Former Huntington man says his experiences here helped contribute to his successful life

Jim Seneff Jr.
Photo provided.

Originally published March 22, 2010.

Jim Seneff Jr. spent only a couple of years in Huntington, but it was enough to get his name in the record books.

The Gary native moved to Huntington from Merrillville, joining the Huntington High School Class of 1964 and, perhaps more importantly in the basketball-besotted Hoosier state, the HHS basketball team - the Bob Straight-coached team that achieved legendary status after finishing second in the '64 state basketball tournament.

Seneff and his teammates moved on - Seneff to college, the military and a real estate business in Florida. That business, founded by the son of a steelworker from Gary, is now a global company dealing in billions of dollars worth of real estate.

And it's put Seneff in some pretty eminent company - he'll share the stage with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Gen. Tommy Franks and others to receive the Horatio Alger Award April 9 in Washington, DC.

"I'm very pleased to be included in this distinguished company," Seneff said in a phone interview.

"We are delighted to induct these individuals into the Horatio Alger Association and to honor their stories of success in the face of significant struggle," says David L. Sokol, president and CEO of the Horatio Alger Association. "We believe that adversity builds character, and James Seneff's story is no exception. Seneff's life story of strength, resolve and achievement is commendable, and he will help continue our mission of helping other young people achieve similar success."

Through CNL and his own philanthropic efforts, the Horatio Alger Association says, Seneff has impacted millions of lives through significant financial support of education, entrepreneurship and the arts. Seneff also volunteers countless hours of time to a number of organizations.

The award has been given out annually since 1947 by the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, honoring people who achieved great things despite humble beginnings.

Seneff attributes his success in part to the people he met during the few years he lived in Huntington.

"I had a great experience there," he recalls, arriving in Huntington after his sophomore year.

His father - a World War II bomber pilot and former steelworker and construction worker - launched an insurance company in Huntington that bore his name. Seneff Sr. operated the insurance company until 1982.

Seneff Jr. played football and basketball and ran track during his two years at Huntington High. And he learned from a couple of coaches he still greatly respects - Bob Straight and Jerry Young.

"Coach Straight was a great friend and mentor," Seneff says. "They were both great mentors and coaches."

They taught him, he says, the value of "character, integrity and hard work."

The basketball team members became, and stayed, great friends - even traveling to Florida in 2007 to help Seneff celebrate his 60th birthday.

"I've stayed in touch with all those folks," he says.
"I remember arriving at a perfect time," he says. "They were ranked in football and basketball, and we went to the state championship in basketball my senior year ... It was a small community, and the school was great."

After graduating from Huntington, Seneff started college in Wheaton, IL, and completed his degree in business at Florida State University in 1968. He was drafted into the Army and served in Washington, DC, and in Vietnam, where he drafted a 50-year business plan - "a life plan, a system," he says - that he's still following today.

He started, he says, in a 100-square-foot windowless office furnished with a card table and a chair, and a $5,000 loan from his father. That business is now, according to company literature, "one of the nation's largest privately held real estate investment and development companies."

Here's how Seneff's company, CNL Financial Group Inc., describes itself on its Web site: "Headquartered in Orlando, Florida, CNL is a sponsor of a wide array of investment products. Since its inception in 1973, CNL and its affiliates have formed or acquired companies with more than $23 billion in assets, including hotel, retail, restaurant, seniors' housing and lifestyle properties."

CNL Financial Group owns and manages seven businesses; has four related businesses that are or may become independent; and has four "heritage companies" that are now fully independent.

Seneff and his wife Dale, married since 1973, have five children and seven grandchildren. His two sisters both live in Winter Park, FL, where Seneff also makes his home.

In addition to Seneff, recipients of the 2010 Horatio Alger Awards are Albert T, Annexsrtad, chairman of Federated Insurance Companies.

• William Alfred Cook, founder and chief executive officer of Cook Group Inc.

• Tommy Ray Franks, former commander-in-chief, U.S. Central Command, and chairman of Franks & Associates.

• Joseph M. "Jody" Grant, partner and senior advisor of BankCap Partners and chairman emeritus of Texas Capital Bank.

• Jenard M. Gross, president of Gross Investments.

• Lawrence Mead Higby, retired CEO, vice chairman and advisor of Apria Healthcare Group Inc.

• Richard D. Holland, philanthropist and retired chairman of Rolleiser Holland Kahler Adv.

• Alan B. Miller, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Universal Health Services Inc.

• Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state and provost of Stanford University.

• Earl W. Stafford Sr., chief executive officer of The Wentworth Group LLC and officer of The Stafford Foundation Inc.