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University Beat

Morsani Shares Life Lessons in Business & Philanthropy

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Mark Schreiner
/
WUSF 89.7 News
Frank Morsani talks to students in the USF Muma College of Business before his book release party in downtown Tampa in November.

Frank Morsani's family name graces dozens of buildings and projects throughout the Tampa Bay area,  including the soon-to-be-built University of South Florida medical school in downtown Tampa, as well as at his alma mater, Oklahoma State University.

Now, Morsani is sharing lessons he learned during a life that took him from a Dust Bowl-era childhood home that had no electricity to years as one of the nation's top auto dealership owners and a term as Chairman of the Board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Morsani talked to WUSF in November, in between a speech he gave to students from the USF Muma College of Business and the launch party for his new autobiography,"To Be Frank: Building the American Dream in Business and Life."

According to Morsani, the goal of the book is to educate, inform and inspire readers.

"That's what we (he and co-writer Dave Scheiber) tried to put into the book, those three elements that inspire people to kind of be all they can be, work above their pay grade, so to speak," Morsani said with a laugh. 

The book follows Morsani from a childhood that saw him run his family's farm while his father traveled as a pipeline welder to a stint in the U.S. Navy aboard an aircraft carrier during the Korean War. 

But a large number of his stories cover his climb from an auto mechanic to auto dealership owner, culminating with his creation of Automotive Management Services, Inc., a collection of dealerships across the country, which boasted sales of over half a billion dollars even during the economic downturn in the late 1970s.

Morsani's success as a businessman led to leadership positions, first as Chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Council on Small Business in the late 1970's and then as Chair of the full Chamber in the mid 1980s, where he worked on business matters with Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

"We never thought that there was a risk in doing the things we did - as my wife (Carol) says, I have confidence in myself that we can make something happen, so whatever happened, we'd work through it," Morsani said.

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Credit Mark Schreiner / WUSF 89.7 News
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WUSF 89.7 News
Morsani talks to USF Muma College of Business students.

Morsani also told students that, perhaps surprisingly, money was never that important to him.

"I knew that I'd be rewarded for what I did - I never asked any boss I ever had for a raise, I felt like I'd be compensated fairly if I did my job," Morsani said. "I think if I was a micro-manager, I could have made more money out of some of my dealerships if I wanted to, but I wanted the people (employees) to grow and I wanted to do a lot of stuff that I did, and I couldn't have done it if I was there all the time, trying to pull all the switches."

Some of that stuff includes being a keynote speaker at colleges and trade associations, traveling with his wife to more than 120 countries, and helping bring major league baseball to the Tampa area, as well as start a football program at USF.

And Morsani also spoke about his philanthropic efforts, which has seen his family donate millions of dollars to USF, the University of Tampa, Oklahoma State University, the Straz Center for the Performing Arts and the Dali Museum.

"I think that if you step out, others will step out," Morsani said.

Joel Momberg, the CEO of the USF Foundation, wrote the foreword to Morsani's book. He agreed that the Morsani's $20 million gift to USF's College of Medicine in 2011 was a tipping point that led to similar multi-million dollar gifts to the university from fellow philanthropists Pam and Les Muma, Kate Tiedemann, Lynn Pippenger, Jordan Zimmerman and Barry and Dana Collier.

"Someone like Frank, who other donors look to as someone who invests in important things in the Tampa Bay area and beyond, is just that seal of approval that this is a place to go," Momberg said.

"We never anticipated our name being on any building, we never asked for that, people wanted to do that for, I guess, reward," Morsani said.  "But making the donation, it inspired others to make donations and to better our community."

Morsani's book is published by BlackWood Books.