Photo Provided. In the photo is Garrett Kenny.
By: M.C. Reyes
Haines City - Last month, I had the pleasure of sitting down and interviewing one of the most down-to-earth and genuine businessmen, I have ever met in my life. When I asked him for the opportunity to meet with me, I had no idea what to expect. Do I dress up as if I am going for a job interview? Do I wear Gucci shoes (which I don't own, but the thought of buying a pair did cross my mind), or do I just be myself? Well, I am glad I went with the option of being myself because the person I met that day was a completely different person than who I was expecting him to be. He, not only made me feel important by giving me his full attention, but he also opened up to me in ways I have never seen a businessman do before. Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Mr. Garret Kenny, the driving force behind the great things coming to Haines City.
For this article, we conducted a Q & A session with, Mr. Kenny and this is what he shared with us.
NEPG: Who is Garrett Kenny?
Gary: Born in Dublin, Ireland in March 1962, I come from a family of 4; my parents, my sister and, I. My sister, unfortunately, was taken away from us by cancer when she was only 40. My mum and dad lived a good long life before they passed away at aged 83 & 85 respectively. I have been working for myself since I was 18 years old. I was originally involved in the logistics business in Ireland having started working for myself in August 1980 with one truck, and by 1990, I had 22 trucks on the road in Ireland. I visited Florida in 1985 for the first time and absolutely loved the place.
NEPG: What brought you to Polk County?
Gary: I came to Polk to buy my first home. One day, I met a representative of the Central FL Development Council, a guy named Jim Degennaro, and he educated me about the benefits of doing business in Polk County, and that's how I started in Polk County just over 20 years ago and have never looked back. The truth is that 80% of the projects that I have started on the last 20 years have been in Polk County and the other 20% in Osceola at Championsgate.
NEPG: Tell me a little bit about your family and how you manage your professional and personal life without allowing one to affect the other?
Gary: Family is very important to me. I got married here in Orlando in 2008 to my wife Angela, who’s originally from the UK, at a Disney hotel. We have two children: Aidan, who’s 14, and Brooke, who’s 11. My sister and I were very close when growing up and I believe you have to be there for your family and guide them to do the right things… a stable family unit is very important. I work long hours, and during the week, Angela does an amazing job looking after our two children as well as being heavily involved in their school activities. I try to spend as much time as we can with my family on the weekends. Aidan is now a go-kart driver, something he started doing at 12 years of age. Brooke has taken a huge interest in dance and drama at school and she is doing well. She was in two different concerts last year and I recall landing from London at Orlando airport and driving directly to her school to see her in one of her school plays. So like I said earlier, managing a career and family is difficult, but family is very important to me, so I make it work.
NEPG: What it is that you are trying to do within our community?
Gary: People may say “why Haines City and Polk County?” Well, I say why not? The way I see it is that these communities are diamonds in the rough. A lot of people may want to be associated with the bright lights that already exist, but that’s not my case. I’m working on a blank canvas to help bring good projects to this area. I’m very proud of my Balmoral Resort, which we opened in March of 2017, which is currently employing more than 65 employees from around the area. Education is also very important. The truth is that I never went to college, but I see kids being involved in sports activities and having the opportunity to develop their different interests as very important things for a community, so we are currently working to open a sports village, which will open its doors before the end of the year. We are also working on opening an indoor sports arena for 2020, and finally, we are also working on opening a charter school by 2021. So, as you can see, we have big commitments to deliver to the community over the next few years and that's not including the residential developments that we are working on, which include the Feltrim Reserve, Tarpon Bay, and Clay Cut Landings, which are also coming soon.
NEPG: As a private entity, how important is your team for you?
Gary: I have a phrase that I always say… “I KNOW WHAT I DON'T KNOW.” The truth is that I surround myself with people that know a lot and who are very knowledgeable in their own fields (engineers, architects, etc.) and they help me deliver my vision. I have a very good group of staff members and these staff/team members make me look good. And, the truth is that, without their individual input, we would not have what we have today. My CFO has been with me for the past 20 years. He’s based in my office in Ireland. I have a COO who deals with the day-to-day issues and he is very good at dealing with operational issues allowing me to concentrate on what I do better. Along with a senior engineer who manages the day-to-day projects, I have a resort manager. All these professionals are who are helping me deliver my vision.
NEPG: What would you like to tell those community members who think that your projects are changing or complicating their way of living?
Gary: This is a very tough question. The majority of people in the community want progression and success, but there are still a small number of people who want to keep everything as it is. I encountered it recently when I had 3 or 4 people complaining about the sports village that we have under development. I was shocked because I really thought I was doing a good job and I was delivering a first-class project for Haines City, but a very small group of people didn't think so and were very annoyed with my project location. It was strange because they were not against my project. They liked the idea… they just wanted it located somewhere else. There is a common phrase that goes “NIMBY,” which means “not in my back yard” and that was exactly what was happening here. These people went to the newspapers and even went to the TV stations to complain about our projects, but they never spoke to me or asked me any questions about it before doing so. Those who know me know that I’m a very approachable person and I believe in delivering quality projects… projects to be enjoyed by everyone. We have an excellent system for projects to be approved or denied with public hearings, etc., but what I think is very wrong that a very small group can stop progress for everyone. The way I see it is that progress, if managed well, is very good for any community.
NEPG: What's next for Garrett Kenny, the family man, and human being.
Gary: This is a tough one as I enjoy my work and I have no intention of retiring. However, I will say two things… wife and family are very important for me, so I need to look after their interests. I hope my son Aidan will progress with his karting and I want to be there to support him and, hopefully, help him. I have advised him to look at a plan B, however, he is 14 and still learning. Brooke is amazing and she has taken such an interest in her dance classes and she is really progressing exceptionally well. She is very determined (like her dad), so likewise I want to be there for her. It gives me great pride to see them doing well. My wife and I like traveling, so I would like to make more time for that. I do enjoy my work, but losing my sister at age 40 made me realize that my family is very important to me, so they are my first priority and I want to be there to support all of them.