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TO WATCH (Sarasota-Bradenton): Chad Roffers


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  • | 6:00 p.m. May 15, 2008
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ENTREPRENEURS TO WATCH: SARASOTA/BRADENTON

SKY: Sotheby's realty

Chad Roffers

Sensing a bubble burst was a-brewing, Chad Roffers left his lucrative executive job in the technology industry in 2000.

He moved from San Francisco to Sarasota with his wife and decided to seek a new career. He settled on real estate, naturally, he says with a chuckle, knowing he was entering the biggest of bubble-bursting industries.

"I knew it was a traditional and mature industry," says Roffers, the son of a real estate broker who worked in Minnesota and Miami while the younger Roffers was growing up. "It was ready for innovation."

Capitalizing on several of those innovations, Roffers, 36, has built one of the largest luxury-only residential real estate brokerages on the Gulf Coast, using the Sotheby's international brand name. Even more remarkable, the company he co-founded, SKY Sotheby's International Realty, has grown significantly as the real estate market has significantly suffered. The company, of which Roffers is now sole owner, grew 164% in 2007, from $6.76 million in 2006 revenues to $17.87 million in 2007 revenues.

Last year was the first time the company reported a profit, albeit a small one, says Roffers. He expects 2008 to be more profitable.

Says Roffers: "The challenges of the marketplace have been an opportunity for us."

When Roffers first moved to the area, his initial challenge was to simply land a job. And that proved to be a difficult challenge: A hiring manager for Michael Saunders & Co., the real estate power of the area, turned Roffers down for a job after an interview.

Undaunted, Roffers didn't give up. He waited until Saunders' assistants left for the day, past 5 p.m., and called the office. He kept hitting extensions until he reached Michael Saunders herself. "No disrespect," Roffers told Saunders, "but you should have hired me."

So the two met the next day. And Saunders liked the spirit she saw in Roffers, so she immediately hired him. He worked for Saunders until going out on his own in 2004, when he co-founded SKY with Brandyn Herbold, another former Saunders agent.

That wasn't the first time Roffers demonstrated his entrepreneurial instincts. While a college student at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colo., Roffers ran a sometimes-successful credit card business, marketing the cards to other students. And after spending a semester aboard in several countries in a semester-at-sea program, Roffers was hooked on a career in business.

Soon after college, Roffers took a job with U.S. West, the Denver-based telecommunications firm now named Quest. If the job he was to later take with Saunders was his Sarasota real estate 101 class, then consider his U.S. West gig a seven-year long MBA program. In fact, the company actually paid for Roffers to earn his real MBA from the University of Denver.

Roffers worked in sales divisions and operations units and traveled extensively for U.S. West. He later ran the company's venture capital business that sought out startup and entrepreneurial technology companies for funding. In that last assignment, in the late 1990s, he met some of Silicon Valley's master minds, such as the founders of E-bay and Yahoo!

"It really helped make me a well-rounded business person," Roffers says of the U.S. West experience.

Roffers has transferred mini-parcels of his U.S. West experiences to SKY Sotheby's. The most valuable lesson Roffers says he learned from that experience was to never underestimate the importance of having a strong employee culture and a clear vision, no matter the product or service being sold.

And Roffers has spent considerable time implementing those lessons into SKY Sotheby's. He only hires agents that are top sales producers in their respective markets and has methodically gone about setting up a corporate atmosphere, as opposed to more traditional realty firm that is comprised of independent contractors.

"We want to dominate the luxury market," he says. In 10 years, "we still want to be the most sought after firm in town, both in employees and clients."

Entrepreneurial TIP:

Q. What mistake have you learned the most from?

A. "The single greatest mistake was underestimating how challenging four consecutive years of exponential growth can be specifically from the standpoint of managing working capital," Roffers says. "Working capital requirements at growing a business at the pace that we have grown it has been a challenge and certainly something that I never want to go through again. Yet in many respects it's also helped us to stay focused, prioritize and focus our energy and resources on the things that matter most.

BY THE NUMBERS

SKY SOTHEBY'S REALTY

Year Revenue % change

2005: $4.34 million

2006: $6.76 million 56%

2007: $17.87 million 164%

3-year ave. annual: 110%

Employees

2005: 23

2006: 50

2007: 91

2007: 1,200

 

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