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Commercial Real Estate
Business Observer Friday, Jun. 5, 2020 4 months ago

Ian Black goes old school

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Sarasota real estate brokerage has carved out a niche with seasoned professionals.
by: Kevin McQuaid Commercial Real Estate Editor

At a time when commercial real estate brokerages are increasingly working to recruit the next — read: younger — generation of talent, a Sarasota-based firm is taking the opposite tack by bringing on a collection of seasoned professionals.

Ian Black Real Estate has added a handful of older agents over the past three years to fill specific roles. Most recently, the firm supplemented its roster with Steven Larkin, a former Payless ShoeSource Inc. and Detwiler’s Farm Market real estate executive, to expand Ian Black’s retail coverage and services.

“It’s not by design, I’d say, but we are very selective in who we take on,” says Ian Black, the firm’s founder and one of six partners at the brokerage. “Mainly, we’re opportunistic. We look for people who can help us to fill specific roles, people who can provide a depth of experience.”

COURTESY PHOTO -- Steven Larkin joined Ian Black Real Estate, of Sarasota, after working for Payless ShoeSource and Detwiler's Farm Market.

In the case of Larkin, Black says he met him when he worked at Sarasota-based Detwiler’s and became impressed with his work ethic. Black was even more impressed when Larkin proactively and voluntarily decided to leave the boutique, family-owned grocery chain after the Detwiler’s shelved further expansion plans in the wake of a two-year growth spurt.

Larkin, for his part, says he was drawn to Ian Black’s collaborative culture and by Black’s “inspirational” leadership in Sarasota.

“I’m a team guy all the way,” says Larkin, 61. “My whole 40-year career has been about developing real estate through or with a team. And Ian’s shop is highly collaborative, which I thrive on. They share information. They work in teams, which I find very appealing. That way, the whole team is elevated.”

That same philosophy went into Ian Black’s decision to add George Brusco, a Casto Southeast Realty Services’ vice president who had been with the developer for two decades; Tom Danahy, who had spent decades working in top executive roles for the 18,000-acre Babcock Ranch developer Kitson & Partners and Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc., the developer behind the 31,000-acre Lakewood Ranch; Stonewood Grill & Tavern founder and former Outback Steakhouse executive Doug Sullivan; and Linda Emory, a retail brokerage veteran once with SVN and others, in Sarasota, among others.

Black says the firm has added neophytes and remains open to doing so in the future, but only if they can be paired up with one of the more seasoned agents.

And he adds that although the age of many of its agents wasn’t by design, the firm — with six partners and 10 agents — is intentionally different structurally than most brokerage operations, where individuals are often encouraged to work in silos and keep market or client intelligence to themselves.

“Look, we’re not proselytizing, we just operate in a more transparent fashion,” Black says. “We encourage conversations between agents in the office, we’ve worked that into our philosophy, and we recognize that that’s different than the way many other houses do things.

“But we think it’s good for everybody. For instance, every week we have a sales meeting. I don’t require anything else from the agents here except that they attend that meeting every week because a lot of deals either originate there or get worked out there. It allows us to better keep in touch with the overall market that way.”

He notes, too, that the firm’s structure allows for advancement in a way many brokerages do not.

“There’s a way to the top here,” Black says. “We have five partners besides myself now, and there are no secrets among us. It’s how a lot of deals get done. We’re not right every time with the people we bring on board, and I’ve heard that we’ve been described as rather cliquish, but I’m fine with that. I’d rather have that than an alternative. The bigger challenge, as I see it, is can we retain our collegiality as we grow and get bigger?”

As for Larkin, he’s focusing his efforts on a pair of Sarasota shopping centers, which investor clients of his purchased with turnarounds in mind. One, a 75,000-square-foot center, is in the midst of a three-year plan to add new merchants.

He also plans to help his former employer, Detwiler’s, when the chain decides to expand again.

“They’re on target for further growth in 2021, and when they are, I’ll be there for them, just working from the outside.”

And despite the flurry of retail closings and bankruptcies brought on by COVID-19, Larkin remains firm in his belief that the Gulf Coast is a solid place for bricks-and-mortar retail.

“The current economic challenges are a little ditch in the road,” Larkin says. “Florida is still a geography where investors want to be, and as always, the merchants who can provide excellent, creative customer service will excel.”

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