Taking over Dad's shop holds a level of mythology in the American dream—a belief in the power and promise of honest entrepreneurship as great as the basic vision of a mom-and-pop store. We spoke with the Gulf Coast’s warmest generational business teams who build up brands, whether in real estate, car sales or manufacturing, that transcend simple surnames. 

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Matt Buchanan enjoyed success off the car lot working at Merrill Lynch after college, but when his father, Vern Buchanan, called about the needs of the family auto empire, he decided to pursue the family business—running a small automotive empire. Seven years later, he’s the president of Buchanan Automotive Group, one of the more prominent families of dealerships in the Greater Sarasota area.

Of course, what prompted the generational shift in
leadership for the company was somewhat exceptional. Vern, a prominent business leader in the region, got elected as Sarasota’s US Congressman in 2006 and started selling most of his dealerships away as his focus turned toward Washington. He wasn’t sure either of his sons would ever take an interest in automobiles. “I didn’t ever push them into one industry or another,” he says. But as he pondered selling the last of his dealerships in the midst of the Great Recession, he asked if his son had any interest. Matt decided he wanted the company to stay in the family. But that means he came into the business after his dad had stepped away almost completely. “When I started, my dad wasn’t
in the day-to-day operations anymore because he was
focusing on his government duties,” Matt recalls.

When Matt came on, it’s wasn’t so much as his father’s right-hand man as much as his instant successor. But Vern didn’t immediately put Matt in charge of the whole company; his son needed credibility within the industry first. He had Matt work in a Cocoa Beach Honda dealership, where he served in every department before returning to Sarasota to work in the company’s Ford dealership here. He also attended training at the National Automobile Dealers Association’s academy before moving into a leadership role. Today, the younger Buchanan calls his father a “great mentor” who continues to hold a chairman title with the auto group. While the boys weren’t allowed to work, instead focusing on school and high school sports, Matt did learn from his father the importance of treating every employee, from a new janitorial hire to a corporate vice president, with the same level of gratitude and respect. Of course, some of the biggest lessons came not while the father and son worked together but while Matt and brother James grew up under their dad’s tutelage. (As it happens, James right now looks to follow his father—but on the political career track. He’s currently running for state House.)

After first coming on, Matt wasn’t sure how long he would stay to help steady the ship through the recession, but after a couple years, he recalls a holiday chat with his dad. Vern said, “Son, it’s time to sink or swim.” Would Matt stay on as the permanent president or go back to the world of finance? The rest is history. Since taking over, Matt has done what he could to modernize dealerships. That included a major revamp of Sarasota Ford in 2014 to make a high-service dealership complete with a movie theater, spa and café. “I had to sell him on that,” Matt recalls, noting that it required a substantial capital investment by himself and his father to get that renovation done. But the shift turned the dealership into a flagship for the Buchanan empire. Today, his dad, who holds a seat in the US House, rarely debates anything about the business, and holiday meal conversations turn mostly toward grandkids and family affairs.

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The first entry by the Purmort family into insurance came back in 1876, when Minor La Doyt Purmort became secretary of the Van Wert County Mutual Fire Insurance Company in Ohio. But five generations later, there are still descendants of Purmort selling policies in Sarasota County. At Al Purmort Insurance, you’ll find the latest family patriarch, Al Purmort III, writing policies in a business his father founded in 1985. The president’s office at the Sarasota firm wasn’t necessarily where the reigning Al Purmort expected his career to land, but, since the death of his father in 2013, he’s been grateful this business in fact came to be the center of his professional life. “Any time a parent gets to work with their child, there are definitely struggles you don’t have in other non-parental family businesses,” he acknowledges, “but especially after losing my dad a couple years ago, I think how blessed I was to work with him that long and share in successes.”

