By Brian Biggane
Jeffrey Stoops, who has taken Boca Raton-based SBA Communications from the brink of bankruptcy to a position as one of the nation’s largest cell tower providers, was recently named only the fifth chairman of the board of directors of the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts.
“This is quite an honor for me, and a testament to the trust my fellow directors have placed in me,” said Stoops, 71, who lives with his wife, Aggie, in coastal Delray Beach.
“A lot of it has to do with my background running large organizations, which Kravis is certainly one. It’s quite a machine, the Kravis Center, and a very well-run organization.”
Named one of Florida’s 500 most influential businesspeople by Florida Trend magazine in both 2018 and 2019, Stoops has received many awards, including Business Leader of the Year by Florida Atlantic University, the Excalibur Award from the Sun-Sentinel and CEO of the Year by the South Florida Business Journal.
This season marks the unveiling of a $50 million rejuvenation of the Kravis Center, the first major work that’s been done to the main hall in 25 years.
“And it’s just spectacular,” Stoops said. “It involves expanding the lobby, a lot of renovations inside — not seats but technical capabilities.
“(We have) an entirely new parking garage between the center and CityPlace, and an expansion of the existing garage, and a new ramp, so you have two ramps to get in and out, which dramatically changes the ingress and egress. We’re changing the look of the outside so it blends much more smoothly and easily with the rest of West Palm Beach.”
As the season gets underway, Stoops expressed excitement about the ongoing capital campaign and what he termed “our biggest year ever in terms of programming.”
“This is our Hamilton year, and Fiddler on the Roof, Miss Saigon, A Bronx Tale, among others.
“We have already surpassed the number of subscriptions for the Broadway series that we’ve sold at this point in time. So it’s going to be a very busy, active and I’m sure successful year.”
Q: Where did you grow up and go to school? How do you think that has influenced you?
A: I grew up in Wilmington, Delaware. I was born and raised there and lived there for 20 years, including attending the first two years of college at the University of Delaware. I definitely think it has had a large impact on my life, because I grew up in a very middle-class suburban environment, hung out with a bunch of lifetime friends, developed street smarts and common sense; and those qualities have a very relative place today and have served me very well.
Q: What professions have you worked in? What accomplishments are you most proud of?
A: I’ve actually only had two jobs out of college. I had a ton of them before college. Early on I was a Fuller Brush man. That certainly taught me the meaning of hard work: Don’t get discouraged, you may take several nos before you get to a yes. But I graduated from Florida State, came down to Palm Beach County sight unseen, based on an interview I had with Gunster, and my wife and I packed up the U-Haul and made the trip down from Tallahassee, and made this our home.
I worked at Gunster for 13 years — leaving not because I didn’t like the practice of law but because I wanted to take a shot at the business side — and came here to SBA before there was such a thing as independent ownership of cell towers. That was in 1997. So I’ve really only had two jobs.
Greatest professional accomplishment? Working my way up and making full partner at Gunster was an accomplishment that I continue to be proud of, but in my first year as CEO here the world took quite a turn in terms of financing, and SBA was on the verge of going bankrupt. And I rallied the team and we avoided that, when many people thought that would not be the case. We saved the company, saved the shareholders. At the depth of our troubles you could have bought the equity of the company for about $10 million, and now we’re up to about $28 billion. So I look back on that as job No. 1.
Q: What advice do you have for a young person seeking a career today?
A: Become an expert in something, and love what you do so that when you wake up in the morning you look forward and are eager to go about it. If that is what you find, it’ll never be a job.
Q: How did you choose to make your home in coastal Delray Beach?
A: We lived in Wellington for 24 years. Raised our children, had our family out there, but as they grew older our last two, twins Tim and Dan, were going to school at St. Andrews. We boarded them there because they were baseball players and from Wellington to St. Andrews was a long drive, their schedules were not predictable, so we wanted not only to get them back home with us for a period of time, but we also wanted to be closer to the water. … We had spent time in Delray, loved the kind of Lower Keys, beachy-town feel that it has as relative to other Palm Beach County cities.
Q: What is your favorite part of living in coastal Delray Beach?
A: It’s just a wonderful place to live. We’ve spent time in Boca, Palm Beach, but Delray has a very different feel. It matches the culture and personality of who my wife and I are.
Q: What book are you reading now?
A: I’ve read several recently. Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance, is a good one. I read a lot of financial press. I just read a fascinating book, The Kennedy Heirs, by J. Randy Taraborrelli, on the next generation of the Kennedys, the grandchildren of Joe Kennedy, being President Kennedy’s children, Robert Kennedy’s children. It was fascinating to read how both the triumphs and trials have affected that family.
Q: What music do you listen to when you want to relax? When you want to be inspired?
A: It’s usually the same artists, but different types of music from those artists. I’m very much a classic rock guy, ’60s and ’70s music, so Rolling Stones, Elton John. And Queen comes to mind from the recent Bohemian Rhapsody movie that was so enjoyable. The Beatles. And depending whether I want to relax or get charged up, if it’s Rolling Stones it could be Wild Horses or When the Whip Comes Down. You can go either way. I actually love music and have a fairly historical understanding of that era. I follow it and try and keep up with all the news that I can from that era. Though we continue to lose those members.
Q: Have you had mentors in your life? Individuals who have inspired your life decisions?
A: There were senior partners in the law firm, Ken Beall and Mike Mitrione, who taught me the meaning of hard work and integrity, things that have survived and carried me through. But I really try to take inspiration from everywhere. I’m a big fan of historical figures, so I’ll read, I’ll take interest in all kinds of different things. I take my inspiration and my ideas from anywhere and every place. I consider myself a lifetime learner, and if you ever think you’re done learning, you need to go do something else.
Q: If your life story were to be made into a movie, who would play you?
A: Tom Hanks. For some strange reason more than one person has told me that either he reminds them of me or I remind them of him. Why they say that I don’t know, but I’ll go with that.
Q: Who/what makes you laugh?
A: My new grandson, Harrison Jeffrey Prieto. He is 9 months old. He’s the first and he’s just cute.