In business or on the water, entrepreneur and provocative powerboat champion Dave Branch is flying high
Dave Branch has been making waves his entire life.
Today, he’s making a big splash in the private equity world with Viper Equity Partners, a leading consultation firm for the medical industry. The company has closed more than $2 billion in deals and built up a 97-percent closing rate, scooping up accolades in the process. He has achieved it through the relentless drive he has brought to all of his endeavors, whether dressed in cuff links or swim trunks.
It started when he was a child, splitting his formative years between Delray Beach and the Bahamas, where his father was a builder, and where he describes himself as a “total hell-raiser.” He took up surfing, and by 13 he was riding waves professionally. That was his life for five years.
Branch once drove a pickup truck, with a surfboard, a Rottweiler in the backseat, and a mattress on the truck bed, from Maine to Key West, sleeping in his car and hitting every major surf spot along the way. “I’d pick up extra money by cleaning restaurants or bars at night for a case of beer and 50 bucks,” he recalls. “I’d get to the next town, and if they had good surf I’d stay for a month.”
Following his tenure as a surfer, Branch attended Loyola University in New Orleans, where he took a shine to Cajun cuisine—bartending on Bourbon Street and cooking crawfish for wealthy patrons to help pay for college. One client, Popeye’s Fried Chicken owner Al Copeland, invited Branch to join him on a powerboat race in which Copeland was competing. As Branch remembers it, “these 50 powerboats came into the first turn at 100-plus miles per hour, and I said, ‘that’s me.’ I’m going to do that, whatever it takes. So once I got the means to do that, in 1994, I started my own team, and the rest is history.”
History, indeed: Branch and his Love Muscle Racing team—his boat’s symbol was an image of a tongue licking its lips—have been enshrined in the American Powerboat Association Hall of Fame, on the strength of 11 national championships, three world titles and 73 checkered flags. “We went on to be the winningest team in the history of the sport,” he says.
With the glory came injury, even near-death. “I broke my neck twice. I broke every bone in my body. I did it for 25 years—you’re not exactly sitting on the couch,” he says. Once, when he took a turn too fast, the boat capsized and ruptured its oxygen tanks, leaving Branch drowning at the bottom of the ocean until rescue divers cracked through the boat’s roof and pulled him out. “All I remember is waking up to the sound of helicopters hovering over me,” he says.
“It’s like anything in any sport—there’s a line. Surfing was the same. If you’re going to pick a wave that’s going to come in close to the ocean, and there’s coral there, and you fall and you hit that coral, you’re dead. If you’re going to fly a motocross bike excessively high, and you lose control of that, you end up in a wheelchair or worse. You’re always very aware of where the line is.”
Offshore, Branch cultivated a notorious brand, marketing himself as Diamond Dave, a heavily tattooed hair-metal hedonist, and hosting macho festivals in Sarasota and Miami. On some years, caged exotic dancers performed.
“I love women. I love rock ’n’ roll, and everything about the wild side of life,” he told a Sarasota reporter in 2013. (To me, he said, “I don’t want it to sound off-color, but I’ve always appreciated the finer things in life.”)
And yet Branch can also claim the mantle of family man. He’s been married for 33 years to his college sweetheart, has raised two adult children, and owns four dogs. His lucrative business career has long run parallel to his sporting life. Prior to starting Viper, he founded Horizon Sarasota LLC, a pioneering chain of MRI centers, and expanded it from one location to 75 in the Southeast U.S., before selling the company.
He retired from powerboat racing in 2015, which coincided with a move back to Palm Beach and the formation of Viper, which connects financial partners with medical providers in the fields of dentistry, dermatology and plastic surgery. Now 58, he is a particularly outspoken advocate for the latter.
“I’ve had plastic surgery, so I could really understand it,” he says. “People need to realize, it isn’t what it was 20 years ago. You’re probably going to live to your 80s and 90s. We all start going downhill at 50. Simple things like Botox, injectibles, can make yourself feel better.”
One thing connects his dual careers of businessman and sportsman. He named his firm “Viper” after the fastest striking snake in the world, a reflection of his longtime motto, “one life, one speed.”
“It’s all over everything I have,” Branch says. “Except if I’m making a pot of gumbo. … It’s the only thing I don’t really attack.”
Over the past year, Branch was recognized by these organizations for his work with Viper Equity Partners:
BEST OF 2020 in Investment Banking by the Miami Beach Award Program
TOP 100 in Finance by Top 100 magazine
ONE OF 2020’S TOP 100 Global Leaders in Finance at the Global Conference on Insurance & Finance