Back-to-School Special: Summit Properties

Bill Paulsen led Charlotte, N.C.-based Summit Properties through a real estate investment trust initial public offering in 1994 that ensured his personal wealth.

By Bill Lurz, Senior Editor | June 30, 2003


Bill Paulsen

Summit Properties co-chairman Bill Paulsen explains why he retired two years ago, at age 56, and enrolled in a Harvard Business School program: "I had a meeting with two brothers in a development company in 1991. They had an opulent office. But when they came in, they were both about 70, and they had absolutely nothing going on - no new projects, no vibrancy. They were sitting there like they had for 20 years, but they were no longer willing to take risks.

"I came away thinking this is what happens to most companies in our industry. The founder just hangs around and doesn't retire and also can't find a way to transfer ownership to new people with vision. I just said, 'Yuk!' - and I vowed not to work to 70."

Paulsen led Charlotte, N.C.-based Summit through a real estate investment trust initial public offering in 1994 that ensured his personal wealth. "We came out with the right kind of company for Wall Street, a local sharpshooter with a lot of development expertise," Paulsen says. "The partners all got plenty of stock and a revenue stream to support their lifestyles."

Summit also had sexy product - architecturally stunning, class-A apartments in hot locations, aimed at renters by choice. Even with the apartment sector in a five-year funk, Summit is keeping its head up at No. 139 in the Giants rankings on 866 apartment units completed in 2002, valued at $129 million. The firm also had $158 million in operating income.

Paulsen sold his apartment in Charlotte and now moves between a home on Kiawah Island, S.C., and a cottage on Nantucket Island, Mass. He communicates occasionally with his carefully groomed successor, Steve LeBlanc, but no one else.

"When the military transitions commands, they have an unwritten rule that you don't talk to any of your former subordinates for three years to cut the umbilical cord and force people to accept the new leader," Paulsen says.

Paulsen is exceptional among our interview subjects - the only one who really seems retired. "I'm still doing a little business," he says. "I own some land around a freeway interchange in Charlotte. I'm a partner in a subdivision in Davidson, North Carolina." But he also says, "I'm having a blast. I have a jeep with a custom fishing pole!"


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