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40 Years Of Business, 40 Years’ Worth Of Advice

During my sophomore year at University of Miami School Of Law, I founded Terranova Corporation as the vehicle to operate a commercial property for a local partnership. Since the company’s 1980 inception, Terranova has become a leader in the Florida commercial real estate market. By maximizing the value of business through real estate, I was […]

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During my sophomore year at University of Miami School Of Law, I founded Terranova Corporation as the vehicle to operate a commercial property for a local partnership. Since the company’s 1980 inception, Terranova has become a leader in the Florida commercial real estate market. By maximizing the value of business through real estate, I was able to establish trust, forge professional relationships, and leverage profit for tenants on a long-term basis. This was the founding principle of Terranova Corporation, and a personal mission statement that propelled my leadership. 

Now, the company’s commercial real estate portfolio holds in excess of $1 billion dollars in assets, and Terranova was proudly the agent for over $5 billion dollars in commercial real estate throughout Florida. As I celebrate the 40th anniversary of Terranova Corporation, I find myself immersed in the lessons that I have learned, the skills that I have perfected, and the professional decisions that led to ongoing growth. Each year of business brought forth new challenges, changes, and opportunities, and allowed me to grow alongside my business. Below, I recount the most notable lessons throughout my venture, and lend advice to any fledgling entrepreneur or business owner.

Know What You Stand For

Both personally and professionally, your company’s mission statement will be your guiding principle. Through inception and beyond, you will find those goals and incentives tested, and you will garner opportunities to stray from the plans you initially forged. Thus, it is vastly important to iron out the most important mission statements for your business. Whether your goals include maximizing earning potential for clients, maintaining highly ethical practices in the face of challenging times, or establishing long-term professional relationships, solidifying these guiding principles will help to keep you on the right path in the future.

When I launched Terranova Corporation, I immediately understood the need for complete transparency, trust, and understanding required by commercial property operators and tenants. Without the undercurrent of these elements floating in both directions, long-term professional relationships couldn’t flourish. Thus, I set out to create mission statements that would elicit these results, uphold tenant relationships, and build trust amongst all involved parties. Putting principle before profit, I vowed to operate Terranova with honesty, speed, and clarity to secure trusting community relationships. 

As a fledgling business, it can be easy to get swept up in unintentional avenues, or succumb to shortcuts to get the job done. While these defensive inaugural moves may have a positive immediate impact, they can undoubtedly hurt your company’s image, reputation, and trustworthiness in the long-run. By having a strict ethical code and mission statement in place, you can hold yourself, your business, and all employees accountable. You can successfully ensure that the message conveyed to clients, partners, and the general public is one that aligns with your intended mission statement. 

Don’t Expect Perfect Timing

I launched Terranova Corporation from my first home at the age of 24. At the time, I was engaged, had a mortgage for the first time, worked on a full-time basis, and was in the throes of law school. To say that I was stretched thin would be a gross understatement. However, the opportunity to branch out on my own presented itself during this time, and I knew that I simply had to go for it. Though I always knew that I eventually wanted to fulfill my growing entrepreneurial desire, and I was certainly propelled by the commercial real estate industry, I considered it a “safer” plan to wait until post matriculation to embark on this journey. 

My employer in the commercial real estate sector urged me to pivot from a traditional compensation model to a commission-based model, allowing me to potentially earn more through the acquisition of clients. It was the opportunity I was waiting for, and the inaugural management client that would serve as the gateway for Terranova Corporation. I leveraged previously forged relationships to seek potential clients, and grew Terranova from the ground up. Simultaneously, I completed law school, and passed the BAR exam. Obviously, this combination of activities kept me up most nights, and I was incredibly busy. While the timing wasn’t “perfect” or “safe” in terms of starting a business, I recognized the unique opportunity to foster my dreams. This motivated me to keep going during busy times, and I was thankful for the opportunity, no matter the timing.

Fledgling entrepreneurs and hopeful business owners should throw away the expectation that things will fall into place at the “right” time. Instead, they should identify their respective dreams, and be ready to pivot at any time to make those dreams come to fruition. Opportunities can present themselves at any moment, and thus, entrepreneurs must seize these less-than-perfectly-time chances to fulfill their business prospects.

