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Conversations with the Council featuring Bill Perry, CEO & Managing Shareholder at Gunster

“I am a big history buff.” For Bill Perry, the study of the past provides a greater understanding of the present. As Shakespeare wrote… “What’s past is prologue.” Bill believes that everything that has taken place is in preparation for what is to come. “A greater understanding of the past better prepares you for new opportunities and challenges in the future.”

History has also taught him that leaders must be decisive. “When you’re the CEO of a business, you have to make decisions every day, some of which are more consequential than others. You can’t be afraid of making decisions. At the end of the day, the buck stops with you.”

Bill is the CEO and Managing Shareholder of Gunster, Florida’s law firm for business. Under his direction, the firm has experienced tremendous growth and now has 285 attorneys and 575 employees in 13 offices across the state which he leads. “As a leader, you have to have a vision for where you are going and believe you can get there.” The law firm is nearly 100 years old, and while most people would sit back and celebrate the accomplishment, Bill is already focused on the next centennial. 

Bill’s positive attitude and focus serve as a benefit to those in his firm and throughout the county. Bill has always been involved in the community with philanthropic and civil endeavors, including having served on the Southeast Florida Regional Partnership Executive Committee and as a Trustee for the Florida Chamber Foundation. But when he got the invitation to join The Economic Council of Palm Beach County, he says “it hit me at the right time and I found their mission extraordinarily interesting. It was pro-business but more policy-oriented than other business organizations. I was intrigued to see if we could make a difference in the county.” 

Spearheading change is what he has done at Gunster and during his 22-year tenure on The Economic Council of Palm Beach County. Bill has served as Chair, led numerous committees, helped launch a Six Pillars Communities program, and advocated for the penny sales tax. “It’s important to have a group of business leaders to help our local governments with their important policy decisions… to help them see issues through a business lens.  

There is also a benefit to every business in our county knowing that business leaders have a seat at the table when decisions are made.”

Education has always been a top priority for The Economic Council and for Bill. He graduated from Palm Beach Gardens High School before attending the University of Pennsylvania and Kings College in London. He then attended law school at the University of Florida and returned to Palm Beach County to accept a job at Gunster in 1986. “When I graduated from high school in 1980, Palm Beach County did not have a first-class education system and was lagging behind public school systems.  Today, Palm Beach County is a leader in public education.  The Economic Council has made public education a priority since inception and has been spearheading various education initiatives for decades.  Beginning with the Dwyer Awards and the creation of the Education Foundation and continuing with our advocacy for the penny sales tax. Due to the passage of the penny sales tax the public school system has been able to improve its infrastructure, while keeping their budgets intact, and paying our teachers a fair wage.  Moving forward, the challenge will be to continue to support the public school system. With a strong public education system, we will grow and develop future leaders in our county who will decide to make Palm Beach County their home.” 

Bill believes that the next ten years will be another golden age for the county. “If you look at the investments many people are making right now in Palm Beach County it is eye-opening.  There will continue to be an increasing demand for people to want to live and work here. We will have to be creative in accommodating growth while maintaining our high quality of life.  You are seeing new investments in our community on a scale that is reminiscent of the prior land booms of the 1920s and post-World War II growth.  We are reshaping cities like West Palm Beach. You are seeing changes in transportation, education, philanthropy and in the business community.” 

In his spare time, Bill is a private pilot, a golfer, a runner and an avid fisherman. Bill and his wife Amy live with their 17-year-old son Finlay in North Palm Beach. He also has three older children, Adam and Kelly, who live and work out of state, and Brandon, a Palm Beach County firefighter. “Palm Beach County is a special place. I raised my family here, and I can’t see myself anywhere else.” Bill supports numerous not-for-profit organizations, such as the Kravis Center, Place of Hope, the United Way of Palm Beach County, and the American Heart Association.  He and Amy are also involved with their church community which gives them a place to reinforce their faith, take a pause from their busy lives and express their gratitude. “It allows us time to reflect and appreciate the great life we have here.”  

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