The Whitney Family in Sandestin

Sandestin Real Estate’s executive director and her family have made a career of developing businesses



Kitty Whitney and her husband, Todd, have imparted to their son, Max, the same business acumen that enabled them to succeed in arenas ranging from microprocessing and health care to real estate and arcades.

PHOTO BY BRENNA KNEISS

 

Kitty Whitney had embarked on a critical-care nursing career as her husband, Todd, accepted his first electrical engineering position with a computer hardware manufacturer, Dallas Semiconductor. Off to Dallas, Texas, they went. The couple realized the need to set goals and align priorities to become successful. While young and inexperienced, their drive and determination would take them far.

In Dallas, Todd distinguished himself working with microprocessors and as a semiconductor engineer specializing in failure analysis — failure was very good to him — and he moved to a job with Cyrix, then Intel’s chief competitor in the microprocessor game. Cyrix’s strategic plan was to begin making its product outside of the United States. When management went looking for someone to oversee the development of a plant in Singapore, Todd raised his hand, taking the initiative to opt for opportunity.

Kitty suspended her nursing career and went with Todd to the Far East. He was given two years to get the plant there up and running, but he got the job done in eight months. The couple moved on to Italy and another plant project. Kitty picked up languages along the way and worked closely with her husband as a business liaison for Cyrix and found that she and Todd collaborated well.

The Italy project complete, Cyrix offered Todd another European-based project. But a competitor intercepted and recruited Todd, then one of a handful of semiconductor failure analysis experts in the world, and brought him back to Dallas. Returning to Dallas, each returned to their individual careers in promoted positions, but the couple talked about launching a business together.

Seeking both personal and professional growth, plus preparation for entrepreneurship, Todd enrolled in a self-development program he heard about — Ed Foreman’s three-day “Successful Life” course, a “habit-improvement” approach developed to enable people to improve their lives physically, emotionally and mentally. Foreman preached that “life is primarily for laughing, loving and living; it isn’t just for whining, worrying and working.” Kitty saw an immediate change in Todd upon his return and attended the program the next month.

“The program confirmed that Todd and I had taken the right steps toward a successful life: planning, setting goals and taking calculated chances.” Kitty says.

Now, decades later, Kitty, the executive director and broker at Sandestin Real Estate, remains a Foreman disciple. She owns a video recording of the three-day course and, at least once each week, she watches a portion of it.

Foreman taught his last course in November 2015. Kitty has remained in touch with him and plans to carry his lessons forward. On a limited basis, Kitty — with Foreman’s blessings and those of her boss, Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort owner Tom Becnel — has begun teaching Successful Life-style classes. Her students include members of her staff.

Not surprisingly, Kitty is finding that she likes the role of teacher/consultant. It has long been a part of her professional résumé.

Kitty grew up living the “Bayou Life” in Thibodaux, Louisiana, the sixth of eight children. She also remembers her parents’ guidance to be resourceful and to figure things out for yourself.

She attended Nicholls State University in her hometown, earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing and met (on a blind date) Todd, who had grown up in nearby Houma. Todd would depart Nicholls State for LSU in Baton Rouge, where he graduated with a degree in electrical engineering, as they continued their relationship. They eventually married and moved to Dallas.

As a nurse working in ICUs, Kitty had become familiar with infusion pumps and other equipment used to deliver medicine to patients via an IV access. She reasoned that it should be possible to establish a clinic where patients could learn how to use the equipment at home and avoid having to go to the doctor or entertain an at-home visit from a nurse. So, as planned, Kitty and Todd plunged in a new direction.

Kitty, bouncing between Dallas and Louisiana, started the couple’s Infusion Network business in Baton Rouge, a market they knew well.

Manufacturers had been making portable models of infusion pumps, but they were intended for use by nurses. Kitty’s plan was to make them patient friendly, and through new programs and protocols, they did.

“We made a lot of progress establishing patient-friendly programs that allowed patients to infuse medication with confidence. We should have gotten patents of our own,” she says.

PHOTO BY BRENNA KNEISS​

After discovering there were opportunities for additional entertainment venues for children in the area, Todd Whitney opened arcades at the Village of Baytowne Wharf and at the Seascape Town Center.

In establishing the Infusion Network, Kitty had to pay close attention to FDA and DEA regulations and nursing and pharmacy board protocols. She had to convince insurance companies that her business model was in their best interest because it stood to reduce claim amounts.

When underway, the business was equipped with a parenteral/enteral pharmacy, where nurses would administer the patient’s first dose to ensure that it was tolerated well. Then, they would go on to teach patients how to self-administer their meds. The theory was to improve a patient’s quality of life while being more economical than traditional methods.

Todd bought in early on. So much so that he overcame Kitty’s objections and quit his job.

“We did it,” Kitty recalled. “We jumped off the cliff together and moved to Baton Rouge.”

Six months later, the business had made nothing, and savings were dwindling. Referrals from doctors had proved impossible to come by.