The Sarasota Purmorts arrived in the community around 1957, when Paul Purmort launched an office that still operates as Purmort & Martin Insurance. His son, Al Purmort, would open Al Purmort Insurance in 1985, quickly growing the company to one doing $250,000 in revenue each year. His son Al would go to Florida State University with dreams of heading to Wall Street with a law degree. But after getting married, he decided to return to Sarasota to raise his family, and he joined API in 1993. While official company literature refers to the company president as Al Purmort Jr. and the late company founder as Al Purmort Sr., Purmort’s legal name is actually Al Purmort III; his great grandfather in fact was the first in the line to bear the name.  Purmort’s son, who is still in school, bears the name Al Purmort IV.

Al III came in as a regular agent, working his way through every division of the company, even as it expanded services to include risk management functions. By age 28, the younger Purmort told his dad he’d like to step into the president’s role, but the company founder didn’t initially consider his son ready to take the reins of the business. Looking back, Al III realizes Al II was right. “By 31, I was more seasoned and realized the importance employees play in the growth of an operation,” he says.

And grow the company he has. The agency today boasts upward of $3 million in revenue, and has grown from six employees upon its founding to 24 today. Additionally, Purmort, since January of 2016, also participates in a larger network of insurance offices nationwide, Shepherd Insurance. It helps connect Purmort to businesses nationwide in need of expertise at writing specialized policies. And there’s a family connection there as well—founder Dave Shepherd is Purmort’s father-in-law.

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Finding a family home holds a multi-layer meaning at DeLieto & Associates, a real estate team that for 30 years has served buyers and sellers in the Sarasota market. The office was opened by Lee DeLieto Sr. in 1987, but now Lee DeLieto Jr. handles many of the major office functions. To bring the DeLietos into a room together is to invite a comedy duo to the office. Self-effacing humor mixed with gentle jabs fill any account of how the two came to work in the same office. Why did Lee Sr. invite his son to work with him? “I got very drunk.” How’s the experience been for Lee Jr.? “Traumatic. Disturbing. Unnerving.” Chuckles follow the lines every time, undermining the potentially spiteful character of the words spoken and disclosing the closeness between the two real estate brokers.

As for the true story, Lee Sr. first obtained his real estate license in 1978 and found success in the field while raising his family in Boca Raton. He founded his own brokerage firm in 1980, and first checked out the Sarasota market in 1987. “It didn’t take me more than 24 hours to say I was moving over here,” he recalls. He started selling commercial real estate in the area and enjoyed significant success. His brand would ultimately become part of another generational business, Michael Saunders & Company. But Lee Jr. didn’t start his career working in the same office as his dad. He got into real estate in the Boca market in 2001, but felt the lure of the Gulf Coast in 2005. It started at a soiree in Boca Grande, when Lee Sr. started to sell his son on the region. The younger DeLieto rode his motorcycle up to Anna Maria and saw what his dad was talking about. And with a real estate boom underway at the time, it seemed a lucrative time for the DeLietos to join forces. As it would happen, a coming recession would mean lean times just a couple years later.  “It was very humbling,” recalls Lee Jr., who would experience his first recession as an historic bust in real estate values. But Lee Sr., who’s been through four economic downturns in his career, says the team just learned lessons about bracing for the hard times in the cyclical nature of the market.

Through the years, the father and son both would contribute to the building of significant credibility and a strong brand in the market. Lee Sr. these days has stepped back from much of the craziness of day-to-day operations, and now specializes in working with nonprofits on real estate deals. Lee Jr. leads the four-person team in the office now.  And Lee Jr. says he’s picked up plenty of important lessons about the business from his father—and not just how to “walk and talk with someone while holding a dirty martini.” Namely, he knows well the power of networking. “We’re in a relationship-based business,” he says. “You have to enjoy socializing and being in public and sharing your knowledge with clients in ways you hope will benefit them, and that they in turn will refer us or use us again.” 

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Ricky Perrone has worked for his father in some capacity since age 13. The son of Richard Perrone, founder of Perrone Construction, would take on jobs as a laborer working at building sites hauling lumber with brother Ryan. A few years later, he would work as a trim carpenter actually installing features into homes. “Every consecutive summer, my Dad would give us more responsibility,” Ricky says. Today, Ricky serves
as vice president of Perrone Construction, working side-by-side with his father. “My Dad is someone I have always been friends with,” the younger Perrone says. “We’ve always done surf trips together and really enjoy just hanging out. Now it’s nice getting to work with someone I genuinely respect and admire.”

