways has opened a call center at Southpoint to handle North American ticketing and reservations for the airline. The facility is expected to employ 500 and generate $150 million in sales. BellSouth, HCA-The Healthcare Co. and America Online also have call centers under construction in Jacksonville.

Clear Channel Communications says it's in the final stages of an $8-million expansion project that will consolidate all of its television, radio and outdoor advertising offices. The 120,000-sq.-ft. complex in the EastPark Office & Industrial Park will house its two television stations, 11 radio stations and the executives who manage its 1,065 billboards across the city.

Losing the Winn-Dixie account proved too much for Cook Marketing Communications. The ad agency has shut down. Winn-Dixie (NYSE-WIN), Cook's largest and most lucrative client, transferred its $43-million account to Chicago-based Cramer-Kasselt in May, ending a 35-year relationship with Cook. The grocery chain accounted for more than half of Cook's $65-million billings in 2000.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have replaced locally based Winn-Dixie with Lakeland-based Publix as a team sponsor. The partnership includes cross-promotions in TV, radio and print ads.

Delco Remy International says it will buy the 70-employee Jacksonville facility of Mazda's North American operations.

Post Newsweek has tapped WJXT-TV News Director Skip Valet to head WKMG-TV, the company's troubled Orlando station.

Deerwood Lake LLC of Jacksonville has filed plans to build a 315-unit apartment building as part of a larger 277-acre development opposite Tinseltown at Southside Boulevard and Touchton Road. The development also calls for a restaurant, gas station, park, stores and office buildings adjacent to a high-end housing development by Centex Homes.

Jacksonville-based Oracal USA plans to build a 54,000-sq.-ft. office and warehouse on 55 acres along Alta Drive near New Berlin Road in North Jacksonville. The graphic arts film distribution company wants to complete the $5.5-million project by April 2002 and plans to double its current workforce of 60.

Haskell Co., a design-build firm, broke ground on a five-story, 300-room dormitory for the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Brunswick, Ga. Construction is scheduled to be completed by mid-2002.

Lee & Cates Glass Inc. has submitted plans for a $1-million, 23,475-sq.-ft. warehouse expansion of its LaVilla facility.

Nassau County -- Fernandina Beach-based Fields Clark Holdings plans to build 300 high-end homes at Amelia National Golf Club. The developer also plans to build million-dollar homes as part of a 105-acre island retreat off the coast of downtown Fernandina Beach called St. Martin's Island Preserve.

Ocala -- Ocala Regional Medical Center broke ground on a $50-million, 112,000-sq.-ft. satellite hospital, expected to open in the fall of 2002 on State Road 200. Along the same corridor, Munroe Regional Medical Centers has also broken ground on a $13-million, 60,000-sq.-ft. emergency center at Timber Ridge also to open in 2002.

Michaels Stores is opening a 23,750-sq.-ft. store in September next to the new Wal-Mart SuperCenter on S.W. 19th Ave.

Mark III Industries, a manufacturer of luxury conversion vans, has shut down, leaving about 240 employees jobless. Mark III, hit hard by a shrinking market and increasing competition from sport-utility vehicles, was one of Ocala's largest employers.

Palatka -- Georgia-Pacific Vice President Ted Kennedy will take over the company's pulp and paper operations, replacing Senior Vice President David Spraley, who was reassigned to G-P's Atlanta headquarters.

St. Johns County -- Comedian and actor Bill Murray opened his new Murray Bros. Caddyshack restaurant at the World Golf Village.

Target Corp. filed plans for construction of a 136,000-sq.-ft. store at U.S. Highway 1 and Arapahoe Road.