Tony Jenkins

March 28, 2018

I think that I work pretty hard, and then every once in a while I run into someone like Tony Jenkins who puts me in check. Not only is he seemingly everywhere all the time but he pulls it off in style. Always dressed to the nines and focused on serving others. Let’s hear more from him …

I think that I work pretty hard, but then every once in a while, I run into someone like Tony Jenkins who puts me in check. I first met him during a program called Leadership Orlando. Here’s my recollection of the day:

I was one of the first people to arrive early in the morning and Tony was already there. He was off to the side, already busy on his cell phone first thing in the AM. Then, later in the afternoon, during an all-day program, I see him multi-tasking at group activities while at the same time checking important e-mails. At the end of the day, I was exhausted. I was laying on my couch, when low and behold, I look up at the TV and I catch Tony in the background of an Orlando Magic game rubbing elbows with community leaders. 

Is this guy sponsored by Red Bull?

So, you’re probably wondering what keeps him so busy? Well, for starters, during the day he is the Market President for Florida Blue. I would guess that that gig is enough to keep the calendar full all day! In his spare time, he serves on several boards in the Central Florida area and has been past chair for programs such as Leadership Orlando. In his previous work life, he spent the bulk of his career working 20 years at Disney. Wait, did I say Red Bull before? Tony must be sponsored by the fountain of youth. The only way for that math to work out for me is if he started working at Disney when he was in middle school, and that’s not the case!

Let’s hear a little bit more about Tony’s background, his mission & what keeps him motivated!

[Setting: We met at GuideWell Innovation Center in Medical City, in Orlando. I was able to tour the facility before the interview and was very impressed with the space. I had remembered Tony talking about it in the past so selfishly I asked for the interview to be there, and getting a tour was definitely a bonus!]

Dean: Tony, this is actually perfect that I’m back here in Medical City meeting with you because the first time I ever came here was during the Leadership Orlando program [with you as chair]. It’s fitting that we are full circle back here. What was that experience like for you with Leadership Orlando?

Tony: As a matter of fact, I was just having a conversation today, Dean, with someone because they were asking me what I thought about it and what did I gain from it because they were thinking about it. I shared with them that it was absolutely one of the highlights of my professional career. It’s an opportunity to get with other individuals that are all focused on advancing our community. They’re interested in learning about all of the different aspects of it and how we can continue to achieve excellence in this community. And the cool thing about it is it’s not the usual suspects from the larger organizations that are at times at the forefront of things, but it was a combination of entrepreneurs, small businesses, medium-size businesses, but everyone is so passionate about this community and it gave me a chance to get one-on-one with people, small groups … to be able to listen and to be able to have some of those conversations. So, I tell you, I love that program and I’m always advocating for it in any circles that I’m in.

Dean: So, if one of my readers was going to follow you around all day, okay, …

Tony: Good luck. [laughs]

Dean: [laughs] What would they learn about leadership from you?

It’s not the Lone Ranger anymore.

Tony: So, leadership to me, in today’s world … Today’s world is very social. Today’s world is, and I know that it’s a word that’s thrown around a lot, fluid and fast-paced. You have to really be pretty fast on your feet to really understand where you need to spend your time at, where you need to pay attention and prioritize your efforts because if not, I could be in meetings from sunup to sundown. What I have to do is understand, almost like an Emergency Room physician, where’s the bleeding at today and where do you need to go and spend your time at. I operate well in this scheme of business because I do enjoy seeing how things change rapidly. The key for me, Dean, is how do you then come up with the right solution. What’s the solution to this business challenge? But you can’t solve it independently today. You have to have this cadre of individuals that are helping you come to the right solution and what I love about business today is that it has to be more collaborative. It has to be more coordinated. It’s not the Lone Ranger anymore. You have to do it team-based and focused on solving it together with others.

Dean: You mentioned all of the distractions that there is today and I think as I was walking up to here, I mentioned that I got a social ding and then a notification and then a text … Even with focus, what is your secret to just getting it all done?

