Lutgert College of Business in the News
This is the text of the Fort Myers News-Press story of April 3, 2016.
Greg Calabrese: 12-under-40 honoree
Greg Calabrese was driving on Corkscrew Road east of I-75 when he spotted a bank-owned parcel advertised for sale on a road-side sign.
The FGCU freshman hit the brakes, took down the phone number and called.
"To be frank, I was 18 and didn't know what I was talking about," Calabrese recalls.
But he knew his dad was looking to get into the Estero/Bonita Springs real estate market - his dad is Steve Calabrese, president of Cleveland-based CRM Companies. And he remembered their counsel: the land has to have frontage, it has to have a traffic signal, and it has to have population. The 12-acre parcel had it all.
"Coming from a family-owned company, there's a feeling that something has been handed to you. That drives me to continually prove myself."
The next time Cabrese, Sr. visited - the family vacationed in the area and knew it well - Greg pitched him and his partner the property.That was in 2013. Today, CRM owns a multimillion dollar portfolio of south Lee county properties that include the nine Bernwood commercial buildings and over 100 acres of land across four projects that are cleared and entitled.
The Corkscrew Road parcel was CRM's first acquisition in Lee County. And the man who sold it to them - Mike Maurer, who left a career as a Boston attorney to become a commercial broker for Engel and Völkers -- is now Greg's boss.
"I felt like I had some kind of eye for real estate," Calabrese describes how that first pitch made him feel.
Up to then his work experience had consisted of high school gigs at the local gas station or golf course. He got a real estate license when he turned 19. His dad and partner decided to acquire the Bernwood buildings, and brought him to the meeting.
The meeting was with Mike Maurer.
"It was an uncomfortable moment," Maurer admits. "He's the son of one of my biggest clients. I told his dad I would give him six weeks to see if he worked out."
"I knew I would keep him after 10 days,"
And now: "I knew I would keep him after 10 days," Maurer says. "He's got salesmanship, which is half of this business. He's organized. He gets after it, he puts in the hours."
Calebrese's first job as an associate was to find tenants for the Bernwood buildings, which in 2014 were half-empty. The Great Recession had hit commercial real estate even harder than residential. Over 50 percent of south Lee County's lease spaces went underwater as their rents climbed too high on overvalued property for business tenants to sustain.
He's also helping Maurer market and close vacant land deals like Bernwood Business Park, where a prominent 30-year business owner will likely build his own facility instead of suffering climbing rents and too-few choices among existing buildings.
With the land deals comes exposure to national companies that are pivoting toward creating retail and industrial buildings on Corkscrew and Bonita Beach roads, where residential rooftops are exploding.
And Calabrese is forming relationships with local planners in Bonita and Estero, who he and Maurer call the most business-friendly in Southwest Florida.
How would you describe this business?
My grandfather started CRM as an appraisal company, Finding the true value of something was always my interest. That's what led me to commercial real estate. At the end of the day you're trying to make numbers work. That's how you start the relationship with your client — through the transaction.
Who have been your biggest influences?
My brother, because he's the one who cares most about family. He taught me about loyalty.
My mom, because she's selfless. She taught me to look out for the people I'm with.
Mike Maurer has always taught me to pay close attention to details with whoever we're working with. Look at the fine print. Never miss anything.
And my father, because of the way he carries himself. He deals with more things on a daily basis than I can ever imagine.
Have you ever failed?
As hard as it is to admit it, I have. My biggest one was when I was studying finance at FGCU. There's one course that's so hard it's called a weed-out, because everyone who takes it has a 25 to 30 percent chance of passing. Most people change their majors to marketing or management after that course.
Exams always came easily for me so on the first one I didn't study, and it didn't go well. For the second exam, I did study, but that one didn't go well, either.
I asked myself then, 'Do I really need this major?' Then I talked to my dad.
He said, 'Finance is like learning a language. You don't understand it at first, but once you learn it, you're fluent.'
So I took the class again and did fine. It really taught me how to persevere. Classes came easily after that. I almost felt like a different person.
What inspires you?
Coming from a family-owned company, there's a feeling that something has been handed to you and you don't deserve it. That drives me to continually prove myself.
When I do something, I give it 100 percent to win people over, because they might think I don't have the same work ethic. It's a pretty common motivator for those of us who come from family companies.
What do you need to improve on?
When we tour properties, I see other sales associates come up with values very quickly. Construction costs, true worth, location values — what they have at their fingertips takes me time. I have to come back to my desk and study the comps (comparable property values) to come up with the value.
What's your greatest success?
Improving the Bernwood portfolio. It was 30 percent occupied in March, 2014. Now we're about 90 percent occupied. It's 212,000 square feet of leasable square footage. We took something that needed attention and marketed it successfully, and it's helped expand our center in the area.