September 9, 2010
By SHERYL JEAN /
The Dallas Morning News
Johnny de la Valdene is an entrepreneur in the truest sense: He has never worked for anyone else.
He also gets to wear shorts to work and play with toys.
De la Valdene, 43, has started dozens of companies – from gyms to tanning salons to juice bars. Now, he's actively involved in toy guns that shoot marshmallows (Marshmallow Fun Co.), board games (Chillin' Games), television shows and movies (Big Headz Entertainment) and a relaxation drink (ViB Holdings).
His companies combined employ fewer than 20 people, but that figure grows to about 400 during TV or film production.
The Florida native came to Dallas in the late 1980s to attend Southern Methodist University. As a college freshman, he started his first two companies – a water ski school on Lake Ray Hubbard and a limo service (his father had to provide the insurance).
De la Valdene comes from a wealthy, prestigious family linked to Winston Churchill. His grandfather was a French count and a flying ace in both world wars and his great-great-grandfather was a business partner of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. A trust fund kept him from having to work in college, funded his early ideas and gave him an extra degree of comfort in taking risks.
"I'm lucky," said de la Valdene, who doesn't pay himself a salary. "I know if something happened, I wouldn't be out on the street."
De la Valdene doesn't take his upbringing for granted, said lunch buddy Ed Coppola, president of shopping mall company Macerich Co. "He still has the desire to make a difference and ... give back to society," he said. "He has an incredible amount of energy that goes into creative thought."
The name of the game is perseverance.
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