The ULTIMATE BUSINESSMAN
BY ELLEN GILLETTE
Bob Leonard loves business. He talks about entrepreneurs, networking and marketing like a wine connoisseur discusses the citrus-y notes of an exquisite chardonnay — well, maybe a wine connoisseur on steroids.
Although he’s built and sold several businesses, today he is technically retired — a word he hates.
“People think you’re out to pasture,” he says. “I’m active, living life on my own terms, traveling, doing unconventional things to learn new things.”
A positive person, Leonard hesitates to mention challenges he has overcome in life. In some ways, his love of business saved his life — or at least his quality of life. A few years ago, he almost died. “From my own arrogance,” he admits wryly. “I was in complete denial.”
He thought he was just tired, more tired than he’d ever been. When he dropped to the floor of his Port St. Lucie home one day and couldn’t get up, he reasoned that after a good nap [on the floor], he’d be fine — ignoring the fact that his left side had no sensation. “I’d doze and wake up to find that some of the feeling had returned.” During the next three days on the floor, his sensation weakened.
Had he not been in denial, there’s no doubt he would have received help sooner. He talked to his children living out of state. He talked to a friend who, fortunately, called 9-1-1.
“The first time I thought ‘This might be serious’ was when the ambulance arrived.” The panicked looks on the first responders’ faces were convincing.
Leonard’s children were notified that their father was in intensive care at St. Lucie Medical Center in Port St. Lucie, septic and in critical condition.
Within hours, they were at his bedside. The next morning, grateful that Leonard had lived through the night, the family was still unprepared for the diagnosis. Doctors said that after suffering a stroke, he’d never walk again. By the next morning, this was amended to in six months with a walker.
Then, 30 days. During the four days he spent in the hospital, his progress was not measured daily, but hourly.
Leonard was released to Lawnwood Pavilion in Fort Pierce for rehabilitation much sooner than his doctor had believed possible.
“I was amazed at the others there, such serious problems. Accident victims, strokes, people who weren’t going to recover,” Leonard says. “I never went through a feeling sorry for myself phase.”
The consummate businessman — even in rehab — he wheeled himself around, talking to anyone he could.
Leonard says he received tremendous care everywhere he stayed. When a physical therapist friend of his son encouraged Leonard to ask for a bucket of tennis balls to throw against the wall, he followed through. It was an exercise in frustration — he couldn’t catch a single ball when it bounced back toward him. And baseball had been his first love.
Undaunted, Leonard returned to the gym the next morning … with far different results.
“It’s like my brain reprogrammed overnight,” he says. “I threw a ball and caught it. Kept throwing, kept catching. Suddenly I knew that whatever problem I faced — anywhere — I could practice my way through it.”
Leonard walked out of rehab 10 days later, spending the next six months with his daughter in Maine.
“I thought I was 100 percent, but not even close,” the 64- year-old says. “Something would come back that I hadn’t realized was missing.”
Raised a Catholic, he credits his recovery to his faith. Leonard says even his doctor credits his recovery to prayer.
Born in Schenectady, New York, Leonard may have gotten his head for business from his father, a manufacturing manager for General Electric, but his energy came from his mother.
“She was a classical typist, an athlete typist,” he says. “You couldn’t see her fingers when she typed, she was so fast.”
Leonard was a good student who thrived on competition whether in baseball, football or wrestling. Today, he enters speaking contests with Toastmasters and competes against himself to keep improving. He works out at the gym daily. Having started and sold several businesses, he works with his children to grow their businesses in Texas and Maine.
A former volunteer for SCORE, a nonprofit organization that helps small businesses, Leonard says helping businesses develop and succeed is one of his greatest joys.
“One woman came in wanting to start a day care,” he recalls. “The bank said she needed a business plan before they’d give her a loan. She knew her subject better than anyone I’d ever met. I told her to go back to the bank. She started the day care and now has several locations.”
Such people inspire Leonard.
“They may not know that they can do something, but they also don’t know that they can’t,” he says. “There’s an element of what I call stupidity, people who don’t know that they can’t do anything they want to do.”
Leonard’s business sense and drive certainly helped facilitate his recovery from the stroke. Not accepting that a full recovery was impossible … made anything possible.
ROBERT E. LEONARD
Lives in: Port St. Lucie for the last 5 years
Family: A daughter in Maine, two sons in Texas and three grandchildren
Occupation: Printing and various other businesses with his children
Education: Industrial engineering degree from Rochester Institute of Technology; a master’s degree in business administration from University of Dayton
Hobbies: “Business is my hobby.”
Who inspires you: “People with motivation, desire, who want to improve themselves.”
Something most people don’t know: “I’ve got a bucket list, and like to do things completely new to me. And my kids are everything to me. The only way to get on my bad side is to do something that hurts them.”