How to Create A Fortune From Scratch

“I came from what most people would describe as a middle-class home, an only child in a one-parent household. But by the time I was 27 I was a multimillionaire, and by the time I was 45 I was worth more than a quarter of a billion dollars.” So begins The Peebles Principles: Tales and Tactics from an Entrepreneur’s Life of Winning Deals, Succeeding in Business, and Creating a Fortune from Scratch, by R. Donahue Peebles. In his new book, Peebles–who is chairman and CEO of The Peebles Corp. (No. 13 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $403.4 million in sales)–offers his 12 principles for success, which include, among others, make your money going in, listen to your first instinct, and use the power of good partnerships.

In this excerpt from Chapter 5: The Royal Palm: Never Say Die, Peebles recounts how he spotted an opportunity to develop the Royal Palm Hotel in Miami and his ultimately being awarded the deal by the city. The underlying lesson is his fifth principle, “Be a bulldog on details.”

I remember sitting in the living room of our apartment on New Year’s Eve 1995, reading the Sunday Miami Herald. They had something called “The Neighbors Section,” and the cover story was titled “South Beach: Real Estate on Fire.” The cover of the section showed a broker standing in front of the Shorecrest Hotel with a big “For Sale” sign. Inside there was a companion article about the Shorecrest, sort of a case study. It said how the owner had paid $900,000 for it a few years before and how it was now on the market for $3.9 million. Wow. They also noted that it was right next door to the Royal Palm Hotel, a property that had been set aside for African American ownership. Wow again. I had never heard of a minority program where they specified the race; in Washington, D.C., it would have been any minority. African American only? I wondered, how many African American developers were there? Not many. And how many were reading the Miami Herald right then? Very few, I imagined.

I would later find out how this unique situation developed. Several years earlier Nelson Mandela had been snubbed by the city of Miami, refused an official visit because he was perceived to be a communist–an inflammatory issue among Cuban voters in South Florida. The upshot was a black tourism boycott of Greater Miami, which turned out to be so painful that the city of Miami Beach established a $10 million fund to create a hotel development opportunity for a black developer. It was their olive branch, their peace offering.

At that point I was still in the dark as to the cause, but I saw what could be a good opportunity. The Royal Palm had already been purchased by the city for the black hotel development project, and the Shorecrest was right next door. I knew from my experience in D.C. that if you want to build anything, you’ve