CP Interview: Kenneth D. Robinson — President and CEO of Dr. Phillips Charities

Ken Robinson

I met with Ken following Dr. Phillips Charities’ exciting announcement of The Packing District and the new city park that will transform College Park’s west side. We talked at the beautiful headquarters building in the Dr. Phillips area about the new project and the fine legacy of the Dr. Phillips family. In 2018, Dr. Phillips Charities will reach the milestone of gifting $200 million in grants to the local community since its inception.

The Packing District and the new regional city park are exciting developments for College Park. Residents are thankful Dr. Phillips is behind this because they think DP will create a quality development. How did you earn that reputation?

We think of ourselves as long-term community builders. It’s rare that a city and an organization get to come together on 200 acres within 2 miles of downtown. It’s a very unique opportunity, and with it comes a lot of responsibility to get it right. Our responsibility is to be sure we don’t misplace that trust [in DP]; that we live up to what is expected from us.

How did you jump from the insurance industry to DP?

I’m not sure it was a major jump for me, but it was a major learning curve for me. The day I graduated from college and got my first job with CNA Insurance, my mother turned to me and said, “What are you going to do to give back to the community now? You’ve been put in a good position. People made sure that you went to college, and you have to give back.” It started right then.

We did not come from a family of means. We came from a family of responsibility is the right way to put it.

What led to your current position with DP?

I volunteered on different organizations and boards and crossed [former president and CEO] Jim Henson’s path. He got me involved in boards and leadership in boards, and it led to me getting on the Dr. Phillips board.

Our board is not compensated; it’s voluntary. My first paid staff position here was president and CEO in July of 2013.

What’s the best part of The Packing District project?

What it will be in 20, 30, and 40 years. I envision a community-centered project that will be one of the core districts for Central Florida. This is a 10- to 15-year project, and this will consume us for a while.

What would you like people to know about DP and the organization?

Probably 98 percent of the money we gift is done here in Orange and Osceola Counties. And that’s done with a purpose. We think we can be much more impactful by concentrating our giving. Here we can make a difference.

DP has a very creative branding tagline: “Enriching the community with the fruits of our labor.” Where did that come from?

That was created by the board back in mid to late 2000. “Helping others help themselves” is oftentimes the other tagline you will see. I think that has been around forever.

Is The Packing District among the most exciting or challenging projects DP has undertaken?

It will be the largest project we’ll undertake. If you look at DP, you see three distinctive time frames that have taken place:

You can see Dr. [Philip] Phillips coming in here in 1902 and building the citrus empire and becoming the largest citrus producer in the world and all the work he did and the giving he did. In the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s, he provided health insurance, life insurance, housing, cemetery plots — everything — to his staff.

Then, when he sold the citrus operation in the ’50s, [his son] Howard Phillips really led the next phase which was into the industrial and commercial properties that we have all through the community.

When Howard Phillips passed away in 1979, we moved to a nonprofit phase. Jim Henson was so instrumental; he was the real driver.

Jim was working with the top nonprofit attorney in the nation … to find the right structure, so that the IRS would allow us to hold these real estate assets and continue to operate them and continue to do community building. There’s really not another structure like it. Jim was here since 1957. He was hired as a bookkeeper and ultimately became president and CEO of the organization until he passed in 2015. It was a tremendous legacy.

And today?

Now we’re in the new phase. It’s really taking the assets this organization has and putting them to a higher use for the community. There wasn’t a lot of building taking place after Howard Phillips passed away. Now we have the medical office building at Spring Lake. The Senior Housing complex is 186 units and 220,000 square feet, and [provides] the ability to retire in place in this community. I think we’re in the fourth phase of our legacy.

We’re building these assets with discipline to be sure they have a stable return to … put back in the community in investments and grants … So we’re not just building an office building, we’re building a medical office building. We’re not just building a packing district; we are doing something to better the community.

Do you think Dr. Phillips and Howard would be in favor of this development?

I get asked, “What would Dr. Phillips think?” Those were some tough men in tough times, and they had high standards. I’m 100 percent certain they would be proud of what we’re doing, and I’m 100 percent certain they would be challenging us to do more. It would never be enough.

What do you do to recharge?

Family, golf, being outdoors. I can compartmentalize things. When I’m golfing and I’m with my friends, that’s what I’m doing.

My wife Cindy and I like dining and being with friends. We’ve known each other since I was 9 years old. Our families were friends, and we’ve been married since 1985. We love traveling, always North Carolina. Our families would both go up there when we were younger, so that’s easily our favorite place to go to.

Ken Robinson enjoys outdoor activities with his children Corbin and Carly.

 

 

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