Trustee and Board of Visitors Member Don Flow (MBA ’83) is Driving Force Behind Winston-Salem Open

8.21.2011 Alumni News, Article, Careers

Reposted from Winston-Salem Journal | by Richard Craver

It's not hard to find the fingerprints of Don Flow, owner of Flow Automotives Cos., on the community.

They are evident whether he's networking at the executive level for recruitment projects such as Dell Inc., or leading the charge on landing a major cultural or sports event.

The latest example of Flow's handiwork made its debut Saturday with the Winston-Salem Open at Wake Forest University. The tournament, the last stop before the U.S. Open, has a 48-man singles draw, a 16-team doubles draw and a total purse of $625,000.

Flow, 56, is chairman of Winston-Salem Professional Tennis Inc., the nonprofit group that persuaded the U.S. Tennis Association to move the ATP World 250 tournament here from New Haven, Conn.

Flow Automotive operates 31 car dealerships in Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Fayetteville, Raleigh and Charlottesville, Va.

Mark Young, chief executive of ATP for the Americas, said the USTA identified Flow and his group "as the best candidate to host the new event."

That approval came after Flow rallied civic and corporate support during a three-week application and proposal period.

At least 56 corporate, nonprofit or individual sponsors contributed more than $2 million for the tournament, with BB&T Corp, Hanesbrands Inc. and Flow Automotive agreeing to be presenting sponsors for five years.

"After completing the required background work, the ATP was very happy to approve the sale," Young said. "Our people toured the facilities and have been very impressed with the size and scope of the plans. We've also been impressed with Don Flow's personal commitment to make this an outstanding event."

It's clear Flow is representative of a long line of local entrepreneurial visionaries who believe in the philosophy: To those whom much is given, much is expected.

But ask Flow about his power-broker reputation, and he gets a little antsy.

He deflects the notion by saying he prefers to be known as a facilitator.

For example, when Flow learned about the USTA's whirlwind timetable, he quickly formed the nonprofit tennis group, which consists of people who have been supportive of local tennis for decades, such as Dr. Harold Pollard, Doug Roberts and Gray Smith, to officials from the presenting sponsors and Wake Forest University.

"I called them and told them I wouldn't consider doing this if they wouldn't want to be a part of it," Flow said. "They all enthusiastically raised their hand and said, 'We're in.'

"That gave us the confidence the community had seen the opportunity. Once the USTA gave us examples of budgets from other tournaments, we knew this would be a good fit."

Flow said the group intentionally chose to not have a title sponsor "because we want this tournament to belong to the whole community."

"The orientation is not toward the maximization of profit, but to say how we build a sustainable tournament and reinvest the surplus back into the community," Flow said.

Flow's role as chairman of the nonprofit tennis group is just one example of his knack for identifying an opportunity and using his hometown enthusiasm to encourage, appeal for, and occasionally prod participation.

"Don is the quintessential behind-the-scenes leader," said Allen Joines, the mayor of Winston-Salem.

Joines and Flow have worked closely, along with Winston-Salem Business Inc. and the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce, on most high-profile economic-development projects. Flow has served as chairman of the city's business-recruitment arm.

"He is genuinely concerned about the future of Winston Salem and is willing to invest his time and resources to help ensure this community will thrive and be healthy in the new economy," Joines said.

"He is a very strategic thinker and challenges all of us to be developing and carrying out plans that will have long-range benefits and offer systematic change."

Perhaps the best example has been Flow's business, educational and personal relationship with a Dell executive getting the community's foot in the door with the company.

During the months of intense negotiations, Flow's connections, along with the community's willingness to provide as much as $37.2 million in incentives, kept Winston-Salem on the front-burner for the $110 million plant that operated here from September 2005 to November 2010.

In fact, one of Flow's conversations with Dell occurred while his family was on a church mission trip building Habitat for Humanity homes in the Dominican Republic.

"Through this whole process, it was like we were a body," Flow said in December 2004. "Someone was an arm, another person was a leg and we acted together to make things move."

Flow said he's pleased the same thing has happened with the Winston-Salem Open.

Flow believes the chances of the tournament taking root are strong if it draws the local support organizers expect. The ATP requires at least an overall 17,500 attendance.

More than 700 people, representing every age group and socioeconomic background, have volunteered to work at the Open.

"The multiple-year commitments from sponsors help ensure we don't have to chase after money every year," Flow said. "We can instead concentrate on providing the best event for the players, spectators and community.

"Our hope is that future generations will find value in the tournament and run with it."
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