The Robbins brothers had some nasty competitions back in their younger days — especially playing basketball on the family driveway in Sarasota.
There might’ve even been some blood shed, says the second-oldest brother, Troy Robbins. But at work, where four Robbins brothers hold a variety of roles at Sarasota-based commercial and residential real estate brokerage Harry E. Robbins Associates, it’s rarely a cutthroat competition. “There’s no one I’d rather see succeed than my brothers,” says Robbins.
Behind that kind of push-each-other-to-be-better mantra, the Robbins brothers — Kevin, Troy, Derek and Emerson — now move into the next phase of the company, one of the most established commercial real estate firms in the Sarasota-Bradenton market. Harry Robbins, who moved to Sarasota in 1952 with his wife, Lois, founded the firm in 1971. Their son Loyd Robbins joined the company as a sales associate in 1973. Both father and son served as president of the board of Realtors and both were involved in some of the community’s largest and most notable deals over the next several decades.
Earlier this year Loyd Robbins and his four sons moved forward on a transition plan, with father giving way to the third generation. Kevin, 40, has been with the company since 20002 and is president of Robbins Commercial; Troy, 36, joined the company officially in 2006 and is broker and COO; Derek, 33, joined as a sales agent in 2017; and Emerson, 24 joined as a sales associate in 2021 and handles video and social media marketing.
Loyd Robbins says he initially thought his sons would inherit the company after he died. But in early 2023 Kevin came to him and said he and his siblings sought an opportunity to make their mark. Loyd, 68, says he wasn’t ready to retire but he also wanted to do right by the next generation and step out of the way. So a transition plan — while Loyd remains healthy and eager to work — was hatched. Loyd has since launched a new real estate venture, Loyd Robbins & Co.
Loyd says he and his sons parted ways on the business with relationships fully intact; they talk regularly and Kevin and Loyd were recently on a Zoom call chatting about a deal with their clients. “Everyone wants to know if there was a fight or something,” Loyd says, emphasizing, as the sons do, that there wasn’t.
In a wide-ranging discussion soon after the transition, the next generation of Robbins leaders talked about their strategy going forward, how they work together and navigating the topsy-turvy market. Edited excerpts:
All the sons nod in unison about the well-known challenges the third generation of a family business faces to not only maintain, but grow the enterprise. “We take this responsibility seriously,” Kevin says. “We know the blood, sweat and tears our grandparents and our father put into this business, and we don’t take that for granted. Our grandmother Lois worked (helping with bookkeeping) up until about six months ago — and she was 90.”
The Robbins brothers — Emerson, adopted from Haiti, came into the family when the other three were older — are close and, they say, for the most part they avoid sibling rivalry disputes. “We are all really unique and we all really play to each other’s strengths,” says Kevin. Echoing Troy, he adds: “I don’t want to go out on my own and be successful without my brothers.”
The brothers cross paths often on deals and clients, but each also has a defined role. Kevin is the commercial real estate rainmaker, having brokered deals, like his father and grandfather, on some notable properties, such as the Bath & Racquet Club and One Main Plaza in Sarasota. Troy, meanwhile, handles operations and orchestrates the day-to-day flow of the company, which has 27 employees. That fits, considering Troy was also an assistant basketball coach at Riverview High School in Sarasota for 16 years. “I try to talk to everyone who works in this office for at least five minutes every day,” Troy says.
The Robbins’ say one important lesson they learned from their dad was to build relationships, not chase dollars and deals. “He always told us the deals will come,” Kevin says, if you can build problem-solving relationships for clients. “We had the best mentor,” he adds. “I’ll put my dad up against anybody.”
Another key lesson? Dream big. For example, the company is making its way into the St. Pete market, new territory for the firm after decades of focusing on Sarasota and Bradenton. It’s currently listing a building in downtown St. Pete, on Central Avenue, for $9.5 million. “We learned that setting lofty goals beyond your imagination is really important,” Kevin says.
Stick it out
Beyond family, another theme of the company is persistence. Each brother has stories about deals nearly being derailed and other snafus. Troy, for one, recalls receiving dozens of rejections on cold calls for office condo leases in his first year on the job. “I think I met with 60 landlords that year and didn’t get any business,” he says. Within a few years he was booking some 200 office leases.
Even as they are in their prime, or just getting to their prime, the brothers keep an eye on the future. They have eight young kids and teenagers between them, and are beginning to think about who might follow them. “We are tasked with getting this business ready for the next generation,” Kevin says.
Mark Gordon is the managing editor of the Business Observer. He has worked for the Business Observer since 2005. He previously worked for newspapers and magazines in upstate New York, suburban Philadelphia and Jacksonville.