As seen in the August 2013 issue of Space Coast Business Magazine. Written by Josh Field:
Scott Sorensen: Entrepreneur of the Year
by Josh Field
Scott Sorensen 2013 Entrepreneur of the Year.
Most entrepreneurs create from a burning desire to fulfill a deep-seated vision that passionately burns from within – whether it’s a new and innovative approach to solving a common consumer need, a revolutionary technology that can positively impact the world, or simply the desire to be one’s own boss. Sometimes, however, entrepreneurs are borne from necessity or circumstance. Such might describe the beginnings of local businessman Scott Sorensen.
In the Beginning
The fifth of six children born to Kay and Bill Sorensen, Scott was just six months old when the family moved from Albany, NY to Eau Gallie so his father, a truck driver, could open his own moving company. With a small warehouse and one truck, Sorensen Moving & Storage opened its doors to support the growing activity NASA was bringing to Cape Canaveral.
Scott, the youngest of the three Sorensen sons, attended Ascension Catholic School in Melbourne and then Eau Gallie High School (EGHS), where he followed in his brothers’ footsteps as an all-around athlete, particularly on the football field.
Bill and Kay Sorensen at the Brevard beach with newborn son, Scott (1955)
During Scott’s junior year at EGHS, Bill Sorensen passed away following a bout with cancer, leaving the business to his wife, who had little to no experience running a moving company. To make matters worse, NASA’s Apollo program was winding down and, as any longtime resident of Brevard County will tell you, so too was the local economy.
“Seeking out and having mentors, even to this day, has always been instrumental in my life,” said Scott. Fortunately, he had his football coach, Bill McCall, to turn to during this difficult time. “Coach McCall was like a father to me…he provided me with a lot of encouragement and very tough love.” It was through this – and a lot of hard work – that Scott landed a scholarship to play football at the University of Miami. But when his coaches there decided to move to the University of Kentucky, Scott played football at UK for a year before giving up his scholarship and transferring to the University of Florida, where his older brother, Doug, was playing football for the Gators.
By the time Scott – a self-admitted poor student – hit his senior year at UF, Doug had graduated and moved on to medical school while his other brother, Steve, was in law school. Back home in Brevard, Kay was struggling to keep the business afloat. So when she called Scott and asked him to come home and help her run the company, he packed up his Gainesville home and moved back to the Space Coast.
It was 1977; the local economy was in shambles, the company was teetering on going under, and Scott had been home for just one week when his mother turned the business over to her 22-year-old son. “My mom was a tremendous mother but keeping a business going, with no business background, while raising six children had taken its toll,” said Scott.
“I remember that summer. We had a small warehouse, one truck and a three-man crew. There was no money for payroll; the company was broke,” recalled Scott. “So I literally drove around town looking for homes with “For Sale” signs in their yard. I would knock on their door and solicit their business.” His perseverance slowly paid off as Sorensen Moving & Storage established its name and began to recover.
As luck would have it, Harris Corporation moved to Melbourne in 1978, bringing with it a wave of executives and high-tech workers requiring relocation services. Soon after, Sorensen bought the property on Eau Gallie Boulevard where his company is still headquartered today, and he became an agent for Allied Van Lines, a relationship that lasted over three decades.
Long-time Friends and Business Associates
Joel Boyd has been Sorensen’s attorney and friend for over 35 years. “Sorensen Moving & Storage was one of my first decent legal clients,” reminisced Boyd. “Not only have I had a very special professional and personal relationship with Scott and his extended family over this time, but his future bride, Joan Hipps, was a UF law student at the time; she worked for me as a legal intern during the summer of 1979.” Scott and Joan were married in 1980.
“I met Scott in 1984 when I was in the commercial real estate business and he was looking to purchase a building I had listed on Wickham Road,” recalled Brevard County Commissioner Robin Fisher. “We met at 3 p.m., finalized the deal at 4 p.m. and then spent the next 11 hours chatting, drinking beer and eating dinner – yes, I left his house at 3 o’clock the next morning.” The two have been inseparable friends ever since – and both are diehard Gator fans. “As a person goes, Scott is as good as they get,” said Fisher. “He loves life, he loves his family, and he knows how to laugh.”
Boyd agreed, “Scott definitely is the adult version of ‘best all around.’ He is a wonderful family man – husband, father, son and brother.”
