Stirring steps help Tampa's Franklin Street succeed in a shaken market

Andrew Wright, 30, is CEO of Franklin Street. He started the commercial real estate services firm in Tampa in 2006. It now has more than 200 employees and earned more than $2 million in 2010.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

Andrew Wright, 30, is CEO of Franklin Street. He started the commercial real estate services firm in Tampa in 2006. It now has more than 200 employees and earned more than $2 million in 2010.

Andrew Wright couldn't sit still in 2006.

The ambitious commercial real estate broker wanted to start his own firm just four years removed from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. But he didn't have the cash — or the experience.

But the 25-year-old borrowed $30,000 from a client and wrote a business plan while away from his day job at Marcus & Millichap.

Working from a two-bedroom apartment in Tampa, Wright founded Franklin Street Financial Partners, which handles commercial property insurance, property management, brokerage, loan modifications and capital asset services. Business took off amid the worst real estate market since the Great Depression. He repaid the $30,000 loan in 45 days.

When founding the company, Wright, now 30, knew he needed industry veterans on board to collaborate with other young professionals. He credits that with making the company successful today.

The company, renamed Franklin Street, has never lost money. It broke even in 2008 and earned more than $2 million in 2010. It has grown to 216 employees and moved into new offices last summer in the Westshore 500 building in Tampa.

Wright, CEO and managing partner, oversees offices in Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville and Atlanta. The married father of two young daughters often uses sports analogies and quotes from Warren Buffett to discuss his business and management philosophies.

As in 2006, Wright admits he still can't sit still. He envisions slowly expanding Franklin Street across the Southeast and then, one day, across the country.

Did people dissuade you from starting a company at a young age?

I heard a myriad of reasons why it would fail: bad market, not old enough and too competitive of a field. There are always times when people tell why you can't do it. That's the easy part of it. If I would have listened, we would never be here today.

How did the new company survive the Great Recession?

It starts with our culture. We have a high standard of ethics and a client-centric focus. In adversity, we have shown our colors and have created some deep-rooted relationships. … Our goal is to set the standard in every line of business that we're in.

Was it difficult to recruit seasoned veterans to a startup?

It was very hard. Just hiring the first person who shows up isn't good. You need a blend. That blend of older and younger is powerful. At the time, everybody was making money everywhere. It has gotten easier. How do you get someone to leave something good they have going?

We offered people a chance to take a shot at swinging at the fences. I looked for A-type people. People willing to take a chance. If you're good at what you do, then you have options.

Warren Buffett said in a March 2008 interview: "The best commodity you can have in a down environment is your own talent."

What has been the most challenging?

The most difficult challenge is the emotional roller coaster of the business. It was a tough year in 2008. We can empathize with what our customers went through. We could have just closed the doors. It was a much harder decision. I don't want to say it's over because it's not. A lot of people need leadership. We found that at our darkest times. Adversity is always the best test of character. We were to the edge of the cliff. We looked over it, but we decided to keep pushing.

What motivates you?

It really is the people. I feed off them the same way they feed off me. I can't tell you how powerful it is to speak in front of 160 people at our annual company meetings. People are passionate and driven by our business.

Why hasn't the company distributed profits to its partners?

Every year we have reinvested profits back into the company. … We might at the appropriate time. A lot of people want to build something. Where else would I put that money, even if I invest it? We believe we have the best opportunity and most upside. Every dollar gets reinvested in the company, because I believe in what we do. Today, over 200 families are impacted by our growth and operation. That means more to me than anything. … We believe we have a long way to go, and that costs money. I'd like to be a national brand in five years.

What do you see for the commercial real estate industry in 2011?

It's going to continue to be challenging. You'll see rents fall and occupancies will stay pretty strong. Values on retail and commercial properties will fall. There will be a lot of properties for sale. This is a double correction. You will see a very elongated recovery process. Multifamily will continue to be white hot. Office and retail is about 12 months behind it. We have a better picture today than two or three years ago.

What about Franklin Street in 2011?

Our business will have our best year ever. We will open at least one more office, and we are looking at three different markets to enter. We will try to break out of the Southeast this year. We'll continue to hire people. Hiring and reinvestment will all go up.

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8459.

Stirring steps help Tampa's Franklin Street succeed in a shaken market 01/29/11 [Last modified: Saturday, January 29, 2011 3:31am]

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