Written by McKenna Kelley | Photos by Gabriel Burgos
In reality, Lou Prida Jr. applied to two universities. Had you asked University of Florida alumnus Lou Prida Sr., however, his son was only ever going to one.
“My Georgetown acceptance didn’t come until later in May, so my dad said, ‘nah, you’re going to Florida,’” Prida says with a chuckle.
Following in the footsteps of his father, a prominent Tampa accountant and the founder of what is now Prida Guida & Company, P.A., Prida earned his degree in accounting from the University of Florida and began working his way up at Prida Guida.
“I’m very fortunate that my dad had a lot of respect, so some of that was extended to me,” he says. “I also had the good fortune of having a couple of gentlemen in my dad’s generation recognize that I had some abilities, and [they] mentored me.”
Prida is now returning the favor by imparting the firm’s client-first philosophy on his younger staff members.
“I try to tell them that we’re not in the accounting business, we’re in the care business,” he says. “It’s not about the money. It’s about what’s in the best interest of your client.”
Outside the office, Prida serves on the boards of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay and the Tampa Sports Authority. His work as the treasurer of the Gold Shield Foundation, which funds college educations for the spouses and children of fallen first responders, hits particularly close to home.
“My dad was an orphan by the time he was 8 years old,” Prida says. “He had the opportunity to go to college because of the G.I. Bill. Supporting spouses and children getting their college educations, there are very positive outcomes from that. I think that is extremely redeeming.”
After graduating from Jesuit High School and the University of Florida, why did you choose to return to Tampa to launch your career?
My dad started this practice, and I like to think I had a choice, but, as I reflected and was preparing for his eulogy — he passed away in January 2015 — I started thinking about his and my relationship. It was really my mom who was the driver when it came to careers. I have a brother who’s a cardiologist, and he currently teaches at USF, and he has a cardiology practice at Tampa General Hospital. I can remember my mom buying him chemistry sets when he was an 8-year-old. He was always going to be a doctor.
I applied to two universities — the University of Florida and Georgetown University — and got into both, but my Georgetown acceptance didn’t come ’til later in May of ’68, so my dad said, nah, you’re going to Florida [laughs]. That’s where the alumni are, so that’s where you’re going. It was an unsaid expectation that I was going to come back.
Was accounting always in the picture for you?
Yeah, I was always an accounting major. I hate to admit this, but it was probably the only subject that I didn’t have to study for finals for [laughs]. I did it once, and it seemed to come second nature.
Your father founded Prida Guida and was a highly respected figure in the accounting field. During your career, how did you make a name for yourself as one of Tampa’s leading accountants in your own right?
I’m very fortunate. My dad had a lot of respect, so some of that was extended to me. I also had the good fortune of having a couple of gentlemen in my dad’s generation recognize that I had some abilities, and they mentored me and introduced me around and gave me opportunities at a very young age that afforded me the ability to meet the expectations they had. It wasn’t me as much as their generosity.
In your free time, you serve on the board of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay. Why did you choose that organization to devote your time and energy to?
At the time, the development director there was a lady by the name of Sue Levitt. She has since passed away. I knew Sue because my daughter played volleyball as a student at Tampa Preparatory School, so I knew Sue from the Tampa Prep days. Sue reached out to me, and I went to the Crisis Center’s first Cup of Compassion breakfast.
At the time I was a supporter of Meals on Wheels, and I’m still a supporter of Meals on Wheels, I think it’s a great organization. But I was totally blown away. I was born and raised in this town, and I didn’t even know this organization existed. I have a daughter and six granddaughters. Every sexual assault that occurs in Hillsborough County does not go to the emergency rooms. It goes to the Crisis Center. So few people know that. Had I been in a situation with my daughter where she had come home and had that circumstance, my initial reaction would have been to take her to the emergency room. If I had gotten to the emergency room and they had told me, no, you have to go to the center, I would have been very upset. So [awareness of the Crisis Center] is very important to our community. When I got involved on the board, there was an opportunity to mentor a CFO. There was an opportunity to help them bring some corporate governance from the for-profit world, so I would say it picked me, not I picked it. But Sue Levitt was the one who exposed me to it.
