There will be a funeral Mass celebrated today for my dear departed billionaire friend and esteemed former client of my PR firm, Carl DeSantis, at Ascension Catholic Church in Boca Raton.
May God rest his soul, but that’s going to take some doing as I seldom saw my high-flying entrepreneurial friend, the ever-creative Carl, rest. He certainly didn’t make me rest, and I loved every restless minute working for him.
He reminded me of Errol Flynn. He would come out of the forest to hit bullseyes with his nutritional supplements. His life was like The Adventures of Robin Hood.
That film hit theaters in 1938, the year Carl was born to become a master at commercial ideas and marketing archery that made him a billionaire.
Decades ago, Carl started the first of several businesses that I promoted for him, Rexall Sundown, then much later the energy drink Celsius whose former owners I introduced to him one triumphant afternoon in my boardroom at TransMedia Group. Celsius stock then was only a buck or two a share, but after Carl bought the company the stock price climbed steadily and today shares of Celsius Holdings Inc are $177 a share.
Rexall Sundown Carl started as just Sundown in the bedroom of his house where he and his wife Sylvia slapped labels on bottles, which they sold mail order through the National Enquirer.
Because they didn’t have a machine to do it for them, they had to count by hand the number of vitamins they put into bottles. Carl told me once that back in those days, if a bottle said 100 tablets, “we always put in a few extra” to make sure there was at least a hundred, thinking it’s better to go over than under.
Adhering to that philosophy, DeSantis built a company known for giving consumers more than they paid for. Instead of a family business, he likened it to a business with a family in it.
Many years ago, Carl saw the vitamin craze coming. And his business grew profitable making him Vitamin Enriched, the title of his book I published.
In 1985 he shrewdly bought one of the most respected names in health care—Rexall, of corner drugstore fame, and his business took off. He snapped up the 90-year-old Rexall name in a liquidation sale at a bargain and coupled it with Sundown, the name he had dreamed up for a low-cost suntan lotion he created while managing a drug store in North Miami Beach. But Rexall was not his first bonanza deal.
When Carl was 14 years old, he invested the $12 he had saved selling newspapers on street corners in Miami and bought an aviary of parakeets. Eight months later he sold the business for a whopping $250.
In 1993, Carl took his company public and we played a supporting role in helping its stock take off into the stratosphere. In three years, it increased over 600%. Maybe we were too good in getting Carl and his company so much press.
The media exposure we got included appearances on CNBC, the Nightly Business Report, even NBC Dateline, plus favorable articles in The Wall Street Journal and Investor’s Business Daily because in October 1996, Barrons’s magazine said Rexall Sundown was one of the most overvalued stocks in the country.
Carl loved the terse response I wrote: Having achieved leadership in the rapidly growing nutritional supplement industry, and being so well positioned for dramatic expansion, it’s not surprising to us that the investment community – seeing such a bright future for our company – has placed a high value on our stock.
Three days later Carl filed a registration with the Securities Exchange Commission for an offering to sell four million more shares of stock worth about $120 million, including $2 million owned by the DeSantis family, including his sons Dean and Damon.
The way Carl would bubble over some of my ideas, it reminded me of another impulsive wunderkind I worked for, Fred Silverman at NBC.
You rascal you, I love it, Carl chortled one day when I showed him a Sundown vitamin jar I had made into a bright-orange rocket. I wanted to send it out to trade press to symbolize the record speed with which Sundown had just hit the market with a new Selenium product. Sundown had it formulated, labeled and had it ready for shipping within 48 hours of a national news report that a major study had found the mineral had slashed cancer death rates in subjects.
What President Bush once called the vision thing, Carl had it big time. But like many successful entrepreneurs, he wasn’t born farsighted. He had to learn it.
Once Carl came close to not making a position on his school football team. He had thrown a pass that had fallen short of the marker it needed to reach for him to make the team. On a second try, he aimed at the fence well beyond the marker and the ball sailed past where it had to reach. He concluded: I learned from that experience that people set their own boundaries in life.
Carl, we’ll miss you dearly while I’m sure you’ll be doing creative things above in your new home way upstairs!
God bless you Carl and may you keep inventing and inspiring!