At age 16, Tim Gannon wanted nothing more than to play polo. But how does a kid from a working-class Florida family earn enough money to play the sport of kings?
In his search for answers, he recalls having a conversation with his best friend’s father, Gannon told hundreds of students, faculty, staff, alumni and guests at Palm Beach Atlantic University’s annual American Free Enterprise Day ceremony on Nov. 7. Gannon was honored as the 2013 recipient of the University’s prestigious American Free Enterprise medal.
A co-founder of Outback Steakhouse who is now CEO of Palm Beach PDQ restaurant, Gannon recalls receiving the advice that to be a success he should bring something new to the marketplace. When he pressed for an example, he remembers being told the story of Swiss watchmaker George de Mestral, who used the burdock burrs that often clung to his clothing and to his dog’s fur as his inspiration to invent Velcro.
Gannon said his “Velcro moment” came when he was traveling around the world and came across a dish that became the inspiration for Outback Steakhouse’s Bloomin’ Onion appetizer. The Bloomin’ Onion remains hugely popular and now is approaching $1 billion in sales, he said.
“Find your Velcro moment,” said Gannon, who later became owner of the championship Outback Polo team. “Find that moment … that you can take forward and become a huge success.”
In addition to having a “Velcro moment,” those seeking success must “know your Achilles’ heel,” or areas of weakness, he said. “My mother said mine is that I was optimistic to a fault,” he said.
He then worked to put together a team of partners who were strong in areas where he was weak, he said. Putting together a team is essential to success, he said.
“And when you do that you take that headwind and make it a tailwind,” he said.
During his brief remarks, Gannon said that no other country rivals the United States of America when it comes to becoming an entrepreneur. “There is no place you can get the opportunity and the capital and all of the things that you need to become successful. It’s right here, right in front of you in this country,” he said.
Gannon, whose career has included working an art museum tour guide, was introduced by University President William M. B. Fleming Jr., who described Gannon as “a great American and a transformational leader.”
Also honored on Thursday were two companion medalists: Paul Donahue, president and chief executive officer of G4S Government Solutions (G4S GS), and Kenneth Kennerly, executive director of The Honda Classic and senior vice president and director of the North America Event Group IMG GOLF, a division of IMG Worldwide, Inc.
Last year’s medalist, Brian P. Burns of BF Enterprises, took part in the medal presentation, and Palm Beach Mayor Gail Coniglio, a former companion medalist, led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Two former companion medalists, Misty Travani and Paul Bremer, also were part of this year’s program, along with PBA Board of Trustees Chairman Scott Hawkins, who offered a prayer of thanksgiving.
American Free Enterprise Day is a tradition at Palm Beach Atlantic since the first celebration took place in 1984.
2013 Companion Medalists
The 2013 companion medalists are Paul Donahue, president and CEO of G4S Government Solutions, Inc., and Kenneth Kennerly, executive director of The Honda Classic.