Learn About All Facets Of Operations

In order to maximize the services offered by Terranova Corporation, I recognized the value in perfecting all facets related to commercial real estate. Instead of merely focusing on acquisition of assets and tenants, I wanted to perfect the tertiary services that secured tenants would eventually need. I knew that becoming a one-stop-shop for all commercial services would set Terranova apart from the competition, and would allow me to foster long-term relationships with tenants and business owners based on this multifaceted approach.

Thus, I set forth to perfect services associated with acquisitions and joint ventures, leasing and property management, tenant representation and dispositions assistance, financing, and construction and development management. By being able to offer this vast array of services to fledgling business owners and start-ups, I was able to instill confidence that their businesses were in good hands. For established multi-location businesses, entrusting my team with all operations streamlined management’s responsibilities, and ensured successful operations in Terranova-managed properties.

Many business owners within niche industries want to specialize in a particular service, product, or facet that drivers their entrepreneurial dreams. While that’s an important building block for success, it is also important to consider tertiary and supplemental services that can enhance a business’ value. By being knowledgeable in various areas of a particular industry, business owners can provide valuable additional services to clients that will enhance the importance of their inaugural offerings. In business, there’s virtually no such thing as being too knowledgeable. Being prepared to assist in any situation, or answer any future questions can allow business owners to stand out amongst the competition.

Ride The Waves Of Change

On a long enough timeline, it’s safe to say that any business will go through changes. Impacted by cultural and societal growth, evolving customer preferences, and even international climates, businesses in all industries will face change over the years. During these pivotal times, decisions must be made. Business owners must decide whether they will evolve alongside changes, or continue to pursue the “old” methodology of operation. In my own professional experience, I have found it integral to ride the waves of change.

First, any customer-facing business is somewhat dictated by the preferences, desires, and motivations of its clients. Thus, if those preferences evolve, businesses that refuse to adhere to changes risk losing their client bases. In the realm of long-term commercial real estate, the ability to evolve alongside changing tenant requests, and customer activity, is pivotal to success. When I launched Terranova Corporation in South Florida, in-demand commercial properties followed an unanchored strip mall aesthetic. In the late 1980’s, growing suburban markets dictated the rise of the anchored strip malls, answering the evolving desire for shoppers to engage in multiple errands within one strip mall destination. Thus, I pivoted to this model, purchasing and operating anchored strip mall properties, filled with local businesses flanked by large grocery stores, pharmacies, or liquor stores. 

In more recent years, as people began to move back to more urban areas, the growth of the “live, work, play” sector dictated the commercial real estate market. As increasing numbers of young professionals and families relocated to urban areas, they sought amenities and shopping within close proximity to work and home. Thus, this incited the rise of commercial shopping districts in downtown areas. Once again, I pivoted my preferred model to focus on development of commercial activity in this growing market. Leveraging the unique assortment of tourist and local customers to entice business owners to downtown shopping areas, I used my expertise to guide business owners to successful tenancy within these growing commercial areas. 

In all industries, similar changes and evolutions guide the future of business operations. While it may seem daunting to pivot or change aspects of business, the ability to do so is integral to maintain success on a long-term basis. For a business to succeed for four decades and beyond, the ability to ride the waves of change is integral. Starting with the owner, this flexibility and forward-thinking attitude trickles down through all facets of operation. Thus, it is up to the business owner to set the path toward evolution.

Final Thoughts

As I look back at my forty years at the helm of Terranova Corporation, I think of the countless lessons that I have learned along the way. From the birth of the business, the entire experience has been one of constant learning, exploring, growth, and evolution. For entrepreneurs, these concepts are at the backbone of business ownership. No matter how much preparation, study, and planning goes into the creation of a business model, there’s no better education than on-the-job experience. With this knowledge, I thoroughly look forward to the future with Terranova Corporation. I encourage hopeful entrepreneurs to develop their bespoke mission statements, learn the proverbial in’s and out’s of their respective industries, and forge ahead on the road to business ownership.

Follow Stephen Bittel on LinkedIn and Medium.

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