It’s Not About Winning. It’s How You Win.
In business and public service, Allan Bense has spent a lifetime winning ‘the right way’
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While working at a gas station during his college years, Allan Bense sat counting oil cans as he looked across the street at a Capital City Bank office. One day, he decided, he would sit on that bank’s board of directors. Today, he does.
Bense has always been a hard worker and a goal setter. And it has stood him in good stead. He’s been successful in business, in politics and in life. And he’s accomplished it all with a deep humility accompanied by an uncommon understanding of and compassion for others.
“My parents taught me how to work hard and play by the rules, to be honest and treat people fairly and to win. But don’t win at all costs,” Bense says, reflecting on how he came to be what he is today. “It’s not about winning. It’s how you win. I want to win the right way.”
Bense displayed an acute business acumen at an early age. By the age of 10, he was selling Grit newspapers outside the Quik Chek grocery store on 6th Street in Panama City, where the main fire station is now.
“I’d stand out front, people would come in and I’d sell them a newspaper. It was my first venture into making money. I had a great schtick back then. I’ve always been a salesman!”
He never stopped working.
“Of the three of us, Allan was the only one that ever had money. We always had to borrow from him,” remembers Judy Bense, president of the University of West Florida and Allan’s older sister. “He has always been good with money. He knew how to get it, worked hard for it and kept track of it.”
Bense’s wife Tonie, who related the oil can counting story to demonstrate her husband’s goal-orientation, says she liked her future husband the first time she met him. He was “positive about everything,” exuded confidence and, as she came to learn, was a hard worker.
“He started with nothing,” she remembers. “But he would set a goal and go after it. And he never gives up.”
The Early Years
Allan Bense, now 63 years old, has lived all his life in Bay County. He was born in a house on his family’s farm, about 3 miles north of where his businesses are now headquartered. His parents, transplants from New Jersey, each died at the age of 45 and are “buried on the hill up there, 2 miles away.”
His folks were farmers but couldn’t make a living at it. They lost the farm.
“They weren’t successful at it, but we got it back and now I’m going to try to turn it back into the way it was when I was born,” he says. “We’re not gonna have cows, but we’re going to grow hay. I haven’t gone far from my roots.”
After his father and then his mother died, Bense was raised by his grandmother. The two siblings (a third, Craig, has passed away) remember that the family had little money. So he worked to earn money to buy his school lunches. And then he worked his way through college at Florida State University, including taking on a janitorial job and waiting tables.
“I did everything known to mankind to get through,” he recalls. “Worked straight through college. Got my MBA. Worked through summers because I knew if I ever quit and got a job I’d never go back. I knew I just had to keep on going.”
Today he is chairman of the FSU Board of Trustees, and in March he was inducted into the FSU College of Business Hall of Fame.
Upon leaving college, Bense went to work for Southeast Banking Corporation. Soon he had his eye on buying a bank. In 1981, he convinced some friends to buy a bank with him. They sold it in 1985 and, according to Bense, “made a pile of money.” He insists that timing, not brilliance, had a lot to do with that success. When they purchased the bank, interest rates were high. When they sold, the economy had bounced back.
Those earnings helped Bense on the way to his involvement with several different businesses, including GAC Contractors, Gulf Asphalt and Holiday Golf Club. Today he is chairman and CEO of Bense Enterprises, which is involved with road building, mechanical contracting, insurance and golf courses. And he recently decided to delve into the health care realm.
He credits his mother with his drive for success, especially remembering a particular Little League game in which he struck out 17 of 18 batters.
“She comes up after the game and says, ‘I’m so proud of you. You did such a good job. How come you didn’t strike out No. 18?’ ” he recalls. “She was quick to give you praise but always made you look to the next horizon. I’m sure that’s why I have the drive I have in business.”