Probably the hardest decision in a young person’s life is to decide what he or she wants to do in life to make a living. More importantly it has to make you happy. For me I decided as a late teenager I wanted to be an airline pilot. I had just taken my first flight at age 17. Back in the day I attacked the goal with a solid plan. I enrolled in Miami-Dade JC in their two year “professional pilot” program. Word had it the airlines were short on pilots. I flew in the morning and went to academics during the afternoon.
When I graduated with a two-year degree and my commercial pilot’s license, I presented myself to the airlines for hiring. Things had tightened up and the airlines were only hiring military pilots. To be a military pilot, you had to be an officer and to be an officer you had to be a college grad (4-year degree). Off I went to FAU to become a college grad. I was so motivated that I graduate cum laude (5th in my class) with a BS degree in Management Science and a minor in Finance.
I joined the Air Force, was selected as a pilot trainee and went to flight school for a year. What a fantastic adventure it was. After graduation I was stationed at Wright Patterson Air Force Base (in Dayton, Ohio where ironically, I was born) assigned to fly the iconic B-52 nuclear bomber. After a 4-year stint in the military and a very high security clearance I resigned my commission and was released back into the private sector. Here comes that fork in the road.
Fork in the Road– To my chagrin when I got out of the service with a baby daughter and wife in tow, I learned that not only were the airlines not hiring, there were 850 airline pilots furloughed- about a three-year supply. My friends owned a restaurant and trained me to bartend at night while I sold real estate during the day. Times were tough as we were in a recession. One of my nightly clients was a lawyer for a smart young up and coming real estate developer name Gerry Holland-Holland Builders. He was looking for a right-hand guy to assist with his growing business.
I took the job and was immediately thrown into every type of development there was, townhomes, single family, shopping centers, office and warehouse, rental apartments, big box retail, you name it. For the next three years I was a sponge and took on every job that needed doing. My military discipline helped immensely. Then came the airline parade of job offers. I was happy and the company had purchased a twin-engine airplane.
I loved the ever-changing landscape of the real estate development field. It was time to choose which fork in the road to take; the high paying future of a fairly boring flying job or the unlimited prospects and never boring world of real estate development. It was not easy because my lifetime goal was just in my grasp, yet I had found a new lover in real estate. For me, looking back, I chose correctly. An unexpected fork in the road coming out of nowhere. Talk about fate.
Beyond expectations– Today planes fly themselves with very little pilot input, but as a 45-year veteran in the real estate business my stock goes up everytime I start or finish a new project. Each project is different, fun and more challenging than last one. Most are great, but some are less great. As an airline pilot I would have been retired now by FAA regulations because of age. In real estate you can almost go until your dying breath.
I have had great mentors and partners like Allen Weingarten, Bob Kennedy and Gerry Holland. I have a huge contacts list and I speak to hundreds of people every week, most of which have become friends. In addition, I have been an integral part of thousands of homes, hundreds of thousand square feet of industrial, retail, office and mixed-use projects. I have built, financed and managed hundreds of rental apartments and developed many subdivisions from scratch.
I have built all over Florida and some building in Western North Carolina as well. I have worked with famous interior designers and architects from all parts of this country and call many my friends. The two greatest aspects of this business are that you never know where the next opportunity will come from and the longer you work in real estate the more experienced and valuable you are to your team. I certainly picked the right fork.
Stephen Gravett has been a real estate developer for over 45 years and was most recently CEO of Kennedy Homes for the past 11 years and is still CEO of Kennedy Development Partners (KDP) and full time Director of Operations for 5 Star Developers. He is also a state licensed broker and since 1980 a State licensed General Contractor Unlimited. He flew B-52’s in the US Air Force during the Vietnam war.