Randy Antik is finishing lunch on the sun-dappled terrace of the clubhouse where he lives in Naples when the waiter presents the check. He asks, “If I sign this, will you tell a story?” The young man replies in an Irish brogue, “I don’t really have a story, sir.” That’s all it takes to urge the lad to open up. “If you’re Irish, you must have a story,” says Antik, who never lets a moment pass without learning more about those who surround him.
This inquisitiveness seemingly has been a constant throughout Antik’s 80 years on the planet—from finding success as a turnaround expert to amassing a major wood art collection to excelling in his present avocation as co-founder and CEO of the Naples-based nonprofit Searching for Solutions Institute (SFSI).
“I’m highly curious, and that curiosity drives a lot of things for me,” he explains. “Some people might say, ‘Randy’s really good at asking questions.’ I think I’m really good at listening.”
He tapped into those talents shortly after moving to Naples in 2006, when he recognized a need for private-sector leadership to address myriad critical issues facing the world. Over the next two years, he met with top executives at Aspen Institute; Technology, Entertainment, Design (better known as TED); and Milken Global Institute—as well as individual thought leaders from all over.
“I saw great potential for intellectual networking with a purpose and bringing together like-minded people who wanted to effect social change and make a difference,” he says.
That grassroots research was the genesis in 2008 for the Imagine Solutions Conference—an annual one-day summit of 18-plus world-class thought leaders in the fields of science, technology, medicine, education, innovation, and the arts who speak on cutting-edge issues of global significance. The preeminent learning event draws a sold-out audience of 650, including Fortune 500 CEOs, hospital executives, college and university presidents, nonprofit leaders, and other intellectually curious people from across the United States and Canada.
The Power of Connection
One year, Randy convened half a dozen speakers for a pre-conference meet and greet, including top leadership from Sesame Street, National Science Foundation, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, AARP, National Association of Corporate Directors, and Arthrex. “One minute they were strangers, and within 10 minutes, they were all sharing ideas,” he recalls.
Antik is often asked how he connects with so many remarkable individuals and puts together a groundbreaking conference year after year. “I don’t know how I do it,” he claims. “I can get through doors, not understanding how it happens. I’ve been lucky.”
But, those who know him well chalk it up to more than good fortune.
“Randy’s a firm believer that you’ll never hear ‘yes’ unless you’re willing to hear ‘no’,” says Mike Martin, retired president of Florida Gulf Coast University and SFSI board member. “As a result, he has created an intellectual epicenter in the community that I think has inspired and stimulated people, and he’s done it through connections, creativity, and remarkable tenacity.”
Dick Munro, former chairman and CEO of Time, Inc. (now Time Warner), who has attended every Imagine Solutions Conference from the beginning, adds, “Each year, Randy puts together a program that is truly extraordinary, and I’m still somewhat baffled by how he does it. I’ve often thought it’s a shame more people aren’t exposed to it because I think anyone who is interested in what’s going on in the world would be absolutely blown away.”
Born in New York City, Antik was raised in Southern California through high school and sought higher learning in Maine (a bachelor’s degree from Colby College) and Massachusetts (an MBA from Harvard University). His 35-year professional career as a turnaround guru for some of America’s wealthiest families—Pritzker, Carlson, Bass—and private equity firms took him to other states, too, including New Hampshire, Texas, Connecticut, Minnesota, and Oregon. A full-fledged Floridian since 2006, he spends time off season in Martha’s Vineyard, a special place with which he has had “a 60-year love affair.”
To unwind, he plays pickleball every morning and dines out three or four times a week with Ronnie, his wife of 25 years. They have five grown children—three from his first marriage, two from hers—and five grandchildren. Ronnie’s daughter, Iliza Schlesinger, whom Randy helped raise, is a nationally known stand-up comedian whose career skyrocketed when she was named the 2008 winner of NBC’s Last Comic Standing. “Her mother and I are incredibly proud,” he says.
Clearly, Randy is also proud of his wife as he tallies her accomplishments: published author; writer, producer, and director of two musicals; party planner extraordinaire. He boasts that the annual costume soiree she stages for 250 guests in their community is considered the “party of the year,” sometimes replete with exotic animals depending on that year’s theme.
“But don’t even think about showing up without a costume,” he cautions. “Ronnie will find one for you and send you home to change.”
The Art of Persuasion
Randy’s other source of pride is his massive array of contemporary wood art that he began collecting in the late 1990s. “It started with my curiosity about the process of how wood turners evolve into wood artists, going from craft to art,” he says.
Living in Dallas at the time, Randy befriended Stanley Marcus, with whom he met for lunch once a month at the legendary Sammy’s Bar-B-Q. On one such day, he sought the luxury retail magnate’s opinion regarding whether to pursue his interest in collecting wood art. He recalls sitting in the nonagenarian’s office and asking him to look online at a couple of artists who had caught his eye. The old man—who happened to have a bowl on display by one of the early stars in wood art—reached across his desk and took hold of Randy’s hand, saying, “If I was your age, I’d do it.” So, he did. “How could I not when Stanley Marcus says to do this?”
Since then, his curiosity and passion have led him to the homes and studios of some 60 wood artists, as well as juried art shows throughout the U.S., Europe, and the U.K. in search of pieces to add to his collection, which comprises more than 150 important works.
The philosophy Randy often shares with younger people mirrors his own path: “If you can be curious all your life, that’s a wonderful talent to have. If you can find something you love and are able to do it and if you can meet interesting people and keep them in your life, that’s really special.”
While he continues to travel the world and build an evermore impressive network of fascinating people, he still values the day-to-day connections his curiosity manifests. Reflecting on his exchange with the Irish waiter, he says, “It’s important that I have a conversation with someone about things that are of interest to them. My day was made when the young man, whom I had not met before, was nudged to tell a story—and he did. Moments like this make each day a positive.”
The fourteenth annual Imagine Solutions Conference will be held on March 4 at Arthrex headquarters in Naples. Past speakers include the late Emmy Award–winning producer Norman Lear, famous for creating popular 1970s sitcoms All in the Family, Maude, and Sanford and Son, among others, as well as Dr. Doris Taylor, recognized for leading a team of scientists that developed a method for regenerating transplantable organs with stem cells, thus creating a “replaceable heart.”
Among the speakers at this year’s conference is Paul Stookey of the 1960s Grammy Award–winning folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary, who founded the nonprofit organization Music to Life, which celebrates the legacy of music to educate, recruit, and mobilize.