R. Donahue Peebles, one of the wealthiest African Americans in the country with an estimated net worth of more than $700 million, has been confirmed to speak at Black Enterprise’s 2015 Entrepreneurs Summit, May 13–16, at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta.
The real estate guru’s estimated $4 billion, 6-million-square-foot portfolio includes developments of luxury hotels and commercial properties in New York, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Miami Beach, and the Florida Keys. Earlier this year, Peebles Corp., No. 46 on Black Enterprise’s 2014 Industrial/Service list with $82.5 million in revenue, announced its second-largest deal in the company’s history after securing a bid for a $300 million Boston contract to build a retail area, hotel, and condos.
Pushing forward, Peebles’s goals are based in the denial of limitations. “American society imposes significant impediments and limitations on opportunities to us as black Americans in this country, and we just can’t accept those,” says the 55-year-old. “We must have the mindset first that there are no limitations and that we’re not going to allow anybody to limit us or impede our ability. Then, we can use that sense of focus and determination to guide us.”
Peebles’s business outlook may be influenced by his maternal grandfather, a single father who raised five daughters and worked as a doorman for more than 40 years. The exemplary patriarch instilled in his daughters an unyielding work ethic and drive that have guided the success of Peebles Corp. “My mother and aunts came of age during the civil rights movement. I was born during that movement. So I approached life and business with the mindset that there were no limitations to what I accomplished other than what I imposed,” he says. “I’ve carried that with me throughout my business career and life.”
It’s Peebles’s early foray into politics that helped guide his business ascendance. As a high school student, he served as a Capitol Hill page, legislative intern, and staff aid. Entering the world of real estate when he created Peebles Corp. at age 23, Peebles was appointed to Washington, D.C.’s Board of Real Property Assessments and Appeals.
Earning more than $300,000 in his 20s, he went on to host top fundraisers for politicians before launching his career as a developer. He is credited with revitalizing the economic development of the District’s Anacostia section.
In 1990 Peebles created the RDP Assessment Appeals Services, a tax assessment appeals firm that represented a multitude of high-profile companies such as Bell Atlantic and Maryland National Bank.
In 1996, Peebles ventured into the Miami market, where he redeveloped the 420-room oceanfront Royal Palm, becoming the first African American to own a luxury hotel—the second-largest in Miami Beach.
His company is now working on the residences at the Bath Club, a new property slated for a 2016 opening to house luxury apartments; however, he continually keeps a hand in the political world by currently serving as vice chairman of the Board of the Congressional Black Caucus and as a member of President Barack Obama’s National Finance Committee. Running for office as a followup to his 2009 bid for mayor of Washington, D.C. may be in his future.
“I think at some point I would,” he says of a second run, after dropping out in 2009 because of his mother-in-law’s illness. “I think it’s important that those of us who have some success in business take that success and apply it to politics, to where we can use that experience and knowledge to be economically transformative in a bigger way.”
Sharing his experience and knowledge in two books, The Peebles Principles: Tales and Tactics from an Entrepreneur’s Life of Winning Deals, Succeeding in Business and Creating a Fortune from Scratch (2007), and The Peebles Path to Real Estate Wealth: How to Make Money in Any Market (2008), Peebles provides inspirational advice that speaks to all. “Entrepreneurs are developed and created, and they evolve. I was one of those who evolved and was created,” says the genius, who attended Rutgers University for just one year. “It’s not that you’re born with it,” says Peebles, alluding to a gift for entrpreneurship. “The fact is we can make ourselves into entrepreneurs.”
Peebles’ Tips for Small Business Entrepreneurs
1. Seek your passion. “A young entrepreneur should combine passion and capability. They should look at what their passion is and what they can be best at and combine those two for a business focus. Then they should go out and look for opportunities,” Pebbles says. “And don’t expect them to be easy. Be willing to put yourself in harm’s way. Be willing to fail. Be willing to have setbacks. They should settle in their minds what their passion is in their hearts, and what they’re good at. And then develop the skill set to be the best at it and be willing to engage. Don’t be afraid to take a shot.”
2. Get started. “Find a deal,” he adds. “If you want to go into development or investing and have a small amount of capital, go buy a house that you can renovate— maybe buy a foreclosure or an estate property or some distressed property that you can go in, renovate, resell, and make money.”
He also suggests buying a small rental property, upgrading it, maintaining it, and renting it. “Have some cash,” he continues, “But get out there and do a deal. I failed twice on development deals before I got the first one. I tried to get two deals and couldn’t get them fully done and closed, but I kept trying. The main thing is to get out there and get in the mix and be engaged.”
3. Research and focus on scaling your efforts to reach a goal. He encourages budding real-estate moguls to read as much as they can about the area they want to get into. “Be focused on achieving that goal. … I couldn’t dream of doing a $350 million development deal in New York City when I first started. So I built a $10 million building. Dream big, but it’s got to be realistically achievable for the first step.”
4. Look for what’s next. “Focus your mind on execution and on what you have in front of you. But always be thinking about and planning growth,” he says. “Plan for expansion. Always look to step it up to the next notch, and look at the development business as a staircase. You’re going to the top of the freedom tower of New York. If you stop and linger, you’ll run out of time. Firmly build one step, and then go on to the next.
5. Hire talented people. “The key is attracting talented people and empowering them,” Peebles says. “You want to duplicate your efforts by other people.”
The Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit hosted by Nationwide is set for May 13-16, 2015, at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta. Expect innovative sessions, high-powered speakers, and an early peek at the products, trends, and services you’ll need to stay ahead of the curve. To register and find out more, visit www.blackenterprise.com/es. Join us at the Entrepreneurs Summit, Where Innovation and Capital Meet.