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Words of Change: From Pilot to Philanthropist: One Leaders Inspiring Journey of Generosity

“Most people get involved with charities that have somehow affected their lives. I’ll make an educated guess that most of us have never gone hungry. When you think about it, caring about something that has only affected others and not yourself is almost like unconditional love. And isn’t that the best kind?” Those purposeful words Marti LaTour shared with guests at a capital campaign party for the Palm Beach County Food Bank. If people are hungry in Palm Beach County, it’s crazy. I got involved because I knew with my experience and background, I could make a difference.”

Influencing change is where Marti excels. She grew up in a suburb of Chicago, one of five siblings. “We had over an acre of land, dogs’ cats, and horses.” She went off to work at Pepsi in an entry-level clerk’s position right out of high school. “I was a clerk and secretary for many years, but as I started to get promoted, Pepsi offered to pay for my college education as long as I took the classes on my own time. I went to night school for twelve years, earning my Bachelor’s, Masters, and even a pilot’s license all paid for by Pepsi.” It was a man’s world, but Marti broke through the barriers with persistence and a positive mindset thanks to a little help from her favorite fictional character. “I loved Scarlett O’Hara. At the age of nine, when I was introduced to the book and movie, “Gone with the Wind,” I did not realize that women could be so headstrong and determined to always go after what they wanted. In my life, every time I got into a situation where I had to give up or fight for what I needed or wanted, I would think of Scarlett O’Hara. In fact, a former HR Manager once humorously said, “Well, that explains a lot!”

Her work ethic and diligence got her recognized, and she became a manager at PepsiAmericas. “When I became management, I started getting promoted every two years. I was always sent off to turn projects around dealing with challenges like strikes or slumping sales.” Which is how she landed in Palm Beach County in 2007, a new home, and title as the Vice President of the Florida Division of PepsiAmericas. “They sent me down here to run an all-male company that had been run in a family-owned culture for over 50 years. I had 640 employees, and all the men were moved down a notch to put me at the helm.”

With tenacity and determination, Marti embraced the challenge, drawing inspiration from a gift her boss had given her. He gave me a book titled “It’s Your Ship” - Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy,” by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff. It gave me a lot of ideas and impressions of what I would need to succeed. The rest came from all my experiences moving up the ladder at Pepsi.” 

Her industry knowledge served her well, but it always helps to have other professional people to bounce questions and ideas off of. Thankfully, that opportunity arose. “The year I got here, Mike Jones, the then Economic Council C.E.O., and another Board Member, Marty Perry, made an appointment to meet me at my office in Riviera Beach. I really did not know what they wanted, so I was a little surprised. They discussed what the Economic Council was all about and then invited me to join. I felt it was the perfect thing to do since I had just gotten to Palm Beach County. I needed to get out and meet the influential people in the county. I needed to see what the other businesses were doing well and what they were up against.”

Joining the council turned out to be a smart decision. “When a union wanted to unionize my employees, I was able to discuss it with other members with experience in that area.” The relationships she forged with the council continue to flourish today, helping her professionally as a limited partner of BELLE Capital, LP, a women’s angel fund that invests in women-owned or run start-up companies.” When we looked at different companies to invest in, I always had someone on the council with experience in that field.” The council is also where she met her longtime partner, George Elmore. “After joining, I kept running into him. The council put me on the Advisory Board of the Criminal Justice Commission, and there he was again. I joined the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, and there he was again, and there he was again and again at almost any organization I got involved in. Funny world, is it not?” They have been together for more than ten years. “For fun, we work. love boating, traveling, and playing golf. George doesn’t golf, but he builds golf courses.” She joked.

They also build back communities, impacting lives with their generous financial contributions. “I wish I had gotten involved in philanthropy earlier, as I could have used the training!” Marti is active on numerous boards and has played a pivotal role as Chairman of the Board for the Palm Beach County Food Bank for the last six years. “With inflation, we see more senior citizens needing our services than ever. Many have never been in that situation before and are embarrassed to ask for help, but we address the challenge thoughtfully to ensure their dignity while providing them with those basics.” Soon, she says they can do even more, thanks to an assist from her peers on the council.” They were a great asset to me when the Palm Beach County Food Bank needed their help, most recently for the PBCFB’s Community Kitchen project. With the help of the County Administrator and Commissioners and the United Way, whom I also met through the council, we are adding 23,000 sq. ft. to our existing 28,000 sq. ft. to prepare hot meals. It has the capacity to do 10,000 meals a day. It will allow us to take full advantage of our great agricultural community here in the county by being able to process, cryovac, and freeze all the healthy vegetables so we can provide them all year round. We will also be able to offer career training, space for entrepreneurs, and meeting space for the community.”

Marti is tenacious, kind, and, most importantly, committed to making a difference. She has been named one of The Palm Beach 100 Most Influential Business Leaders and listed in Florida Trend magazine’s “Must-Know Contacts” of Palm Beach County. We are all lucky to have her in our rolodex. ” This is such a philanthropic county. It’s hard not to be involved.”

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