Tony: Someone shared with me years and years ago, and the question was, “How do you have balance?” And you know what I shared with them? You know what, don’t think of it that way. Throw balance out the door. It’s very difficult if you’re trying to purposefully separate and segment your day. I have one life. If you looked at my calendar today, you would see on my calendar my hair cut appointment is built in, when I go to the gym is built in, so I have to fit in my entire being, my whole life into what I do on a daily basis. I can’t separate it so that work is from 8-5, social hour is from 5-6 … I’m doing business all day long, all night long. They key for me is planning. I have to stop and be very mindful of my schedule. Then, I can strategize around what my day looks like, what my week looks like. If you don’t do that, it’s going to happen to you. Your calendar will overwhelm you.

Dean: Your day runs you instead of you running your day.

Tony: You’re right! So I literally have to think very clearly and you asked the question earlier about where do I spend my time. I have to map all of that out beforehand. I really have to stop and think about meetings, time that I’m spending … I have to build in desk time, too. I build in time away from the phones and other aspects of what I do on a daily basis to make sure that I’m paying attention to returning phone calls, answering emails. If not, it gets away from me.

Dean: With your job, what’s your favorite thing that you get to do?

Tony: A lot of things. Some people call healthcare a system, the healthcare system, but it’s not a system because there are so many aspects of it that individuals and groups are still trying to come together to coordinate and collaborate, and that’s where we need to get to, but there’s still parts of it that are still broken in some respects. I love the opportunity and ability to build relationships and to work closely with other entities … hospital systems, Orlando Health, provider groups… The more that we can come together … remember I said it’s about solving solutions and challenges? Solutions in healthcare today that we’re trying to solve is affordability, cost control … There are large segments of our community that have chronic health conditions. Those are real challenges that continue to add cost to the overall healthcare system, so what I like about my job is that we’re doing things that benefit individuals, benefits families, save lives, and you see it. I can interact with someone or a family and see how healthcare, done the right way, saves a life or enhances the quality of life for that family or individual.

Dean: You mentioned that you’re in lots of meetings, so selfishly, I want to ask you a question about meetings because I think about meetings, too, and I try to think about how we can make our meetings shorter, do we really need this meeting, how do we change how we run this meeting … What’s your key to running an effective meeting?

Tony: So, I’m not a proponent of just having a standing, structured meeting, even though we do it, but having that sense that a meeting has to last an hour or has to last an hour and a half.

Dean: It’s on the calendar for an hour so it has to be an hour, Tony!

Tony: Absolutely! You’re right. Sometimes, I have 15-minute meetings, I have 20-minute meetings, 30 minutes … Whatever works for you to get what you need for the purpose of meeting with someone. The purpose of a meeting is to gain understanding, whether it’s a group, a team, or an office, you need to make sure that everyone is marching in the same direction together, making sure you’ve aligned whatever challenge or issue it is, and how are you going to solve this challenge. Meetings are necessary. What I would like to see us do in today’s world is that because there are more ways to connect with individuals, you don’t necessarily have to do it all together sitting around a conference room table. There are ways that you can get what you need using the technology that’s afforded to all of us today and I’d like to see us continue using that. Video conferencing, Skype … I don’t think that we’re fully utilizing all of those capabilities. We’re continuing to move towards that, but there are still opportunities to get to the better results and how you pull people offline to deal with situations.

Dean: Alright, so you worked for Disney for two decades, so I’m sure you carry around a little bit of the Mouse DNA in you. Where does that show?

Tony: Oh my gosh, my assistant once said, I forget the word that she called me, but details to me are very important. I am a stickler for making sure that our branding, our visibility, how we communicate, how we are perceived … it is all very detailed. Oh, the word that she would use in describing me is persnickety.

Dean: [laughs] What is it again?

“Tony, what is your personal constitution?”

