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Business Observer Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022 5 months ago

Ownership change at major real estate company

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LSI Cos.' founder Randy Thibaut has stepped aside, son Justin has taken over
by: Louis Llovio Commercial Real Estate Editor

FORT MYERS — LSI Cos., one of the area’s most prominent commercial real estate companies, has new ownership. But the new boss’ name is a familiar one.

Justin Thibaut has taken over the company from his father Randy, who started the business in early 2000. The 34-year-old became president and CEO Jan. 3, in what the company calls an “undisclosed buyout.”

The move was the culmination of a succession plan in place for five years and that, the Thibauts say, positions the company to move forward.

“I would say, initially, when the time came for that decision to be made, it was an emotional time because this has been my baby for 20 years,” Randy, 59, says. “But when I realized that the best thing that could ever happen was that my son could take this over and make it go on for the next many decades ahead, it became very easy.”

Randy will stay with the company as a broker and he will focus on his own investments, including developing Sage Community, the first of several age-restricted rental communities he’s planning.

He says there is plenty to keep him busy and the plan has been in place for some time, so stepping aside from leading the company he founded wasn’t that difficult. “With the amount of work I have now, it was an easy decision.”

Randy Thibaut started the company in 2000 and built it into the powerhouse it is today, a company with three divisions specializing in all aspects of property development and brokerage.

But until about six years ago, he was running it without Justin.

Justin, who graduated from the University of Florida, went off on his own and had a career in the nuclear power and petroleum industries. He worked in project engineering, construction and business management on projects ranging from between $500 million and $1 billion, according to LSI.

“When I started the company, I always hoped that someday I would be able to work with my son. But I never thought that was going to happen. He went off and became a successful businessman on his own,” Randy says.

“But it was such a great surprise when, about six years ago, he shows up and says, ‘Hey, I really want to make my home Fort Myers and I would really like to join your company and make this my own.’ That was just a great, great thing to experience.”

Justin joined LSI in 2016 as the company’s director of sales and was named COO in 2019. He became president and partner last year.

He doesn’t plan to do much differently, instead focusing on building on the foundation Randy laid. He’ll work on expanding the sales team and further expanding LSI’s footprint, moves he will be deliberate about.

Randy turned to Denise Federer with Federer Performance Management Group to discuss the succession plan after reading a column she wrote in the Business Observer. Federer is a Tampa area leadership coach who works on family business succession planning, among other issues. 

He says working with her on a plan meant they were able to focus on the business while maintaining a bond as father and son — never a given in family-owned businesses.

“Aside from finances and operations, there’s an emotional and behavioral commitment to the succession process,” Federer says in a statement provided by LSI. “For Randy, it was about letting go with the understanding that Justin was ready and very capable. They had to mold their vision for the future of LSI and their own roles within the company and as family.”

Randy says for a succession plan to work you must be honest about each other's strengths and weaknesses and be able to meld them in order to focus on a single — often difficult and complicated — mission.

Justin, who calls his dad Randy, agrees.

When he first came to LSI from the corporate world, he saw himself as a formidable businessman. But as he began digging into all it took to run a company, he realized the unknowns far outweighed the knowns. For Justin, then, the most important part of the succession plan was making sure he learned from Randy. "There’s a lot more to it than appears on the surface," he says.

One lesson he’s learned from his father is “two ears, one mouth.” This means you have to listen, to hear what others are saying. From that, you gather information and learn what clients and others are looking for.

Another lesson is the company’s motto: “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.”

“Personality differences will always exist,” Justin says, “especially between a father and son. But I think we’ve done a good job of focusing on the goal at hand and putting aside anything else to make sure we do what we need to do. That’s what’s made this a successful transition in my mind.”

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