Richard opened Perrone Construction in 1980 and remains the president of the firm. “We are very proud of our standing and reputation in the community,” he says. “Throughout the years we’ve seen a lot happen in our industry, good and bad.” But through it all, the family has continued to stay close and continued to keep the business going. Ryan in 2010 announced his own business, Nautilus Homes, where Ricky and Richard both own a stake, but Ricky has stuck around principally with the family-branded company, where he expects to take over as president some day.

“If I’m being honest, there have been times when I thought of going off and doing this or that instead, but my Dad has built an incredible company, and we now have such a good name in Sarasota.” So while Richard always encouraged his kids to pursue their interest, the most appealing thing remains working in construction.

A fan of architecture, Ricky loves working with families moving to the Gulf Coast to build a dream home. And there’s plenty of reason to stay close to family in Sarasota, especially since Ricky became a father himself. He and his wife welcomes daughter Anacapri into the world last year. So he’s busy at home with building blocks while working on construction
at work. “I’m loving every second of it,” he says. 

There’s no firm date when the company may come under the next generation’s ownership. For now, Ricky says he’s enjoying working with his father every day. He’s still learning from Richard about the art of closing deals. “He teaches me something new every day.”


The Cavanaugh family has helped make music together for three generations. Ever since John Cavanaugh and his father Vincent purchased Super Sensitive Strings in Chicago in 1967, they worked with musicians to determine exactly the right vibrations needed on string instruments of all kinds.

John recalls it was the science of strings that first drew his father to the business. An engineer by training who went into accounting in the Depression, Super Sensitive Strings became a client of his, and when the company went up for sale, he and John decided to buy it. “It was a good working relationship,” John says. “Like any family situation we had our disagreements and different approach to things.” But the two enjoyed success, with Vincent focusing on the mechanics and John developing relationships with musicians in the Chicago cultural scene. The father and son would work together for 30 years, with John transitioning into a leadership role and then bringing his son Jim into the harmonious business.

Vincent passed away in 1996, but not before moving to Sarasota in 1972.  The company developed a great reputation among musicians for working directly with the users of the product, learning the needs of performers as well as the makers of instruments. John talks with delight of musicians like Johnny Cash and B.B. King, but was also thrilled when he could continue working in Sarasota with such powerhouses as Itzhak Perlman.

Today, Jim has become the president of the company, where he still gets to work with his father. “We share an office so we can bat ideas back and forth all the time,” says Jim, who took over as president of Super Sensitive Strings about 10 years ago. “That aspect has been very positive, just as it was when he worked with his dad for many years.”

The company today produces bow rosins and polishes in addition to strings. And John speaks with pride about how Jim has modernized the company, bringing computerized automation into the manufacturing process.He started out working summers in the plant, making strings for his father, dating back to his school days. When he went to Florida State University to study business he wanted to learn the ins and outs of distribution. Then a year after graduating, he returned to Sarasota and started working as a machinist in the Super Strings manufacturing facility. It was important, Jim says, to know every aspect of the business from production to sales before taking over an executive role.  “In a small company, it’s very hands-on,” he says. “You need to know every detail.”

And now, Jim’s wife, Susan, who married into the Cavanagh clan 20 years ago, works on strategic planning and marketing for the company. “People laugh and ask how we work all day with a spouse, but I can’t help but wonder how they run a household and family,” she says. “That’s working together too.” And having a couple in charge of the company is nothing new at Super Senstive Strings. John’s wife, Ellen, ran the books here for many years before her retirement. John still comes to the office multiple times a week, usually around 5am, and still gets some say in major decisions, but has largely turned over day-to-day operations to Jim. 

As for a next generation of Super Strings executives? That remains to be seen. Jim and Susan have a son and daughter still in high school,
but each one has started working in the business over the summer cleaning the office or tacking strings. Whether their interests lead them back to the company as they get older will be up to the children, Jim says.