If the flames that forge successful, resilient enterprises are the fires of adversity and contention, one can call R. Donahue Peebles a master blacksmith of entrepreneurialism. The CEO of Peebles Corp. (No. 79 on the BE Industrial/Service companies list with $51.4 million in revenues) understands that his company’s business plan must be malleable and able to adapt with the times. His team has the skills to land the right deal, the fortitude to fend off rivals, and the moxie to ensure the company remains viable no matter the business environment.
When Black Enterprise named Peebles Corp. company of the year in 2004, a bit of the real estate company’s success had to do with the acquisition of the 417-unit Royal Palm Resort in Miami Beach, Florida—the first black-owned and developed luxury resort in the U.S. Since then Peebles Corp. sold the property for $128 million, and unloaded several of its other properties near the height of the market and is now buying up land at bargain prices to develop when the market turns and lending institutions loosen their purse strings—the opportunity within the crisis.
Peebles says his company was spared from the brunt of the real estate slump and managed to sell the lion’s share of its properties before the market tanked; thanks to a combination of luck and knowing to strike when the iron was hot. Although his strategy reduced revenues dramatically—gross sales fell roughly 79%—the company has cash and relatively low debt levels, putting Peebles in position that’s coveted by many of his competitors.
Peebles certainly is no stranger to the ups and downs and economic curveballs that come with being an entrepreneur. This February, the Miami Dade County Circuit Court ruled in Peebles’ favor in a lawsuit against the new owners of the Royal Palm and allowed him to reassume management of the South Beach hotel that helped him rise to prominence. He also helped raise funds for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign while successfully managing his real estate company through one of the most severe downturns the housing and hotel markets have ever seen. He has also significantly raised his profile on such networks as CNBC and CNN as an expert on spotting real estate opportunities. And this year received the Reginald F. Lewis Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
SETBACK IN THE BIG APPLE
It hasn’t all been golden, however. In March, Peebles learned that a project his firm was involved in to transform New York City’s Aqueduct Racetrack into an entertainment destination was