‘Titans’ share advice with Tampa Bay techies

Most folks in the Tampa Bay area would be happy just to get a few quick minutes of advice from a local business leader. Thanks to the Tampa Bay Technology Forum, they got an hour with four.

The organization’s annual Titans of Tampa Bay luncheon Feb. 15 presented a panel of leading executives including John Ramil, president and CEO of Tampa-based TECO Energy Inc.; Chuck Sykes, president and CEO of Tampa-based Sykes Enterprises Inc.; J.T. Tonnison, executive vice president and CIO of Clearwater-based Tech Data Corp.; and Jon Zettel, CEO of Tampa-based AVI-SPL Inc.

The panel touched on a wide variety of topics, such as personal lessons learned during their careers and how tech is used by their respective firms (for example, iPads are becoming more necessity than novelty). However, the best information they were able to give the audience of 250 at the DoubleTree Hotel Westshore was how to best respond to a sagging economy.

Ramil said TECO and other utilities noticed a slight decline in numbers of customers during the recession, largely the result of vacated homes throughout its service area. He cautioned against looking forward to a full recovery in Florida, noting, “The new normal is going to be about half what the old normal was.”

Sykes said top-level executives should see that their businesses are at top performance, lest they become part of an upcoming round of position cuts. “Make sure you’re being smart and selective,” he said.

Tonnison said execs should never be hasty about making difficult decisions: “If you’re questioning whether you’re doing it too early,” he said, “you may be doing it too late.”

Zettel emphasized communication with employees, saying, “Even in tough times, people need to hear from you.”

TBTF has presented its “Titans” series for the last several years, bringing in tech leaders from companies based beyond Tampa Bay. Tony DiBenedetto, chairman and CEO of Tampa-based Tribridge and moderator of this year’s panel discussion, said it was unusual to be able to bring together this many major leaders from within the local market.