Entrepreneur and philanthropist Carl DeSantis is a self-made American success story who spent less than half a semester at Florida State University before deciding that while education is a good thing, college just wasn’t for him.
But he never let the lack of a four year degree get in the way of his dreams.
Now, DeSantis has announced the launch of The DeSantis Initiative, a new social entrepreneurship venture that will focus on teaching young people the keys to success. Future endeavors will focus on developing and inspiring leaders and helping rescue organizations. All three efforts are lifelong passions of the Delray Beach resident, chairman of CDS International Holdings, a family office with a dozen operating businesses ranging from Celsius, a healthy beverage and Tabanero, an emerging hot sauce brand to Pur Attitude, an innovative skin care company, the DeSantis Collection, a men’s clothing company and Parkview Properties, a real estate brokerage.
“Our favorite saying at CDS is `good begets good,’” he says. “By focusing on giving young people opportunities for a good life we can make a difference today and well into the future.”
After a stint managing Walgreens pharmacies in Miami Beach and Greensboro, North Carolina DeSantis launched a mail order health and nutrition company in his garage. His children—very young at the time- helped to pack orders. From humble beginnings, DeSantis and his team built the world’s largest vitamin company.
Rexall Sundown became a stock market darling employing thousands at its Boca headquarters before it was purchased for $1.8 billion in 2000 by a Dutch company.
“If I can do it, so can others,” he says. “College is great but not everyone is cut out for it. You can still find success in America if you build things, treat people well and initiate a business.”
Over the years, DeSantis has given generously to many universities and has been granted honorary degrees from several schools; including a few Phds. He enjoys meeting and talking to young people hoping to encourage them to pursue their dreams.
Speaking of dreams, DeSantis get many of his ideas when he goes to sleep.
“I literally dream about business,” he says with a smile. “I find ideas when I’m awake too. I’m always looking for problems to solve, or voids to be filled and opportunities. I consider it a gift and I feel very blessed.”
While many people would have called it quits after a big exit, DeSantis is not like most people. He’s a lifelong entrepreneur. And if anything he might be busier today than when he was leading Rexall Sundown.
His company, CDS International Holdings, also invests in restaurants, real estate and nutraceutical companies.
Past businesses include an eco-tourism resort in South Africa, a working ranch in Texas and the legendary Ernie’s, a piano bar with live music that was a long time staple in Delray Beach.
The common thread: products that are healthy, disruptive and create jobs.
“We surround ourselves with good people who are talented and ambitious and together we brainstorm and try to create products that people enjoy. It sounds simple, but there’s a lot of hard work and detail. We laugh a lot. We are not afraid to take risks and we want to win. But we also take pride in being generous and good to each other.”
DeSantis is a long time but quiet philanthropist supporting causes ranging from hospitals and animal rescue organizations to education, orphanages and his local church.
“God has been very good to me,” he said. “So it’s important that I give back. I don’t crave attention and you won’t see me at a lot of functions but if you do see my name on something it’s only because I want to encourage others to join me and give back.”
A special heartfelt cause is American manufacturing and entrepreneurship.
“I want us to make things in this country,” DeSantis says. “Not everybody can be a doctor or a lawyer. We certainly need people who can weld, make furniture and program robots. The world has changed and so has manufacturing. There is a need to teach young people that there are career paths open to them regardless if they go to college or not. We need to give them alternatives to drugs and crime. And we will.”
The DeSantis Initiative, a new program created to support young people, entrepreneurs and rescue pets recently announced a partnership with a software company that will open student’s eyes to career paths in 21st Century manufacturing.
The program, which aims to be national in scope, will start with thousands of students in Palm Beach County and will be tailored to meet the needs of local employers.
“We are reaching students where they are which is in school and on the Internet,” DeSantis said. “We are proud to show them a future that will help them be good citizens and grow jobs.”