By: Eric Wright
For over two decades as the former president of Balfour Beatty’s Florida Division, Sean DeMartino has been turning visions into reality. His efforts can be seen in some of the most significant and iconic structures in the region, including the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, the Peabody Hotel (now the Hyatt Regency Orlando) and, on the Space Coast, Harris Corporation’s new Technology Center. With the same focus on identifying and coordinating talent, honed on these and numerous other projects, he has brought his uncanny abilities to bear on some of the most significant business and social challenges through his involvement in the Central Florida Partnership (CFP). Most recently, he was one of the key players in realizing the vision of merging the CFP with the Orlando Economic Development Commission. DeMartino served as chair of the CFP during the merger process and is now the co-chair, with Robert Utsey, of the newly formed Orlando Partnership.
EW: I want to talk about your professional journey in the construction industry, butfirst, how did you become so engaged in the community and involved in the CFP?
SD: I had an opportunity in 2007 to participate in a Leadership Orlando class. That’s where I met Jacob Stuart. He’s always been an inspiration to me and helped me see the region as an interconnected entity. During the span of that class, I visited some of our most outstanding assets, from our finest schools, to a Level I Trauma Center, but we also went to a homeless shelter and even our newest jail, which Balfour Beatty happened to be constructing. In addition, I developed relationships with people from Daytona International Speedway, to NASA, to our major health care providers.
That experience opened my eyes to the potential and the aspirations of this community, but I felt we were stutter- stepping; so many capable leaders, but we still lacked cohesion. I remember looking at my 4-year-old and pondering the community he would grow up in. I thought about the unique assets we have, which I learned about from myregion.org’s “How Shall We Grow?” summit. I realized to get the area to where we wanted it to be, I had to become involved in finding solutions; I couldn’t just sit on the sidelines.
My involvement accelerated very quickly because of some leadership realignments, and I took over the transportation task force of the CFP. After that, I was all in.
EW: From your vantage point in the commercial construction industry, I’m sure transportation/infrastructure is of paramount importance. What drew you to the construction industry?
SD: I spent 24 years with Balfour Beatty. It was such an incredible experience to be with a firm that was and is one of the best in the state. The history is so rich, going back to the 1930s. When I was coming up, we were Centex Rooney. In fact, when I started, I was hired by Bob Moss and worked for him; he later founded Moss Construction.
Imagine being involved in the structure at Cinderella’s Castle. Since then, Balfour Beatty completed projects that represent over 20,000 hotel and vacation rooms and even terminals at Orlando International Airport. I found that in construction, you aren’t building your own dream, but the dreams and assets of others; I found we must embrace their dream to really execute it. To be a part of something like that, to see the dynamic of how these incredible teams execute projects of this magnitude is an extremely satisfying experience; it gives you a sense of connection and place.
EW: As you said, you’re working with and coordinating teams of experts in every imaginable discipline; what was/is your greatest leadership challenge?
SD: We’re all problem solvers, and our team members are incredibly capable people. So, I had to learn to not be the leader who sweeps in to provide the answer, but one who supports the problem-solving process. The worst thing you can do as a leader is not allow others the opportunity to learn and grow; it’s demoralizing. We all must learn to own the outcomes, which means there will be some failures along the way, but if you’re a supportive leader, the alignment will carry you to the outcome you want. It isn’t easy for me; I have to remind myself of this regularly because my tendency is to always step in and fix things.
EW: I would guess one of the greatest leadership challenges you’ve been involved in is the merger of the CFP and the Orlando EDC, along with selecting a leader to take the helm of the new organization. What was your involvement?
SD: This seven-county region embraces nearly 70 million visitors a year. That’s an unprecedented and unparalleled opportunity. Also, we have the chance to form this adolescent region into what we want it to become. The moment for me was going on the EDC trip to Phoenix to see the downtown campus there. The leaders who participated — Tom Sittema, Rashesh akkar, Harvey Massey, Dr. John Hitt, Buddy Dyer, Teresa Jacobs and many others — started talking about how these two key organizations weren’t aligned like they could and should be. We agreed that we had to get this right.
As we explored the subject, we found almost all the successful models of civil architecture around the United States had a combined chamber. The effectiveness has been proven over and over. Tom Sittema led the way by opening the CNL DaVinci Center on Monday nights so we could work through all the issues. As the incoming chair of the CFP, I was automatically engaged in the joint alignment committee. Frankly, I’ve never seen a more cooperative, yet challenging, group of leaders, who were so intent on not only doing it, but also on getting it right. For me, it came down to community building and ensuring the community assets were aligned that sell the region. Jobs will come here if the talent pipeline, the infrastructure and the business climate are cooperative. If these essential elements are moving together, we’re unbeatable.
EW: What about the selection of Tim Giuliani as the CEO of the new Orlando Partnership?
SD: Ken Potrock of Disney, who will be the chair of the new merged entity, led the search committee. We started with well over 100 candidates and then conducted very thorough interviews with the finalists. When I commented to Tim that he was young relative to other candidates we were looking at, I’ll never forget his response. He said, “I have history with the region growing up in St. Augustine, experience working at the state level in Tallahassee with the Florida Chamber, then at the Research Triangle in Raleigh, plus I’m the average age of the populous of Central Florida.” When you look at his track record and what he has worked through, there’s no doubt in my mind we chose the best possible leader. He brings a fresh view and can carry the region into the future, plus he has a style that establishes a rapport with people.