Tony: [laughs] Persnickety. If you look that up in a dictionary, it just says a person who is very aware and pays attention to minute details, but again it goes back to my background and my history at Disney where it was all about it customer, but it was a quality of how you were serving that customer. It was the quality of how you were providing a culture and an atmosphere, and we’re doing the same thing today. We’re still serving customers, we’re serving members that have chosen Florida Blue and how are we making sure that those individuals are getting their needs met in a quality manner. Same thing.

Dean: What’s the most important lesson that you’ve learned from a mentor throughout the years? Or maybe it’s multiple mentors?

Tony: I’ll never forget, I did have the opportunity to spend time with an executive coach several years ago. And one of the big lessons I learned from him is that when we all, all of us that are either entrepreneurs or we work for a company, we have a responsibility. One of the things that he always talked about was, “Tony, what is your personal constitution?” Meaning how do you want to be perceived? There was a great book that I read that is out of print now and the title of that book was ‘What do people see when they see you coming.’ So that allowed me to focus attention on how I was serving, how I was communicating, how I was advancing any business-related endeavor. Because sometimes I found out, Dean, that I was lax, sometimes I found out …

Dean: Can you define that? What do you mean by lax?

Tony: Well, I wasn’t as focused. That if I sent out an email and if it didn’t have a period at the end of it, or there was only one misspelled word, it’s cool, just let it go. And it’s not okay. That’s not who I am personally, so that doesn’t meet my standards. So, I think all of us need to have certain standards with how they work. I’m not passing judgment on anyone else. I’m not saying that I would not call someone out if that’s the way they want to handle their business, but that’s not who I am. So I had to become self-aware with how I wanted to do business and how I want to do business is in a manner that is excellent, that doesn’t take the shortcuts. If it takes a little bit longer then that’s okay because I know that I’m doing it the way that meets my level of service.

There are three things that I had to focus on more. If I was going to hold up to that standard, my follow through. When people ask you to do something, do you meet their time frame? When you commit to giving it back and meeting a deadline, do you do it? So my follow through. I want to stay true to my commitments. The second thing is, whenever I was asked to deliver on a project or a presentation, I think the outcome is totally compared to how much time you spend preparing for something. My preparations increased and I spent the time that I needed to spend preparing for an event, topic, speech. I don’t think that individuals put enough time in planning and preparation. And the last thing, I would say, when you have an outcome, how do you evaluate that outcome? Meaning that do you go back and then identify the things that went well, that didn’t go well. I think if you revisit that, you can always know how to improve for the next time, or if you did it well then great, but I like to review and go over things that we deliver and ask what’s the lesson learned in those things.

Dean: So many lessons in there. What is striking me while you’re saying this is that it’s reminding me of a quote that I heard, “How you do anything is how you do everything” … kind of what you’re saying, right? Even if it’s just sending an email or doing this other little detail, is that who you are? Is that what you do? Does that represent you? You mentioned the executive coach there and I have a question about that. What would you say to people out there, whenever they’re looking at executive coaches and realizing that they’re expensive. They’re not cheap. What do you say to that if somebody goes ugh, that’s too expensive? Can you speak about the value of a coach as far as the output of an executive or an entrepreneur? Is it worth it in retrospect?

Tony: When I went through that process, it was 12 years ago … sure, you could go out on the web and find resources, but today, that’s quadrupled. I would say that there are many avenues for individuals to get what they want, if it’s something specific, if it’s something targeted, but the other thing that I think a lot of individuals should do … a lot of people don’t take enough time to take an introspective look at themselves. When they do that, Dean, they’re not honest with themselves. People need to be very honest about when they review who they are, how they perform, take an honest hard look at yourself. If people did that, they could then, internally, make the necessary steps. If it’s going online and finding, okay I need to take this class or I need to find a mentor. But, I find individuals are okay with accepting who they are and where they are, which is okay if they’re already operating at a high level. I forget what book it was that I read, but it said that one of the biggest challenges of business people is that they’re not very honest with themselves when they begin to take a look at who they are from a performance standpoint. Years ago, do you remember when performance reviews were around and you would sit down with your managers and they would first go over here’s what your development needs are. Companies are beginning to get away from that a little bit. I didn’t necessarily need a lot of that because I know what my development needs are. If I’m honest with myself, I know what my shortcomings are.

