Tim Seneff | Crain's Orlando

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Tim Seneff


National Christian Foundation Orlando is one of the leading grant-making organizations in Central Florida and recently announced reaching the $100 million mark in cumulative giving. Tim Seneff honed his business acumen at CNL Financial Group, an Orlando-based private investment management firm.

The Mistake:

Following the money versus following my passion.

I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. I was a college athlete, a competitive, A-type personality. During my 20s, I think I viewed wealth accumulation as a way to keep score. And in my early 30s, I had increased leadership responsibilities.

And then in my mid-30s, I had a health scare. So at the age of 35, I was at MD Anderson [Cancer Center] in Houston, and that really made me reassess my priorities. I started to reflect a bit more. “I’ve got this amazing wife and these healthy children, and I make a lot of money and I get to do these deals all over the world. Why am I not happy?”

So I started to look at that equation for myself. My passion for philanthropy and community service was starting to outpace my desire to earn lots of money and lead large teams.

The other thing was the busy-ness of running a company. I was president of the company and there were about 550 employees. There were long hours, nights on the road, and being away a lot.

I wasn’t present the way that I wanted to be. Friends were saying I didn’t listen well. I realized that, instead of shuttling back and forth to the airport, I wanted to be more present with the relationships I cared about.

I resigned from the for-profit world in the summer of 2011 when I was 37. I did some consulting and my wife and I moved our family away for six months to try and take some time to contemplate things. I wrote and did some deep thinking about what my passions were, and I just realized that philanthropy, family-owned business, and Orlando were my big three [priorities].

Everybody’s looking for the elusive work-family balance. And NCF called me and they were looking to launch an office in Orlando, and I thought, “Wow, this is an incredible match.” That’s when we launched the NCF office, in January of 2012. We’ve been the fastest-growing affiliate in the country.

My passion for philanthropy was starting to outpace my desire to earn lots of money.

The Lesson:

I think the lesson is to pursue your passion. And the other lesson is to learn to carve out time in your life, to be deliberate about time for reflection and solitude.

A lot of times we get so busy and the blinders are on. In my case, the health scare is what sat me down. I don’t know if I ever would have been able to pivot or course-correct without that.

I spent enormous amounts of time making a business plan, but I didn’t spend a lot of time making a family plan. Now I make an annual family plan. What’s on my reading list? What are some big goals for the year? It’s about people and relationships and not things and recognition. It’s about creating time for reflection and solitude.

I think part of the lesson is that life is short. So ask yourself, "How do I be intentional and deliberate about organizing my time in this short life in a way that I find joy?"

Follow National Christian Foundation on Twitter at @ncfgiving.

Photo courtesy of Tim Seneff

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