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Conversations with the Council featuring Paul Leone, President of The Breakers Palm Beach

Imagine waking up with a clear mind, free from the inner noise, with no worries about the past or fear of the future. The present is a precious gift that eludes most. However, Paul Leone has captured its beauty. "I am happier, healthier, and full of gratitude. A better version of me tries to show up and meet life's challenges every day."

The monumental mind shift was not easy. It came about after Paul, the CEO of The Breakers Palm Beach, Inc. and Flagler System, Inc., learned about the Human Performance Institute's Corporate Athlete program in 2004. "The fundamental idea behind this program is that professional athletes train 95% of the time, and they "compete" 5% of the time. Corporate athletes work, work, and work, and we forget about the training. As a leader, you can only get away with that so long before you burn out." The program taught him balance. To focus on the things that are most important in life and use the satisfaction that comes from that balance to bring more and better energy to everyday life and work. "For me, it is my faith, family, and fitness. I start my typical day at 6 am by doing something for my wife or my four sons, working out with a trainer at 7 am, and then attending morning Mass at St. Edward Catholic Church. By the time I get to work, I am emotionally, physically, and spiritually energized, and that allows me to perform at a higher level."

Taking care of others is ingrained in Paul. His family owned and operated five small motels and two restaurants. "They were people persons. They loved people, and people loved them back." But Paul, a self-described introvert, also had a different talent. "I am a numbers guy at heart." Which led him to pursue a degree in accounting and become a CPA. Working for the Big 8 accounting firm Coopers and Lybrand, he serviced numerous accounts, including The Breakers, before leaving his firm to become the controller at the iconic hotel in 1985. After his shift, he'd wander the property for hours on end. "Late at night, you could find me at the receiving dock, the laundry, and the restaurants exploring and learning. I really like operations." 

At 36, he became President and COO, thrust into an incredible position at a very young age. He joined The Economic Council of Palm Beach County about a year later. "It was a two-fold interest for me. The first was to carry out the company's mission to make a difference in the community, not just profit. The other was to learn from other great leaders, spending time with them, and together making a difference in policy and strategy for the county." 

Paul's been a council member for 26 years and is just as passionate about the mission as he was back then. He's proud of the push for affordable housing but says more needs to be done. "The county has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity due to the unprecedented growth underway and projected over the next decade. With an increasing tax base and intelligent growth management, we have the opportunity and responsibility to make this an even better place to live and work for all people, especially those struggling economically. Proudly, the council helped influence policy, and developers have been on board, but the bond referendum is just a drop in the bucket. There is a far greater need. And the best way to meet the need is through public-private partnerships. Government can't easily develop. It's not their business, but the recently passed state legislation is very helpful. The private sector though must realize that the government cannot solve this complex problem without their involvement and entrepreneurial approach. It would be a real insult in this booming economy to disenfranchise a whole segment of our population that is being left behind. When a boom like this emerges, it should be leveraged for all. There are many areas in our community that need more help."

Helping people is a passion for Paul. It’s at the core of who he is. "I care so much about people and love to see people succeed and hate to see them suffer." A servant leader, Paul walks the talk even in the face of adversity like the COVID pandemic. "It was the most challenging thing I ever faced as a leader. I made sure to show a sense of confidence, as frightening and daunting as it was. We told our staff to go home, be safe, and take care of their families, not to worry about the business." They supported their 2,300 employees with pay and benefit programs during the eight weeks the hotel was closed, and when they reopened, Paul was right there on the frontlines. "We had our management team do many of the jobs that their staff would normally do so we could be the first ones on the battlefield to test the pandemic operating model and make sure everyone felt safe and comfortable." The hotel has always had an employee-centric culture. They make a point of prioritizing each individual and their unique needs, which fosters a strong sense of belonging. "The Kenan family, which owns the property, care so much about our people. Twenty years ago, before the idea was popular, they wanted us to create an employee wellness program. It was cutting edge back then."

At 65 years young, Paul is living his best life. His secret to success? The many people he's been fortunate to lean on for guidance. "I have been blessed to have several amazing mentors in my life, Jim Kenan, Garrett Kirk, Dave McDaniel, Pat Conway, and Bill Birdwhistell. The men individually and collectively encouraged me to trust my instincts and have the courage of my convictions, and they all believed in me more than I believed in myself."

However, the biggest influence is his wife, Kathy. "Kathy mentored me back to my Catholic faith. I was not practicing daily prayer and the fundamentals of attending mass to receive the sacraments. We have been blessed in so many ways, and Kathy and I wanted our faith life to be our family's foundation." Together they've built upon it, allowing Paul to become stronger in all areas of his life, to embrace opportunities without the fear of failure, and to enjoy life's memorable moments as they happen.

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