Dean: Do you think the coach helped you be more realistic when you look in the mirror?

Tony: The coach wasn’t there to help me focus on here are your weaknesses. The coach was there to say hey listen, here are the things you do well. How can we teach you to do more of those things. If you keep doing more of what you’re good at, but you’ve got to be honest with yourself and deal with the things that you’re challenged with. That’s on you because as much as he can say okay, this is what I observe, I should know what those are. People should always be in that mode of trying to self-correct. Here’s what I continuously need to do.

Dean: What’s one thing that you look for in a teammate or an employee regardless of what position they’re in? I ask you this because I spend a lot of time with CEOs and business leaders and I would be remiss if I did not ask you this because I’m always hearing about hiring and developing and everything, so what do you look for in a teammate?

Tony: A couple of things. I think, and I’m not just saying this because it’s a cliche word, but I think character and who a person is … it’s hard to tell. If you don’t know someone, people can come in and tell you that they’re all these great things. I love doing interviews and a lot of my time in interviews isn’t focused on the technical piece because if they got that far, they can do the job. The technical piece is secondary. I want to know about how you work and how you work on a team. What are some of the things that really set you off, that would cause you not to feel good about coming to work. It gives me insights into the person. Because you’re building a team, human nature is so important to any profession, any job, any team, so I try to get into the human element of who that person is and whether they’d be a good fit with the current team. You can always help bring someone along from a skillset standpoint. Again, they have to measure up and they have to have the technical abilities or they wouldn’t have been in the interview. Sure, I want to ask questions about how they handle their role, but to me, the bigger answer is how will this person interact with the current team, how will they handle successes, but how do they handle adversity. Some people can’t handle adversity well and business ebbs and flows, right? Every day is not a bed of roses so it’s important to see how someone responds to that. I try to dig into the personal aspect of who someone is and it’s tough because if you only met that person for the first time and it’s an hour, it’s tough.

Dean: Probably exactly why testimonials and referrals are so valuable. When someone is willing to put their name on the line and say, “Give this person a look.” I’m hearing a lot of cultural fit in there. What does culture mean to you?

Tony: In today’s environment, today’s world, because if you take a look back over the last 15 years or so, workforces have become very, very different. Businesses, large or small, just because of the generational differences of individuals that are now inside companies, be it Millenials, GenXers, Baby Boomers … I didn’t even get into the diversity element, especially in Florida, of different backgrounds and individuals who are coming into the workplace. So how do you now build an environment where individuals grew up in different families, or environments, or cultures, with different perspectives on how they view work, how they view time, how they solve problems. And now you’ve got to still deliver on a mission for a business, you’ve still got to influence consumers, so culture is very important. It’s at the top of how you can have a business succeed in delivering on your mission. A lot of work has to go in, Dean, into bringing teams together and on how to work together. It’s not a silver bullet, it’s not one thing that will work. It’s a lot of work, but it starts with selection. It starts with you getting the right team of people together, then you can mesh and mold and make sure that these individuals are high-performing and two words that I always use, if you don’t have these two things in a work environment it’s not going to succeed and those two things are respect and trust. How do you get to respect and how do you get to trust. It’s not easy.

Dean: Would you say that those are your two top values of things that you value?

Tony: Yeah, so it’s going to be different for a lot of individuals, but our company, we have our mission statement, but we also have values and we want all of our employees – we’re up to 16,000 employees now – so, we’ve sent out these values that we’d like for all of our employees to model. And how do we continue to have leaders model these, teams model these, and a lot of these are built around positive behaviors. Respect, integrity, innovation, collaboration …we want our employees to make sure that we’re modeling all of these behaviors, which will lead to a high performing culture.