I’m also the treasurer of the Gold Shield Foundation, which is a Steinbrenner foundation that pays for the college education of spouses and children of fallen police officers and firefighters. I think it has huge impact, and it works. The reason it works is — my dad was an orphan by the time he was 8 years old. He lost both of his parents and was raised by his maternal aunts. He had the opportunity to go to college because of the G.I. Bill. I think my mother telling him the only way she was going to marry him was if he went to college was part of the deal at that point [laughs]. There are very positive outcomes from supporting spouses and children getting their college educations. I think that is extremely redeeming.
You’re also on the board of the Tampa Sports Authority, a group that has been quite busy lately with Tampa’s Super Bowl bid. How important are major sporting events like the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the Super Bowl to growing Tampa’s profile on the national stage?
I think it’s pretty important, but my view’s a little different. The view I have existed before I joined the Tampa Sports Authority’s board. There’s a marketplace that cities compete in. There’s an old saying about baseball players — there’s a five-tool player. He runs, he hits, he throws, he catches and he’s got brains. That’s how you describe a five-tool baseball player.
I like to think Tampa has at least four tools. It’s got a great airport. It’s got education, with private schools, public schools, charter schools and two universities. It’s got sports franchises. The fourth tool is the cultural piece, between the Straz Center and, if you include St. Pete, the Mahaffey Theatre. Amalie Arena has become [huge]. The only piece I think we’re missing is that we’re not quite up to date on the transportation piece. That’s how I look at it.
I think it’s very important. The city has to compete in a marketplace. The old adage, “you have to spend money to make money” — these are community investments. Some people like to think that they’re limited access, and maybe there are things we can do. Nothing’s perfect, and nobody’s perfect, but maybe there are some things we can do to broaden the access to certain events. As far as I’m concerned, it’s an investment that we need to make in order to attract businesses. You can certainly ask Mr. Vinik [laughs]. How do we get him? He ended up buying the Lightning, and look at the benefits he’s going to bring our community. It’s huge. You just never know when you make an investment where it’s going to take you. You hopefully create these opportunities and get the best out of them. That’s life in general.
Which traits do you consider necessary to being a successful leader?
I don’t know if I’m a leader, but I think you need to lead by example. You need to have compassion. You lead out front, not from behind. You don’t ask your associates to do things you wouldn’t do. Compassion is significant. It needs to be about the people that help you. If you’re willing to help them and you care about them, and you care about their family, over time, people stay. I’ve had people here for [decades]. Being willing to open up and admit when you make a mistake and not blame other people and take it on yourself. Whenever we do something good, the staff and the team did good. When we do something bad, it’s my fault. If we made a mistake, it’s my fault. It’s easier for me to take the blows than it is for them.
What is your proudest achievement up to this point?
It hasn’t happened yet [laughs]. Being a husband to my wife and a father to my three kids. Coming here, the work I do, obviously there are positive events and sometimes we make mistakes. That’s part of the journey. I’m very proud of being able to help people.
Who in the Tampa Bay community do you admire professionally?
There’s lots of people like that — people that I don’t even know that I’ve seen at a distance that I think have done just incredible jobs. There’s lots of people who have helped me and that I admire. There are some people that are selfless in the things they do for the community. It’s anybody that really puts their community or their clients or their job before them. That’s selflessness. I think that’s important to building a community. There’s any number of those people out there. You can go through the rank and file, and there are countless people that have built their own businesses, that have worked hard to overcome huge obstacles. No one in particular and everyone. There are community giants all over.
Do you have a motto you live by?
I do have a couple little sayings that I live by. There’s one that I try to read every day [the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling]. This was given to me by a gentleman back in ’93 — Robert Page, he was one of my father’s clients. He was one of those people that adopted me, so to speak, and he brought it in here one day and said, you know, I think you ought to read this every day. It’ll be good for you. It’s something I try to focus on.