A night at the zoo with Danny Persaud (PHOTOS)

He’s a man that has perfected the art of “The Long Game.”

When he’s not occupied with running MidFlorida Armored and ATM Services, based in Tampa, as chief executive officer, Danny Persaud has his hands in one of his many other business ventures, or he’s thinking up inventions or renovating a hemp farm. A few of his businesses include Quick Claims, which helps the insurance industry streamline claims, Check Mates, a business that helps make online dating safer, and Eagle Investments.

And if all of that isn’t enough to keep him busy, he also can be found giving back to the Tampa Bay community in a number of different ways.

Bridgette Bello, the CEO and publisher of Tampa Bay Business and Wealth, interviewed Danny Persaud in front of a sold-out audience at Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park. This transcript has been edited for length and brevity.

What has been the most interesting thing that has happened to you since you graced the cover of TBBW’s January issue?

I don’t think I realized how much support there is for businesses in the Tampa area. So many people have reached out to share their congratulations. I was humbled and I was blown away.

Last week was my birthday. I’m not emotional, my wife knows this, and I sat back, and she was like, “What are you doing?” It’s like 11:59 p.m. I got all emotional thinking about how much support that there was. And that’s been there for me throughout. I thank you and I thank you for that.

One of the things that you shared that we didn’t have space for, unfortunately, was you had a heart attack. And that had a big impact on not only your life, but also your business. There’s a lot of us in this room that are running companies that probably sometimes feel like that might be us. Can you share a little bit about that experience and how it changed you?

That was a very difficult day. My wife was pregnant with our daughter when that happened and the whole thing was tough. It was a tough situation for me because my mindset throughout my whole life has been go, go, go. All the CEOs out there, you know what I’m talking about. It’s midnight, or 1 a.m., and your brain is spinning. You’re thinking about what’s your next move, where am I going next? Where’s the company headed?

And when that situation happened, literally the brakes came on, I mean hard. It was like stop, slow down. Enjoy the time you have, enjoy the family you have and enjoy the friends you have. Half of the time, my brain was thinking about, “What’s my next move?”

It gave me a new perspective on life. There are things I need to get done. And, no, tomorrow is not guaranteed.

We kind of laughingly said in the article that no one had ever made all of us cry while telling their story. We all cried that day. There were some rough moments in your childhood. And you were very strong to share those with us. And one of my favorite comments, which we were careful to make sure we framed in the right light, was you when you were like, “I bought his house. And I bought his house, too.” But you were not cocky about it at all. But what did we leave out? What do you wish we had included that we didn’t include in the story?

I’m just happy that you gave me a platform to talk about it. You know, back in the ’70s, certain areas were very racially charged. And we came from a country where pretty much everyone there was the same color. We all got along. And then we came over here. And, literally, it was like, boom, in your face.

I think if there’s one thing that you could take away from me tonight it would be if someone asked you who you are, someone looks at you a certain way. Just reply to them that you’re human, just like you. I’m no different than you. I make mistakes, like you. I eat, like you. I sleep, like you. I’m human.

You had said at the age of 10, you started making more money than your parents. Tell us what that taught you about life.

There are no handouts in life. And that’s the way I was raised. When I came to this country, we were put out in the streets. I was seven years old. And it was a night like tonight, which I’m holding back tears thinking about it, it was 50 degrees.

You learn pretty quick, if you’re going to make it, you have to get off your ass and do something. And my folks were the first ones to tell you, we’re not giving you anything. We don’t have anything to give you.

Are you teaching your children the same tough lessons the same way?

I try to instill a couple things. Kindness and to be humble. Remember, everybody’s going through something, no matter what it is. Look at everybody with an open heart and an open mind.

What was it like to meet your childhood lifetime hero Magic Johnson? I mean, you guys are like buds.

We raised some money for the Boys and Girls Club. My passion has always been kids because, you know, my situation. Both of my parents worked until 11 p.m. at night, seven days a week. I raised myself, my brother raised himself and my sister raised herself. My father was handicapped and came to a foreign country.

I took to basketball and sports at a very young age. And I remember when Magic Johnson got drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers. I had an old black and white TV. And I was like, “Who is that guy?” If you play sports, you tend to mimic your sports idol. You tend to do their moves and next thing I know, I could probably do every one of Magic’s moves, every single one.

When we did the donation and Magic pulled me to the back [and said], “Hey man, I really appreciate what you did.” And I said, “No, it was the right thing to do. Because we’re helping the community.”

Magic and I literally talked for about 40 minutes in the kitchen at Armature Works. He invited me to go back in and attend his VIP gathering. So next thing you know, I’m back there. We talked for an hour, or two, before and after. I flew out to L.A. and took six other guests with me, families and kids I’ve coached.

We met Magic. We had dinner with Magic. And I talked about business the whole time. He signed jerseys for every single guest. He told me, “Man, you and I are from the same cloth. Your story is very similar to mine, that’s why I like you.” Then he says, “Danny, you and I are friends for life, man.”

You told us about a business idea that you wanted to pitch to him that revolved around a trade school in the Tampa Bay area. How did that conversation go? Is that still continuing? Is he interested?

I think Magic’s words to me were, “What do you need me to do?” And I was like, “Well, I don’t want your money. I just want your time and your face to back it up, I want you to be the face of my vision, my dream.”

I explained to him the whole reason behind [the idea]. The way I grew up, I learned a lot of trades as a kid, because the area I grew up was very industrial. I want to set the trade school up for kids at risk, the ones that are so close to going to jail and so close to their families being broken forever. I have coached at Chamberlain High School for the last 12 years. I’ve coached thousands of kids and have literally bought vehicles so I could take them home (durable cars that would hold athletes and their sweaty, dirt-covered uniforms). We stopped by Checkers or McDonald’s and spent $200 to $300 a night feeding all these kids, and then repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat.

So I want to get to those kids and it doesn’t matter what color you are. It’s not a color thing. It’s a ZIP code thing. I want to make sure you guys understand the difference. It’s a ZIP code thing. I want to get to those kids and make a difference in their lives. Show them that someone cares about them.

ABOUT ‘CEO CONNECT’

TBBW’s “CEO Connect” series is an exclusive, invitation-only, event that brings together the Tampa Bay area’s top business leaders to meet and mingle. Older Lundy Alvarez and Koch, SouthState Bank and Sabal Trust were presenting sponsors. The host sponsor was Zoo Tampa. Empowering Creative is TBBW’s video partner.

The evening begins with a cocktail reception for about 120 guests, followed by an interview with that month’s cover CEO.

Partnering with TBBW on future editions provides an opportunity to network with the area’s business elite, generate new business opportunities and increase brand awareness.

For information about event sponsorship opportunities, email Jason Baker at [email protected].

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