Investing in a cure

Health has always been valuable to Don Adam, a melanoma survivor and local businessman. Without a healthy body, he said, one couldn’t be productive. And for someone as busy as Adam – who maintains a large-scale holding company in Texas and Florida that dabbles in banking, construction and horse breeding – poor health is as detrimental to his prospects as a full-on market crash.

Adam recently contributed the largest-ever gift to the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center. The $20.4 million donated will fund a new center that promises to boost Moffitt’s research and treatment of melanoma. Besides his public perception as a philanthropist, Adam also makes time for his passion – racing horses he breeds himself in Ocala.

He previously made headlines in 2005 when he founded the American Momentum Bank (AMB) with $100 million of start-up capital – of which Adam invested over $90 million – an unprecedented sum in Florida banking. Adam sits on a distinguished board of directors that includes former U.S. Ambassador Mel Sembler, ex-U.S. Senator Connie Mack and USF President Judy Genshaft. The bank presently has six locations around the Bay area, with six more planned in 2007. Colleagues speak of Adam, 72, as a generous person by nature. Tampa realtor and USF Trustee Lee Arnold Jr. called Adam a “caring person who wants to make a difference.” He said it’s unusual for one to give the amount of money Adam did without having nurtured a habit of giving. “(Adam’s) reputation precedes him as a generous individual,” said Arnold, who is also on the board of directors at AMB.

But Arnold said Adam wants to see more advances in cancer research than the publicity that follows a donation of this magnitude.

“(Adam) is challenging cancer in a business-like, a professional manner,” he said. “He’s more interested in results than the positive press.”

Sembler characterized Adam as friendly and down-to-earth, adding, “(Adam) is ethical beyond reproach.”

“He is a community citizen, heavily engaging in the communities where he works and lives,” said Genshaft.

Adam was born in Houston, Texas, to a father in the military who often moved the family around. His father finally settled in Bryan, teaching military science at Texas A&M University. Adam stayed in Texas long enough to use it as the base of his operations.

After graduating from Texas A&M with a business degree and serving three years in the Army, Adam established his first business as a consultant developing retirement programs for other companies. His next move was founding a cable television company in 1969, which, on its final sale, operated in 11 states. This company was the root of The Adam Corporation/Group (TAC/G), a privately-owned holding company of which Adam is chairman and CEO.

The company gained publicity in 2005 with its sale to Citigroup, a subsidiary of First American Bank, based entirely in Texas. According to an AMB biography, the bank had its origins in 11 failed financial institutions purchased from the government. Then it consolidated as First American Bank with three other institutions purchased directly from their owners. Under Adam’s guiding hand, on the eve of its sale to Citigroup, the bank comprised 107 locations with $3.6 billion in assets.

Despite the publicity garnered by his gift to Moffitt for melanoma research, Adam disclosed little about his experience with the disease. Describing it as “an unpleasant experience 15 to 20 years ago,” he said it was detected early enough to be cured. He did not explain the manner of treatment or the location of the tumor.

According to the Tampa Tribune, the donation to Moffitt was inspired when Adam and Mack formally became colleagues. They realized they were both melanoma survivors after Mack accepted the position on the AMB Board. Adam said he was impressed with Moffitt’s facilities, and Mack encouraged him to contribute.

“I was quite moved when I visited Moffitt,” said Adam.

Adam said the recent multi-million dollar donation was not his first, but declined to discuss details of the others. He said only that he has donated to educational and healthcare entities. The Bryan-College Station Eagle, based in the same Texas town as TAC/G, reported that Adam donated $1 million to fundraisers for the George Bush Presidential Library, where he later served as trustee with Sembler.

The $20.4-million contribution to Moffitt will fund the Donald A. Adam Comprehensive Melanoma Research Center for five years. Dr. Jeffrey Weber, lately of the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, will head the Center, and said planning has already begun. Moffitt Chief of Cutaneous Oncology Vernon Sondak said the money will not be used for the construction of a new building – the Center will use existing space – but purely for research.

Adam’s association with Florida began in the early 1990’s with the purchase of Courtlandt Farms, a ranch devoted to raising thoroughbred racing horses. Horses had interested him from childhood, he said, and while building FAB into a formidable bank, he desired another pursuit.

“It was a time in my life when another outlet of enjoyment would be pleasing,” he said.

A father himself, Adam likens breeding and racing horses to raising children. He said the pride in a breeder with a winning horse meets that of parents seeing their children graduate from college and find success in their own lives.

“It’s a thing of beauty to watch horses,” he said. “It’s like you’re growing very similar in pride to children when you’ve created the origin of something so great.”In addition to horse racing, Adam described himself as a once-avid golfer. Today, however, he plays infrequently due to risks from prolonged sun exposure.

“I try to stay out of the sun,” he said, referring to his bout with melanoma. “But I play when the weather’s favorable.”