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Business Observer Friday, Nov. 22, 2019 2 weeks ago

Prolific builder: Region succeeds because it isn't Miami

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A developer looks back — to the recession, for one, when he had to let go of 85% of the staff — and forward on a host of new projects. Controlled growth is a key component of the business model. .
by: Jay Schlichter Lee-Collier Editor

In the roughly four decades since Fred Pezeshkan relocated from his native Iran to Naples, the developer has been responsible for transforming a significant portion of the city — and Southwest Florida — with innumerable projects. 

Projects range from helping pizza magnate Tom Monaghan build Ave Maria University in the town of the same name in eastern Collier County to redeveloping a large chunk of Fifth Avenue South in downtown Naples with the late Jack Antaramian. Chairman of Summit Management Group, his other noted projects include the Naples Bay Resort and Club. 

Now 71, the developer has no plans to slow down. 

The father of four, instead, is actively pursuing other projects. One example is a large mixed-use project called Metropolitan, planned for the east corner of U.S. 41 and Davis Boulevard in East Naples, with a hotel, condominium and luxury rental residences, retail and office space and a parking garage. The only thing holding up that project is a wireless tower supposed to be relocated soon, he says. 

Another project is a $2.9 million renovation of the Naples Bay Club. The project began in July 2018 and is scheduled to be completed this December, allowing the club to actively seek out new members, Pezeshkan says. The project touched almost every part of the club, including interior and exterior areas, the lobby, fitness center, outdoor bar, and members lounge.

In a recent interview with the Business Observer, Pezeshkan spoke about Southwest Florida, projects and career lessons learned.

What has Naples and Southwest Florida gotten right in development? What can it do better?

Certainly I think environment, water, pollution and red tide is very important. I don’t think we have done enough in that area. That directly impacts this community. We are a community of retirees and a community of hospitality industry. So red tide and the environment is very, very important. We need to make sure that we do that right and take care of it. Otherwise this community is going to get hurt. 

As far as what has been done right, I’ll go back and give a history lesson. In 1979, when I moved to Naples, Pelican Bay was going through zoning. And there was great controversy in the community that people didn’t want Pelican Bay to get approved because everyone was worried that we will be another Miami. I remember people saying, "We don’t want to be Miami." But fast forward 40 years later, Pelican Bay is probably one of the best communities in the state of Florida. It’s beautiful, and it’s matured into a great community.

I look back and say, no, … we are not Miami or Fort Lauderdale. We wanted to be in the early '80s, we wanted to be Palm Beach or Boca Raton but not Miami. I say we are better. We are not Palm Beach. We are not Boca Raton. We are Naples, Fla. 

If you look at all the statistics, we show up in the top two or three lists. You don’t see Palm Beach, Boca Raton or Fort Lauderdale.

So we shouldn’t worry about, do we want to be Miami? No. Do we want to be Fort Lauderdale or Palm Beach? No, we are Naples. We want to stay Naples. What we have done in the past 40 to 50 years, it has made this town a beautiful place to live. 

 

What are some of the changes you see/projects coming to Naples in the next five years?

When you look west of U.S. 41, there’s very little land left for development. So naturally, the growth of this town is going to be to the east. Going east from here to Ave Maria. That’s the future growth of this town. You have seen a number of projects on the planning board. 

If there’s growth in [downtown Naples], it’s redevelopment. Tearing down buildings and putting up new buildings. The growth of this community is going to be east of Interstate 75, from there to Immokalee. 

I built Ave Maria University. And when I went out there in 2005 with [Tom] Monaghan to look at the site, it was farmland. There was nothing. I was saying to myself, "Which kid wants to come out here for college?"

Now, fast forward 20 years later, there’s 2,000 homes built out there, plus there’s the university. It’s beautiful out there.

 

What are some of the best decisions you've made in hiring people? 

You always look to hire good people, people who work hard and people who are loyal. Loyalty is very important to me. So you hire people who are loyal to you and who are dedicated. And of course loyalty comes with your duty that you have to take care of your employees. You treat them fair. You pay them well and provide to them for all their needs.

It’s a two-way road. Because at the end of the day, people who are what will make your company or break it. It’s not the name or what you have to sell, it’s the people who sell it. It’s the people who make it happen. I’m very sensitive to that issue.

Photo by Stefania Pifferi. Fred Pezeshkan says Naples has done a good job not being Miami.

 

What project are you most proud of? Why?

I’m very proud of what we have done here (the Naples Bay Resort and Club). It’s right in downtown Naples. It’s a mixed use project. It has a marina. It has shops. It has hotel. It has residences. It has a clubhouse. It’s a mixture of all of those projects. 

But naturally, over the years I’ve been here, 40 years, we have built many projects. I’m proud of all the schools we have built, all the government buildings, the courthouses, the jail we have built, Florida Gulf Coast University. So I’ve been here and being in the business that I was, with construction, we built a lot of prominent buildings in town. 

 

What business lesson have you learned that you still use today in life and work?

The lesson I’ve learned [are to] work hard, keep your head down and do what you say you’re going to do. Practice what you preach.

 

What about lessons from the downturn a decade ago?

Well, 2008 was a very difficult time. We had a company which had over 1,000 employees, and we went down to maybe 150. The hardest thing for me was to see those people who had been with the company for many years, we had to let them go. That was very difficult.

The lesson you learn is growth is very good but controlled growth is very important. Not leveraging yourself is very important. If you look back at what happened in 2008, people who were leveraged financially, they were able to stand up to the wind and able to come out of it.

Be patient, and don’t grow too fast.

 

What are the characteristics of a good leader?

A good leader is someone who can bring the best out of people. You have to be able to understand and get to know your people, and everyone is different. Everyone’s personality and character is different. 

 

What’s your leadership style?

Collaboration. Teamwork and collaboration. Get people to buy into you and buy into your views. Rather than pushing it down. If you can get people to see your views. Communication is very important.

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