Hard work, hyper-focus, and an understanding of people
“Everyone says I need to smile more, and that I’m very focused” Stephen Bittel, chairman and founder of Terranova Corporation, describes as he reflects on the reasoning for his enormous success in South Florida commercial real estate. After all, Bittel founded this leading commercial real estate firm over 40 years ago as a young law school student without any capital. This is quite the feat for a corporation which today has a portfolio that includes almost a billion dollars in assets. And the journey from Terranova’s early days, with an acquisition of two strip shopping malls in 1981, to today’s diverse and comprehensive real estate services, is inspiring.
Stephen Bittel first became interested in working with capital as many young people become interested in most careers- listening to adults discussing matters at the dinner table. When he studied abroad in Europe during his undergraduate studies at Bowdoin College, he found himself most engaged with people who were in control of their own capital. “It made me think back to the many dinners back home in Florida, with my family and friends, and all of my parents’ friends talked with vigor and excitement about their real estate investments.” This vigor and excitement stayed with Bittel throughout his collegiate studies and law school, and ultimately led him to shift his focus from taking care of people’s capital as a lawyer, to directing their capital in real estate acquisition. He started Terranova Corporation in his second year at the University of Miami’s Law School, and graduated with a total of 7 employees and two strip mall center acquisitions, never practicing law at all
Simplest Secret to Success
As previously mentioned, the road to success was not an easy one, and required quite a bit of elbow grease to get Terranova Corp to the conglomerate it is today. At 24 years old, Stephen Bittel was able to attain regular cash flow through raising equity from larger investors and acquiring brokerage commissions, which ultimately led to retaining a portion of the equity and the management leasing fees. And because this process did not involve starting Terranova Corp with any capital, Bittel attributes the firm’s advancement to the basics of business: hard work and determination. “I persuaded people I was honest, and would work hard and make an investment myself. I would do everything I could to make it successful, and they believed” Bittel describes of Terranova’s beginnings. “The real secret is I have outworked everyone from my first day of college until today. I developed this unending work stamina which I think really has to do with my success more than anything else.” This undying determination has served Stephen Bittel in Terranova Corp’s development to this day. 100% of the debt on the firm’s current portfolio is non-recourse. “We’ve learned to operate with less leverage and more equity,” Bittel explains. This has enabled a very forgiving capital structure to best weather the potential downturns in the economy. Terranova Crop’s diversified set of revenue streams, along with its multiplicity of asset classes within the real estate industry, have solidified the corporation as one of southern Florida’s leading commercial real estate firms.
The Balance of Business: Giving
Stephen Bittel’s relentless work ethic in real estate can only be matched with his commitment to improving his lifelong community of Miami. An avid supporter of the Parkinson’s Foundation, Bittel has contributed to the funding of eight centers of excellence, and is currently working to establish a world class brain, fitness, and neuroscience center in Miami-Dade County. But Bittel is less vocal about his involvement in instituting this community resource, as he views reinvesting in one’s own community as a norm- not something that requires a lot of praise or attention. However, it is hard not to take notice of another one of Stephen Bittel’s community passion projects– the beautification of Miami’s public roads. He spearheaded and funded the Orchid Project on Lincoln Road- the planting of 1,000 orchid flowers along the pedestrian street in the city. This venture was an offshoot of the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden’s Million Orchid Project. Stephen Bittel resides as a board member of the community botanical garden, which serves as a nature reserve for community members to enjoy, as well as an education and research organization. Terranova’s chairman and founder has a commitment to community improvement that is unmatched, and ever-present in all aspects of his life. When he is able to find some balance amongst his sharp devotion to the real estate firm, Stephen Bittel enjoys spending time with his wife, children, and grandchildren, preferably in his backyard of orchid flowers, with wine and food in hand. “It’s a marvelous place to share food, company, and ideas.” As he continues to guide his own path in the business of real estate, Stephen Bittel also serves as an example to all entrepreneurs establishing their own balance of capital, market strategy, and community advocacy.