“Todd began to think we had made a mistake, and I would say, ‘No, we’ve got this,’ and then I thought he might be right and then he would try to reassure me,” Kitty remembers.

Because that is what you do as a Foremanite. You say yes to opportunities. You set aside worry. (Foreman: “Worry is nothing more or less than negative goal setting.”)

Finally, a doctor whom Kitty had been hounding for six months gave her a referral with some expressed reluctance. The patient had AIDS and required IV meds and, despite his challenges, he proved to be the Infusion Network’s first success story.

“He was able to go back to work,” Kitty said. “He made a life for himself and started feeling positive instead of sick. We received more referrals from the doctor, and the business caught on. In less than a year, we were at full capacity. In three years, we doubled and tripled in size with locations in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Lafayette, Louisiana.”

The Whitneys successfully sold the company in May 1999, just over three years after its opening. Now under new ownership, the company is still providing those same services today.

The couple established a residence in the Delmar neighborhood at Sandestin, where they had vacationed and attended conferences. Kitty stayed on as a consultant, and Todd taught himself how to serve as his own financial advisor.

“In our careers,” said Kitty, “both Todd and I have had phenomenal opportunities to learn business, be resourceful and figure things out. When we opened the Infusion Network, we did our own hiring and firing, HR and marketing. I did the contracts with the insurance companies, and Todd managed money, payroll and the P&L. He even drove the delivery van while I was the janitor.”

Upon becoming full-time Sandestin residents, Kitty and Todd traveled the world extensively then began to talk about parenthood. They were 40 when Max, now 13, was born.

“Max was six months old, and we moved from Delmar to a larger house in Burnt Pine, thinking we might stick around for a while,” Kitty said. “But, I’m not gonna lie, never did I think we would be here this long. I had always liked to move around and experience change and different environments.”

Max was 5 and ready to start kindergarten when Carla and Tom Becnel moved in down the street. Carla took part in a “boot camp” exercise class that Kitty was leading and spoke to the teacher after class, suggesting to her that she should become active in the community.

“Later on, I met Tom, and he told me that the Walton Area Chamber of Commerce needed some business growth and development leadership,” Kitty recalled. “I reacted initially by saying I did not know anything about a Chamber of Commerce.”

Still, Becnel succeeded in introducing Kitty to people at the chamber, and he described the role that the chamber played in making the concerns of South Walton County, which is without incorporated communities, heard before the County Commission in DeFuniak Springs.

Kitty was impressed by the number of businesses that needed growth and development advice and guidance, so she decided to give it a try. She worked as the chamber’s director for two years before Mr. Becnel called to say that he needed some help with real estate development at the resort.

“I told him I had a real estate license but had only worked briefly in real estate, and he told me that he didn’t want me to sell real estate — he wanted me to run the business.”

And, Kitty did what Foremanites do. She said yes to opportunity.

Meanwhile, Todd discovered that there were opportunities for additional entertainment venues for children in the area. He resolved to do something about that and put together a plan for the coolest arcade around.

In 2012, Todd established the Blast Arcade and Laser Maze at The Village of Baytowne Wharf, later acquired the space next door and opened Moo La-La Ice Cream and Desserts. A year ago, he launched the Thrills Laser Tag and Arcade at the Seascape Towne Center.

“Right now, Todd is in an operations review with his five managers,” Kitty noted on a recent morning. “They supply him with reports, and he coaches them and guides them and encourages them to supply ideas for keeping the businesses on target.” One of Todd’s greatest talents is to teach and then delegate, following with a plan for accountability.

“I have a similar approach with my team at Sandestin Real Estate, establishing goals and providing direction, and they thrive on that. They are more productive as a result. The sales professionals are experienced and talented, so I simply try to provide new avenues of business and keep them motivated.”

Max, like his mother, has a gift for music.

He plays the guitar, left-handed, and is talented enough to knock out some Carlos Santana. In addition, he plays piano and drums. He’s picking up Italian from Mom and studies Spanish at the Seaside Neighborhood School.

And, like his parents, he is demonstrating a knack for business.

After attending an International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions convention with Todd, Max was convinced that a photo booth should be added to the Blast Arcade. Dad wasn’t so sure.

Max persisted. Like a boy petitioning for a dog, he promised to take care of the booth himself. Dad relented. He loaned his son a sizeable amount of money to buy the machine, which was placed away from the arcade elsewhere in the Village.

Six months later, Max had paid off the loan. Now, he is placing booth proceeds in his tuition savings account.

While working his way toward his career goals, he lives the Sandestin lifestyle. Imagine the ability to ride a golf cart to dinner and piano lessons; ice skate on an October day just after coming in from surfing in the emerald green waters and white sandy beaches; play a friendly game of football in the events plaza at the Village; take a safe bike ride to the tennis center or driving range for striking a few balls; or watch the sunset from the marina. And all of this is within a few miles radius. Appreciating the fun but still focused on the future, Max wants to attend MIT and become a NASA engineer.

That is, he’s a Foremanite in the making, you know, one of those “winners who develop the habit of doing the things that others don’t like to do.”