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The Business of Overcoming

With the new academic year beginning, let Joey Coco ’21 be among those to lead the rallying cry against pandemic challenges. He’s certainly had his share of “overcoming.”

As a senior at Out-of-Door Academy, a college preparatory school in Sarasota, Joey Coco was living the life — enjoying himself as a teenager and readying for higher education with a family business also in his future.

Then a moment of steely haze changed that clarity. 

A manufacturer’s defect in the engine of his car caused an accident that resulted in burns covering more than 50% of Coco’s body. Among the results was the partial amputation of fingers, up to the first knuckle, and the limited use of both hands.

That was in May 2016, one month before he was to graduate and head to Florida State University. Instead, Coco received his high-school diploma remotely and passed on attending FSU, as he endured one medical complication after another. 

Coco: “[Stetson] really just matured me; that’s really what it did.”

Coco spent a year in and out of the hospital with his life in limbo.

Then he decided to attend Stetson to study marketing, arriving in August 2017, and his world changed again. 

“I came to Stetson originally because I knew it would be so much more accommodating with the class size, and it was more realistic for me. I did not know, however, how much more value I would find in the education,” Coco said.

Self-described as a “pretty loud, live-life-to-the-fullest young man,” Coco wanted to hit the ground running on campus, or more exactly, he went “crazy on my feet, trying to keep up with everybody.” 

“I did way too much walking. I had to prove I was still me,” he said, adding such activity also included exploring fraternity life. 

That first year led to additional surgeries — and new thinking. 

Finding ‘Wow’

“It really just matured me; that’s really what it did. It really just accelerated me almost 10 years; that’s how I feel,” he said in July.

By the time John Riggs, PhD, first saw him at the Lynn Business Center, home of Stetson’s School of Business Administration, Coco was “just a sponge for information.”

In his past, Riggs had provided emergency medical care as an EMT for several burn victims, and he took particular interest in Coco.

Coco quickly excelled as part of Stetson’s Centurion Sales Program. He is shown with, from left: Mackenzie Elam ’20, Mark Revis ’21 and professor John Riggs, PhD.

“It was clear to me there were significant physical challenges,” said Riggs, professor of practice in marketing and founding director of the Centurion Sales Program. “Here’s a guy who’s in my class, and doesn’t even think about that, from what I can tell. Apart from any perceived limitations from his injuries, here’s a young man who constantly came to our simulation labs and would say, ‘Let me do that again. I want to go first.’ Joey just doesn’t quit.”

Coco joined the new Centurion Sales Program and quickly excelled in the classroom, as well as in collegiate sales competitions.

“He’s never complained twice; he’s never made an excuse for anything. Watching Joey practice for a national sales competition was both inspiring and humbling. I remember watching him demonstrate a product while typing on his laptop with the side of his hand and no fingers,” Riggs said.

Almost instantly, Coco was sold on the sales program.

“I very quickly realized when I got in the sales program that this was like, ‘Wow. This is for school and this is for my future.’ I really got into it on that type of value level,” Coco described.

“It was something that was always there. But it really took the introduction to the program to tie it all together.”

Riggs used the word incredible again.

“He is incredible to watch as it relates to his professional selling, management, leadership skills,” Riggs commented. “The progress that Joey has made is impressive.”

Blinds Ambition

Now, Coco is scheduled to graduate in May with a double-major in professional selling and business administration and a minor in marketing. And there’s employment waiting, actually an executive role.

His parents, Josephine and Bobby Coco, own Budget Blinds and Inspired Drapes of Sarasota, a franchise operation, and Coco is poised to take over. While finishing his graduation requirements remotely, he is overseeing office management as business director in partnership with his sister, Jennifer Mackey, the sales director. 

Coco and his sister, Jennifer Mackey, will soon lead the family business.

The brother/sister team expects to assume full charge sometime in 2021.

“This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and the timing is good because my parents wanted more time for themselves,” Coco said. 

Sure, there is much Coco isn’t supposed to be able to do. 

His words: “I can’t unscrew water bottle caps. However, I still do. Yeah, I’ve got the crazy limitation. But I’m still working day to day with files and pages, and I’m handwriting. It’s a big limitation, nothing I can’t work around.” 

Yet, there is much he can do, such as bench-pressing 200 pounds in a workout — and soon running a business.

“I feel great about my future. I think the management training I’ve gotten, specifically what I’ve gotten from Dr. Riggs and the sales program as a whole, has been absolutely great,” Coco said. 

That’s true even when new hurdles might present themselves.

“I’m very confident the blinds business can be taken out by Amazon tomorrow, and I could go find any sales position and easily make over $100,000. That is what I will make; I have a goal,” he asserted. 

In the end, Coco concluded, he has received just the right formal education to go with his spirited resolve.

“Stetson has been one of the most valuable times of my life,” he said. “It’s certainly where I really took everything I had prior to my accident … and taken it to the next level. Realizing what needs to be done and having a different mentality from every other person I know. … Stetson has really helped me with ‘This is what’s valuable. This is what you love to do. And this is what you need to do to be successful.’” 

-Michael Candelaria

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