Growing the Business
With his Brevard moving and storage business doing well, Scott eyed expansion – first into Orlando (in 1993) and then Tampa (in 2004). He was soon recognized by Allied as one of the top agents in their system, and was named Allied Global Agent of the Year in 2001. But by 2006, “I was running myself ragged,” said Scott. “I couldn’t find a reliable leader in Orlando, so I started to contemplate retirement.” He tried semi-retirement but quickly realized that wasn’t for him. “I’m a highly motivated and competitive person,” said Scott. “I think that’s what really makes me tick.
I’m a hard charger and I love working.”
So instead of retiring, Sorensen refocused on his core business. He sold his storage companies in Orlando and Tampa, and tightened up the ship in Brevard. “I learned at a very early age that in business once you get on top, don’t let up or get complacent. Keep working harder and out-work your competitors,” he said.
“Scott’s success has come as the result of his hard work,” confirmed Todd Starkey, a financial advisor with the Starkey Wealth Management Group of UBS in Melbourne and long-time friend of Sorensen. “In addition to his family, Scott’s work is his life. Running his companies is as much a hobby for him as it is a career. He doesn’t really fish or play much golf; he just loves building businesses, taking care of his customers, being with his family, working out and watching his Gators.”
Mike McBride, founder of McBride Marketing Group, which handles much of Sorensen’s marketing, concurs. “Scott has what I call ‘quiet intensity.’ He may look calm and reserved, but he is tenacious and extremely competitive.”
“Scott’s ego won’t let him fail,” said Craig Technologies CEO Carol Craig, who served as an officer on the Junior Achievement board of directors with Sorensen. “He is extremely competitive and will do whatever it takes to win.” Added Fisher: “Scott knows that success is in the details. He consistently raises the bar by setting high goals for himself and his staff.”
As the nation went into a deep recession, rather than rest on his laurels or simply defend his market share, Scott looked for opportunities to diversify. In 2010, he launched Sorensen Office Solutions, a full-service office furniture and design center and licensed distributor for Herman Miller. Then, a year later, Harris Corp. inquired whether Scott could store the company’s trade show materials, and Sorensen Trade Show Services was born. This new organization not only utilizes the company’s available warehouse space for storage of trade show booths and materials, but also provides refurbishment, maintenance and transportation services.
Soon afterward, Sorensen’s core moving business was experiencing a major cultural shift due to the merger of Allied Van Lines with North American Van Lines under the ownership of Clayton, Dubilier and Rice, a private equity firm based in New York City. Looking for a better fit, after over 30 years as an agent with Allied, Sorensen severed the relationship to partner with Mayflower Transit. Not only did this open new opportunities for geographical expansion but it required a $500,000 rebranding makeover of the company’s headquarters and fleet of moving vans. Sorensen’s familiar orange and black Allied vans were repainted to Mayflower green – except, of course, for the blue and orange Gator trailer that Sorensen has provided to the university football team for moving equipment to and from all its away games over the past 10 years.
Family and Community
When not leading his team at Sorensen Enterprises, Scott is more than content to spend time with his family, including wife Joan, and children Elizabeth, who lives in Columbus, MS with her husband, USAF Capt. Ben Oatley, and is expecting Scott and Joan’s first grandchild this month; and Chris, who works for Sorensen Moving & Storage, and is training to manage business development in Orlando for the company.
|Scott Sorensen and Joan Sorensen
“Joan has really been critical to my success – she’s the total package,” said Scott, “She’s very level-headed and has been so supportive and instrumental to my career.” The Duke University and University of Florida College of Law graduate put her career on hold to raise the couple’s children and support her husband. “It’s inspiring to see what a great job they did raising their children to be amazing adults,” said McBride. “That kind of success in parenting speaks volumes to their character. It also shows that a solid foundation at home is priceless when building a successful business.”
Beyond his immediate family and his extended family of friends, employees and business associates, Sorensen takes great pride in the community. ‘I’ve spent (basically) my whole life here in Brevard County…and it has given me and my family so much that I feel privileged to be able to give back to it as best I can,” said Scott. And like his leadership in his company, Sorensen is known as one of the most giving and supportive community leaders throughout the Space Coast. “Scott is truly one of the community leaders in the county,” said 2012 Entrepreneur of the Year Mike Williams. “Currently, he is on so many boards and committees that recently I asked him if he had retired.”
“Scott’s generosity and personal and business involvement in the community is a testament to his belief that we are all in this together and you never know when you are the one who will need help,” added Boyd. “He believes in sharing his good fortune as well as helping someone carry their burden.” It’s for these characteristics, values and contributions that Scott Sorensen has been named the 2013 Entrepreneur of the Year.