Keeping It Simple

Tom Benson’s office provides a glimpse into the man behind the mega empire.
A wall of photos of friends and family has a place of honor in Benson’s office. More photos are displayed on the wall-to-wall cabinet under the large windows that overlook the parking lot in the front of the building. Comfortable leather couches flank the coffee table that always accommodates a large glass plate of chocolate kisses, Benson’s favorite treat.

Tom Benson surrounds himself with what he loves: football, basketball, philanthropy, and being a successful businessman. His new office and adjoining conference room at the Saints and Pelicans’ compound on Airline Drive tells the story.

With walls and shelves covered with sports memorabilia, photos of friends and family, and even some indication of his vast business empire, Benson greets guests with a firm handshake and the friendliness of a favorite visiting uncle.

“Come in and have a seat,” he says as he motions to the comfortable seating at one end of his vast office overlooking the Saints practice field on one side and the parking lot on the other.

Make no mistake; this is a man that wants to see what’s going on.

Benson likes to feel the action of the cherished National Football League’s (NFL) Saints Football Team that he acquired from John Mecom, the original owner, in 1985. In April 2012, he added the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Pelicans Basketball Team to his sports empire.

The only billionaire in Louisiana, according to Forbes Magazine, Benson is a man on a mission. Forget that he turned 87 years old in July, Benson fields questions with the speed of a man half his age.

“This is much bigger than my last office,” he says, noting that Mickey Loomis, the Saints and Pelicans president and general manager, now occupies his old office following a building remodel last year. “I like that it has lots of windows and room to keep my collection of things nearby that remind me of my favorite memories.”

Saints “eye candy” is everywhere, including a number of items from the Super Bowl XLIV on Sunday, February 7, 2010, when the team defeated the Indianapolis Colts in Miami to take away the top prize for the 2009 football season.

Nearby, there is a fair showing of Pelicans memorabilia – the Pelicans headquarters is across the parking garage in a separate building – along with enough family photographs to make a genealogist happy. A proud Louisiana native, Benson has surrounded himself with what he loves.

Credit for the handsome office goes to Benson’s talented wife, Gayle, also a native of Louisiana, who had a long and successful career as an interior designer before she met and married him in 2004.

“Tom wanted an atmosphere that would be masculine, business-like, yet relaxing and even ‘homey,” Gayle says of the inspiration behind her work. “He enjoys being surrounded by comfortable seating and he always likes to keep happy memories of his life nearby.”

The Bensons have homes in New Orleans and San Antonio, a ranch in the Texas Hill Country, and a super yacht they use for quiet vacations away from their fast-paced city life.  

A veteran of the U.S. Navy and a graduate of Loyola University in New Orleans with a degree in accounting, Benson began his career as a car salesman at Cathey Chevrolet in New Orleans.

The natural born salesman moved to San Antonio in 1956 to revive a poorly performing dealership. Eight years later, he became the full owner of Tom Benson Chevrolet.

Some would say that he has been a top salesman ever since, starting by investing profits from his automobile dealership in local banks to form Benson Financial.

Today Benson’s empire includes New Orleans television station WVUE-Fox8News, auto dealerships in New Orleans and San Antonio, banks, real estate, including the Superdome’s neighbor – the Benson Tower – and, of course, ownership of the Saints and Pelicans.

Under the auspices of the Tom and Gayle Benson Charitable Foundation, the couple’s philanthropic endeavors have had a broad reach, including $8 million to Loyola University and $10 million donated to Tulane University toward the construction of Yulman Stadium.

There is also the Gayle and Tom Benson Cancer Center on the Ochsner Medical Center campus, created with another multi-million dollar grant from the foundation, that houses all of the cancer-related services a patient might need. Many other donations in Louisiana and Texas have been recorded by the foundation, including one for $7 million to the Notre Dame Seminary on Carrollton Avenue that was matched by other donors to make a gift totaling $25 million.

One wall in the conference room attached to his office is devoted to these philanthropic activities. One especially treasured photo shows him and Gayle with Pope St. John Paul II, taken when they met with him for a private audience in the Vatican.

A second wall in the conference room features many signed photographs of Benson’s favorite Texas politicians who have occupied the White House, including George H.W. Bush, the 41st U.S. president, and his son George Walker Bush, who served as the 43rd president.

“I have been close personal friends with both of them and I am honored to have several photographs of them right here,” he says. He also displays several framed Christmas cards from the White House.

Benson’s office and conference room both open onto a broad porch that overlooks the Saints practice field. The porch provides him with a bird’s-eye view of the team.

“It’s a perfect viewing stand,” he says with a smile.

Yes, there is definitely something “homey” about Benson’s workspace, where his favorite silver wrapped chocolate kisses fill the bowl on the coffee table between a pair of comfy couches.

The office is the perfect blend of relaxed style and a celebration of good times and family, mixed with a definite focus on the task at hand.

It’s no wonder he’s considered New Orleans royalty.




Categories: The Magazine