Carol and Frank Morsani: Lives of Integrity, Service, Excellence

Frank Morsani started at the bottom of the car business, paying for college by working as a mechanic.

He worked his way to the top, becoming one of the top-selling car dealers in the country and a respected national civic leader, serving as chairman of the board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce who also was appointed by Presidents Reagan and Bush to two Small Business Councils.

Along the way, key values helped Morsani succeed. A laser-like focus on excellence. A zeal for innovation. A passion for change.

Those same values have helped shape Frank and Carol Morsani’s advocacy for USF Health.

“What has inspired us about this university… is the commitment to excellence,” Frank Morsani said this week, as he discussed the couple’s historic new gift to USF Health. “It’s not just words. Everybody who’s observed this university knows it’s real.”

Frank and Carol Morsani embody the American dream. They met in high school in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and married less than two years later. Frank Morsani left Oklahoma State after a year to join the Navy and fight in the Korean War. He made it through and came home to Carol.

They graduated from Oklahoma State and started a family. Carol balanced raising their two daughters with a commitment to community volunteerism. Frank began making his way in the car business, starting out as a service representative for Ford Motor Co. and moving on to manage car dealerships in New Jersey and California.

In 1971, the Morsanis moved to Tampa. Frank Morsani bought the Mercedes-Benz and Toyota dealerships here. He began building a business empire that eventually expanded to ownership of more than 30 car dealerships around the country.

Morsani’s business practices differed from some of his competitors. He ran a leaner shop, with as many as 30 percent fewer employees than was typical practice. He worked to empower his employees, setting up a flat managerial structure that gave workers more responsibility and opportunity for learning. The guy who washed cars didn’t just wash cars – he also bought the cleaning supplies. The service manager might be given the job one year of finding the best health insurance for employees – and then the next year, that task would rotate to someone else.

Always, Morsani pushed harder and tried to sell more. His goal for every dealership was to place among the top 10 percent of dealers in the country.

“Being good enough is not good enough,” he said. “If you can run a good dealership, you can run an excellent dealership.”

Despite their commitment to the business, both Morsanis made time to become philanthropic leaders in Tampa Bay’s civic arena. In 1996, they established the Carol and Frank Morsani Fund in the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay with a gift of $8 million. Five million dollars of this donation were earmarked for the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. The center recognized the gift by naming its Festival Hall the Carol Morsani Hall.

Carol Morsani has served on the advisory board for Channel 10, on the Board of the Tampa Museum of Art, as secretary of the Florida Orchestra Board, and on the Centennial Commission Celebration for the State of Florida. She was president of the Hearts of Gold, an auxiliary of the American Heart Association. In 2004, Carol Morsani agreed to become the Honorary Chair for the USF Women in Leadership and Philanthropy Program. Mrs. Morsani also serves on the board of directors for the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center. She was the recipient of the Cultural Contributor of the Year award from the Tampa Chamber of Commerce in 2002.

Frank Morsani has served on the USF Foundation Board of Trustees since 1995 and is a past vice chairman of the board. He is serving on the Executive Planning Committee for USF’s current capital campaign. He is currently chairing the USF Health Facilities Campaign and serves on the USF Foundation Partnership for Athletics. Mr. Morsani served as chair of the USF Endowment Fund for USF Football and on the executive committee of the Great Achievements – Great Expectations Campaign from 1996-2001 – a campaign that raised more than $255 million in support of USF’s academic priorities. Mr. Morsani also serves on the USF Center for Entrepreneurship Advisory Board. In 1981, he was awarded USF’s Distinguished Citizen Award, and in 1986, he was awarded the Class of ’56 Award by the USF Alumni Association.

Frank and Carol Morsani are members of the USF 1956 Society, a giving club for donors of $10 million or more to the university. In 2006, the Morsanis gave $10 million to USF. The majority of the donation went towards the Carol and Frank Morsani Center for Advanced Health Care which opened in October, 2008. The rest will be used to build a women’s softball stadium and a football practice complex bearing Frank Morsani’s name. USF awarded honorary doctorates in humane letters to the Morsanis in 2005.

Today, Frank Morsani is retired as chairman of Automotive Investments Inc, but he still loves cars. He tools around the USF Health campus in a 1977 banana-yellow Mercedes convertible. The couple’s daughters, Leanne Morsani Rowe and Suzanne Morsani Anderson, are grown, and the Morsanis now have two grandchildren.

The Morsanis champion corporate excellence and civic leadership, but they believe in personal modesty. USF Health had to persuade the couple to allow the renaming of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine.

“We were very reluctant about the naming,” Frank Morsani said. “That’s not why we do things. We do it because it’s the right thing to do. We feel tremendously honored and humbled for this to happen.”

The feeling is mutual.

“The fact that Carol and Frank, in this economy, are willing to give $37 million to this college is incredibly humbling to us,” said Stephen K. Klasko, MD, MBA, CEO of USF Health and now dean of the Morsani College of Medicine.

Frank Morsani hopes that their decision will serve as a call to action.

“We hope this encourages others to say, ‘Let’s look at what we’re going to do with our resources,’” he said.

Story by Lisa Greene, USF Health Communications