For Justin Holbrook, CEO of private investment firm Global Growth, Orlando is on the verge of a major transformation.
“It’s early days of what it’s going to be,” the Oklahoma native said. “That’s what makes it so exciting.”
Starting in North Carolina’s Research Triangle, Global Growth is tying its future to that of City Beautiful, positioning itself to capture growing tech talent and financial opportunities, according to Holbrook, arriving in Central Florida.
The move, Holbrook and the Global Growth name are also part of a fresh start, a separation from a recent scandal.
Global Growth began life as Eli Research, later Eli Global, in 1991 in founder Greg Lindberg’s Yale dorm. Originally producing medical newsletters, the company has grown into a private equity firm that today owns or invests in more than 120 companies with more than 7,500 employees worldwide and $5 billion in assets, according to the company website.
In 2020, Lindberg was convicted of a bribery scheme in North Carolina related to a plan to rehabilitate insurance companies he owned in the state.
With his businesses scrutinized in Florida by the Office of Insurance Regulation, Lindberg made donations in 2017 of more than $600,000 to state leaders., including Rick Scott’s U.S. Senate campaign and a PAC for Jimmy Patronis, according to a 2019 article in Politico.
In 2018, Patronis was elected chief financial officer, whose office oversees insurance.
Although the conviction was overturned on appeal and Lindberg awaits a new trial, its founder resigned and the company severed ties with him, changing its name to Global Growth and approaching Holbrook to take the top spot.
Holbrook’s resume includes time in government and in the financial industry.
A veteran who joined the military after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Holbrook also worked as an assistant to House Representative Ernest Istook, R-Oklahoma, in Georgetown. He also worked for entrepreneur Peter Thiel’s Palantir Technologies on government data projects and secured seed money for his first investment company from former AOL executive Steve Case.
“My appointment as CEO and our move to Orlando is indicative of this new chapter for the company,” said Holbrook, 51.
The decision for a new location was made in Texas and Florida, Holbrook said. Both have attracted a slew of new businesses over the past decade.
What sold Holbrook to Orlando was the tech talent coming out of UCF, Rollins College and Full Sail University, as well as the tech and financial companies moving to places like Lake Nona.
“We felt like Orlando had the center of innovation where we wanted to be,” he said. “And we felt like [Orlando] This is where we could have the most impact.
The company chose offices in Baldwin Park last year because of the neighborhood’s urban design and central location in the city.
“I was looking forward to finding a place where our team members could feel at home almost immediately,” Holbrook said. “Here you have space for living, walking and working.”
Designed with a touch of Silicon Valley, the office features an open floor plan, arcade video games, and impractical but fun chairs. The office opened to the public this month.
A core of 10 employees came at the start, with another 20 expected, Holbrook said. He declined to share information about the site’s employees’ salaries.
Holbrook says Global Growth’s mission is “to invest in companies that make the world a better place.” The website has a section on community partnerships on issues ranging from food security to aid to war-torn Ukraine.
It also sells its insurance portfolio. After the scandal, Holbrook says he’s “singularly focused on making sure policyholders in North Carolina get access to their benefits as quickly as possible.”
Today, he is heavily invested in the medical software industry, such as the American Association of Professional Coders, which trains people in medical billing and compliance.
“That probably doesn’t sound super sexy,” Holbrook said.
Holbrook is a fan of some of the company’s more original holdings, such as Beckett Collectibles, which authenticates and classifies trading cards and sports memorabilia.
“This company has millions of fans who love baseball cards,” he said. “It makes a material difference in their lives.”
While baseball cards may seem like an old-fashioned industry, Holbrook is excited about his new project: graded digital collectibles for the planned virtual Metaverse, some of which are being designed in Orlando.
Betting on staying in Orlando for the long haul, Holbrook said he’s hosting a “listening tour” to get to know the city. He plans to visit schools, community leaders, other businesses and government officials. “When you come to a new area…the very first thing you need to do is listen,” he said.
He would also like to eventually create a business incubator in the region.
“When you’re passionate and full of ideas and looking for your first $50,000…Wouldn’t it be cool if we had that here in Orlando?” he said.
As more tech and financial companies relocate to Central Florida and the cost of living in Orlando continues to rise, with rent and home prices appreciating in double digits over the past year , Holbrook says the city will need to work with businesses and residents to avoid the pitfalls of silicon. Valley, which has largely lowered the price of its service workers and older residents.
“You need city planners, community leaders, the financial community, the tech community, all singing from the score,” Holbrook said. “My feeling is that this is happening in Orlando.”
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