Dean: What does success look like for you in your career in the next five years?

Tony: So, here’s a term I’m using …

Dean: [laughs] When you say ‘I’m using,’ it sounds like it’s been something that you’ve been thinking about.

Tony: Yeah! The word success, I read a magazine called Success Magazine, and so the word is out there a lot and what I’ve done is I’ve substituted a word because here’s where I’m at in my career, the word that means more to me is ‘significance.’ So how do I take everything I’ve learned, everything I’ve gained, and now utilize that in my role, but it benefits me personally when I’m mentoring, or sharing with folks, so what’s the significance of me being in the role that I am, communicating with teams, individuals, businesses, that’s where I see myself at. If I am focused on others and I enjoy doing that, the rest of it will take care of itself, Dean, but I really am interested in and I enjoy sharing with individuals what it means to be in a position or role and how are you adding value and what are the things that you can do and here’s where it can lead. A lot of that comes with mentoring and coaching and teaching. Sure, I’m focused on my career because I understand my role comes with a certain leadership capacity in managing and leading others and teams, but the way that I do my work is through modeling my behavior for others to follow, emulate, and then we can continue the work.

Dean: Okay, I have a little bit of a lighter question. Your assistant, Sadia, asked what the attire was for the interview & photoshoot because you were casual today. My reply to her was that your casual is most people’s dressed up! Have you always had a sense of fashion? Everywhere you go and everywhere I see you, you’re immaculate. Is this a learned behavior? Give me the scoop on this so I can learn.

Tony: That’s a great question. So, it wasn’t intentional to where I was looking for the most expensive things out there, several of my favorite shopping places are in that darn Prime Outlets Mall, I love that place, but let me tell you where I got a sense that I wanted to be presentable wherever I went. Do you remember what I said earlier about the book ‘What do people see when they see me coming?’ When I was in college, I couldn’t figure out what I wanted as a major. Couldn’t figure it out. My sophomore year, I was playing basketball and baseball in college and I realized then, I ain’t going to make it in the NBA. I’m not at that level and I thought that I needed to focus in on what I’m going to do. There was a professor in college and in some schools, professors walk around in jeans and t-shirts, but this guy had a briefcase every day, he was dressed either in a suit or he was presentable in a manner that I was impressed by him. He influenced me to walk up to have a conversation with him to ask him why do you do it and why do you do it in school. I found out that he was the Chair of the Hospitality Management program and because of him, I chose that major. I chose that major because of how I viewed who he was based on how he looked, dressed, and carried himself. That put me on a path of eventually getting to Disney and where I’m at now. My junior year in college, after I saw that, I dressed every day in college with dress pants, dress shirt … the finest dress shirt I could find from Sears or JC Penneys, and I changed my external appearance because of this role model. My last two years in college, I dressed professionally. Not at football games, but going to class, almost every day.

Dean: That person really changed your life. Your trajectory, your major, dress like you’re going places all the time …

Tony: He absolutely did.

Dean: During your career, is there a person who you would say was your greatest influence?

Tony: I can’t think of one specific person, there has been a handful of people.

Dean: Who is the first one who comes to mind?

Tony: So, my first job at Disney, I’ll never forget. This was 1981 …

Dean: You’re dating yourself, Tony, even though you look about 35!

