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January 2000
Taking it to the Streets
     If you look out Southern Real Estate's 25th floor windows in the Bank of America Plaza building in downtown Charlotte, you can see firsthand the dramatic impact this company has had in shaping Charlotte. As the oldest real estate company in town, Southern Real Estate has assembled land and brokered deals for many of the buildings that give Charlotte its surging skyline, including the building that contains its offices and the newer Bank of America Corporate Center across the street.
    The company has played an important role in creating University Research Park, developed over 40 shopping centers, worked with local colleges and universities, and helped develop the industrial market along Westinghouse Boulevard and the retail market along East Independence Boulevard. In fact, Southern Real Estate has worked closely with most of Charlotte's top corporations. (see A Company of Influence.)
    In doing so, the company has managed to achieve high level of success while maintaining a surprisingly low public profile. That may be about to change. As Charlotte continues to grow, new businesses in the community don't necessarily have the kind of ties to Southern that have helped the company operate so effectively throughout the 20th century. And competition from new aggressive firms means Southern must develop strategies to continue its successful run into the new millennium. Leading Southern Real Estate into the future are Mr. Louis Rose Jr., ceo and president, and Mr. David Goode, executive vice president. They head a team of 15 dedicated brokers and a full-time staff of 30. Their strategy is to leverage their history as a strong local and regional broker while expanding their capabilities internationally. The strategy has already started to pay off.

Then and Now...
    When Southern Real Estate opened in 1899, the economic and social effects of the Civil War were still fresh. The country had survived a depression six years earlier, and the economy of the New South was beginning to emerge. Streetcars ran up and down Trade and Tryon streets, cotton mills were popping up all over the area and many of Charlotte's corporate giants were just getting started. In 1900, Charlotte totaled just 18,091 people, and Dilworth, Charlotte's first suburb, consisted of less than 100 homes. Within the next 10 years, the city had grown to 34,014, an 82 percent increase.
    And by 1940, Charlotte's population topped 100,000, streetcars no longer ran the city streets and a national highway system was about to transform the area once again. Southern thrived through it all. Louis Rose Jr.'s father took ownership of the company in 1924 and laid the groundwork for its success. "In the years when Louis' dad was here and up till now, Southern Real Estate has done work for most of the major corporations in Charlotte," says David Goode, who joined Southern Real Estate in 1997 after working for Binswanger Company's Southern Realty Group for 22 years.
    "Most of these are home-grown firms, friends from way back." The advantage of having been able to operate in the background for so many of Charlotte's highest-profile projects is not lost on Goode. "The ability to do the kind of assembly projects downtown that Southern has done is much more easily accomplished by having someone with a low profile who knows all the people involved." Such finesse came in handy in the mid-1960s when Southern stepped in to keep the offices of The Charlotte Observer at Stonewall and Tryon streets.
     The Observer needed to expand its offices but lacked space. Louis Rose's father brokered a deal for Jim Knight, the Observer's publisher, to purchase the adjoining property adjacent to the existing Observer building, which then housed City Chevrolet. Rose also suggested to City Chevrolet's Arthur Harris that property on East Independence Boulevard might be a better location for his dealership. The Observer stayed, City Chevrolet moved. Southern also assembled the land parcels for Central Piedmont Community College's downtown campus.
     "We dealt with over 30 individual owners of property," notes Rose. "Although we had the right of eminent domain, we never used it." Of course, times change, and Charlotte's explosive growth means a whole new set of decision-makers have arrived in town. "I just read a survey that 70% of the population that currently resides in Mecklenburg County lived elsewhere 15 years ago," says Rose. "That's 350,000 people." This influx of new people and businesses is one reason Southern is increasing its public presence.
    "As we go forward, the people we have done business with know what kind of company we are," points out Goode. "It's going to be important that we generate the same trust for everyone else that these folks have enjoyed for the past 100 years. Frankly, without all these changes, our philosophy would have been to continue to maintain a low profile." The company has begun to run print advertisements and even posted a billboard in October and November at the intersection of Third Street and Kings Drive.
    More significantly, Southern Real Estate, which already belonged to a handful of national real estate networks, has affiliated with North American International (NAI), the largest real estate organization in the world, with over 3,000 real estate professionals in more than 230 offices worldwide. NAI provides international real estate services such as demographic analysis, site searches, subleasing, financial arrangements for major expansion programs, multi-site acquisitions and dispositions.
    To Goode, the advantages are clear: "We are made aware of changes in pricing, availability and now have the ability to handle our clients' needs on a much broader geographic basis. For example, I have been able to conduct business for Bank of America in England and Brazil, and Southern is currently handling transactions in the Carolinas for firms headquartered in 15 different states and in three foreign countries. Goode adds that one of the benefits of being in Charlotte is the city's reputation as a progressive business center. "We get more inflow than outflow in terms of out-of-state work."

Corporate Culture
    Just as the Charlotte area has changed, so has the way of conducting business. "In the past, we could just say "I'll meet you at your attorney's office and close the deal,'" notes Rose. "Today, you have to have a paper trail and the professional staff to maintain it." Still, Goode sees advantages for a family-owned business in the Charlotte commercial real estate market: "For one, the control is vested very tightly and the ability to get a decision -good or bad -is easier. In our business, where moving quietly means success or failure, it's very advantageous that I don't have to see 15 people to get a decision."
    Southern Real Estate is indeed a family business, now boasting its third generation. Both of Rose's two sons work for the company. Louis III currently serves as Retail Director, and Caldwell is Director of Office Leasing. Rose's daughter Jocelyn also has real estate in her blood, and is a very successful residential broker for Bissell-Hayes. "It can be tough working for Dad," admits Louis Rose III, who joined Southern Real Estate in 1983. "I think his expectations are a lot higher than anyone else's, but it has its advantages too. I'm learning from his expertise."
    Family clashes, particularly when two generations are involved, have driven countless family businesses into the ground. It's an issue both generations of Roses seem to have a handle on. "Everybody's brought up in different times. I was born during the Depression," notes the elder Rose. "It concerns me to see a paper clip on the floor." "Well you know, he's actually right. He would pick up the paper clip off the floor. He watches every penny" responds Louis III. "But it is a different time, and there are some things we do differently. For example, today, you've got to spend money to make money.
    There's more competition out there than there was when Dad started out, and we've got to be up-to-date with technology and everything else to compete with other people who are competing with us for our type of business." If past history is any indication, Southern Real Estate should be able to overcome any future challenges. In 1968, the company assembled 1266 acres for IBM at University Research Park. "IBM executives were flying down to make the announcement of their relocation to the property in Charlotte, and, before they landed, we found out from their corporate office that we had to obtain land all the way from Derita to the Research Park before they would give the green light for the project," recalls Rose. "They wanted it for a railroad. Well, we pulled it off and the announcement was made, but I don't think they've ever used it."

Community Service
     As a successful corporate citizen of Charlotte, Southern Real Estate doesn't hesitate to give back to the community. "We have two presidents of local and regional organizations coming out of this company," Rose notes. "David Goode is the current president of the Charlotte Region Commercial Board of Realtors and Steve Banner, vice president of property management, is the current president of the Western Region of the Institute of Real Estate Management." He adds that it's important to give back to the community with your time, talent and financial support: "At Southern, everybody's time is their own, but we have certainly found that the more you give in this community, the more you get back. It works both ways." Goode also emphasizes that throughout the Charlotte region, there is a 'strata' of people who get things accomplished but don't want a reward. "Things wouldn't happen in this town without them."
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