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Conversations with the Council featuring Chris Duke, Managing Partner of Akerman

"If something negative is happening, I embrace it." You could say one of Chris Duke's superpowers is his optimism. "Having a positive outlook is something I got from watching my mom from a very young age. If something does not go my way, I view it as an opportunity for growth and learning."

Through this lens, Chris, the Managing Partner of the Palm Beach County offices of Akerman, LLP, manages his team of 80 employees. "There's nothing better than a collaborative, collegial workforce where everyone does their best to reach collective goals. I believe in letting people rise to their own levels of excellence, with perhaps an occasional nudge if necessary. I try to connect with my team on a personal level. I want to know about their families and what they enjoy doing outside of work."

His caring for their well-being extends beyond the office. "Staff has challenges finding affordable housing, and it's not just those in my industry. We've been told by the Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter that they are having trouble attracting world-class PhD.s and scientists due to the scarcity of affordable housing  If the PhDs and scientists cannot afford to live near their work, that just highlights the problem." He says the issue is one of Palm Beach County's most pressing. "The distance between the 1% and 99% seems so much greater in our country than it's ever been. If the solution is not addressed, things will get worse, not better. " 

Another challenge, he says, is managing growth. "Manageable growth touches all aspects of our lives.  It encompasses the issues of transportation and mobility as well as public education and access to healthcare,” Chris says. Maintaining a strong economy while addressing these serious problems is a difficult balance but one that he says can be achieved. “We need to listen to all sides, and especially the experts, on how to manage the growth that will continue for the foreseeable future in Palm Beach County. So much of what I see these days is people putting forward their own agendas. We need a comprehensive approach. We need to listen to the experts even if they are not telling you what you want to hear. If you only view and advocate for an issue using the lens through which you see it, you are missing the big picture.”

Navigating through challenges that affect the business community is something that Chris watched his father, Dr. Roy Duke, do as one of the founders of Palm Beach Medical Group and Chief of Staff at Good Samaritan Medical Center. “My dad was a pulmonologist here for 50 years and was involved in the community on the medical side.” It’s just one of the reasons Chris wanted to join the Economic Council of Palm Beach County.

"I’ve seen first-hand the Economic Council's impact on the business community of Palm Beach County. Many lawyers I looked up to and worked for early in my career were involved in the Council. Now, to be able to be a member of the Council, to have a seat at the table  and to contribute is quite an honor.” He currently serves as the Chairman of the Communications Committee, which coincidentally gave the green light for these features known as “Conversations with the Council.”  

A lifelong resident of Palm Beach County, Chris grew up in North Palm Beach. He went to what is now the Benjamin School before attending Davidson College and receiving his law degree from the University of Florida. “I clerked for Jones Foster in law school, then started my legal career there in West Palm Beach in 1991.” After stops at two other local law firms, Chris found his way to Akerman, where he has been for the last fifteen years. He says membership with the Council benefits his profession. “The legal industry is intimately connected with the drivers of business in any community, and Palm Beach County is no exception. Healthy, sustainable business practices and continued business success lead naturally to more and better work across all legal fields.”

When not at work, Chris gives back to the community through his involvement with the Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County, where he serves as Vice President and a member of the Executive Committee.” I want to make sure 100% of my time is useful, so it's important not to spread yourself too thin.” He was also involved as a founding member of  the Young Friends of the Kravis Center, which he jokes he just aged out of.

Married for twenty-two years to Jennifer, who works for Amazon Web Services, they have two children. Jamie is a freshman studying International Affairs at George Washington University, and Sage, a sophomore, is in the vocal program at Dreyfoos. Chris remains an ardent supporter of the Dreyfoos School of the Arts Foundation. ”If you have the ability to volunteer or give back, you do it. People say 'If I only had the time,' well, we do have the time – you just have to find it. There's no better goal or guiding principle then to try to leave the world a better place than when you came into it.”

It’s a life lesson he learned long ago by watching his mentor, Bobbye Duke, his mother, who didn’t tell him how to live his life. She showed him. “Although she never came out and said it, I learned from watching my mother that it is important to be kind, no matter who you're dealing with, and that if you have the opportunity to do something nice for someone, you do it. If you can help people when you have a chance, that is everything.”

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