I need to find out what is this racket

Tony: That’s okay! This was 1981, no 1980. My first professional full-time job, I get my first paycheck. And I have no idea what I was getting paid. They tell you what your annual salary was, but I had never gotten a weekly paycheck. I didn’t know that taxes were going to be taken out, so when I got my first paycheck, it was $125. I was like wait a minute, wait a minute, so I worked all this week and with taxes taken out and all of that, $125? I said, “Get the Director on the phone for this area. I need to find out what is this racket, what is this Corporate America stuff,” and I’ll never forget, there was a Director of Food and Beverage at Disney, his name was Bob Ziegler. He sat me down and he gave me some life lessons during that two-hour conversation about what it means to be in a career, how do you excel in a career, if you want to get promoted, this is what you do … Pretty much, get a life, suck it up, do your job. Now, this is back in the [early] 80s, right? So, he was tough on me, but he said some things then and he said, listen, it’s on you. The company has resources that you can use to get promoted, but don’t you count on this company for just promoting you. Some people come here and put the responsibility on the company. You need to take ownership of your career. You own it, not anybody else. Thank God he shared that with me early on in my career. That was a lesson that I still carry today. I own my career.

Dean: It’s amazing that he took the time! Spending two hours with you …

Tony: I was freaking out. Right out of college, I’m like going what is this, I don’t know what’s going on, and he shared with me what I needed to focus on and prioritize on and that sent me on a path.

Dean: Tony, my last question for you is probably the hardest one that I ask people because it involved having to kind of look at yourself in the third person and remove all your humility. What is your secret to being outrageously remarkable?

Now, my whole nightshift had called in sick.

Tony: Let me share with you a situation that I was faced with. It was my first year of managing restaurants at Disney. My personality tends to be light at times. I’m focused on business, but I’m definitely a people-person. I’ll never forget, there was a manager that came up to me on a day that the restaurant that day was packed. Now, my whole nightshift had called in sick. It was the beautiful Crystal Palace restaurant at Disney, open from 8am-midnight. Almost my whole nightshift had called in, so I’ve got people that have been there all day, but based on my relationship with them, they were okay with staying. So this manager, the Director of the area, came in and one of my employees was sitting down, it was a buffet line, sitting down on a container because they were tired since they had been there 14 hours without a break. He came through and he goes, “You’re too nice to these people. Go out and kick butt. Get ‘em off of that stool.” And I said, you’re right, you’re right, yes, and so the next day, I came in to work and I said okay, I’m going to be a tough manager. So I’m walking around the restaurant saying what are you doing over there, put this there … I’m going around just chastising people and I’m just not being myself and I’m demanding that they do things, my tone of voice was very different. Finally, one of the employees came up to me, the one that I told her that it was wrong of her to sit, and she goes, are you okay? I said, “Yeah, I’m okay, why?” She goes, you’re not yourself. She said the reason that she stayed for 14 hours was that I treated them with respect and because I treated them differently than others, they’d do whatever I wanted them to do. I went home that night and I said, you know what, I can’t be anybody else. I am who I am. I have to be natural. I see some people, Dean, who are not natural with what their personality is.

Dean: They’re trying too hard [to be someone else].

Tony: Yeah, and I know what my personality is. I know what we have to achieve from a business standpoint, but I’m going to go about it the way that is natural to me. And that day, I made a decision to be who I am. I know what we’ve got to achieve, but I’ve got to be congruent with who I am as a person. I’m glad I did that back then, but people had called me out. They said listen, what are you doing?

Dean: How about the courage of that young lady?

Tony: You’re absolutely right. So what I’d say to you is that a president at a local college was telling me that she loves to see people who are comfortable in their own skin. What I try to do in managing my life is to try to be who I am, try to stick to what I know, how to build relationships, how to do whatever it is that I need to do, but doing it in a way that I know is still mindful of what’s comfortable to me. And, I’m a person of high energy, I love being attached to things that are making a difference. I love to see when the underdogs or folks that are typically not included in the mainstream are now given the opportunity to succeed. That’s why I attach myself to projects within the community that may involve the Parramore Community or Goodwill because I want to make sure that communities and individuals and families are all given a fair shot.

Thank you, Tony. I feel even more confident in my own skin after meeting with you.


To connect with Tony, give him a shout on LinkedIn!

Appreciate the pics by Josh Johnson. Check out his photography work here.

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