EXIT STRATEGY

For retiring commercial realtor Bob Richardson, it's all in the journey.

Lessons Learned

Bob Richardson says it was probably the "five-way" heart bypass in 2000 that made him focus on a succession plan for his real estate business.

"You realize that you're mortal," he said, soon after returning from a Florida-to-Maine boat trip. Richardson, 66, a fixture in community leadership and commercial real estate in Sarasota County, turned over his interest in Richardson Kleiber Walters to his children in late 2004.

"I had been working since I was 12, and I had enough money to do it," he says. "It was time to take it easy."

Richardson's real estate career in Sarasota spanned more than 30 years, including personal and business bankruptcy in 1993 as tax law changes took the wind out of The Richardson Group, his real estate company. He later formed the partnership with Bill Kleiber and Jim Walters.

"The worst of times really were the best of times," he says, reflecting on those years of struggle. "They helped me build character and learn that I was a survivor. When I went bankrupt, it took 10 years to work out of that. I paid everyone off in Sarasota County that I owed a nickel to. I got real involved in the Sierra Club and led hundreds of outings for them. It made me feel good about myself to give back to the community. In 1996 I started making money again so it worked out well."

Richardson also threw himself into community causes: fighting for public school funding, helping to form the Downtown Partnership, weighing in on the city leadership debate and many more.

Now in charge of the business, the children-Renee Richardson, Jennifer and David Shafer, and James Frederick-are developing 20 acres at Jacaranda Boulevard and I-75, buildings on Porter Road and on the southwest corner of U.S. 301 and Tallevast Road, and a subdivision in Venice, among other projects. Richardson agreed to stay on for the first year after the succession to lend a hand.

"We're not over-buying, and we're keeping ourselves in a good cash position and being very cautious about what we do," he says.

Richardson is wary of the current real estate boom. "It's the most amazing thing I've seen; it's hard to believe," he says. "I think this [boom] will not go on forever." Prices don't sag, he warns, until you have to sell. "If you need to sell, and need to pay the bank, prices tank."

In the meantime, Richardson is indulging one of his passions-travel, and lots of it. He's taken a boat trip up the Atlantic Coast, plus trips to South Africa, New York City, Ireland, Scotland, the Amazon, Galapagos Islands and even Antarctica. This summer he'll raft the Green River in Utah with a crew of youngsters from Palmetto.

Even with that exotic itinerary, Richardson says "probably the most interesting thing" he's doing is a pro bono consulting project in Cincinnati's inner city neighborhood. He's helping a community group figure out how to foster homeownership for African-American residents living in miserable conditions.

Clearly, he is reveling in the freedom to pursue new adventures. Of the business transition he says, "It's one of the better things I did in life. One of the joys of having kids is being able to do that with them. Not a lot of people get that opportunity." -Heidi Smith

FIVE QUESTIONS

Talking technology with Sarasota County's chief computer guy, Bob Hanson.

Tech Head

Sarasota County's tech guru, Bob Hanson, was recognized recently by Government Technology magazine as one of the nation's top 25 "doers, dreamers and drivers." As chief information officer for Sarasota County government and school district, Hanson has streamlined overlapping networks while developing new technologies that are being sold to other governments. He spent 20 years as an international consultant, working on such high-profile assignments as integrating information systems during the merger of Daimler and Chrysler and replacing the computer system for National Oil Company of Mexico. Most recently, he helped bring WiFi to downtown Sarasota.

1. How did you find the transition from the corporate world to government? I went into the public sector with the mindset that it would have a laid-back, slow pace. I couldn't have been more wrong. The pace is much faster. What drives it are the number and variety of things we have to do-from traffic control to water and sewer systems management to accounting, payroll and administrative functions as well as the education of children-all with technology. It's always something different.

2. Why did you get the Government Technology award? Probably for my drive to collaborate with other governments. In Florida there are thousands of municipalities and government institutions. Every one of them is paying for the same infrastructure, software applications and support personnel. But from a service perspective, they are not competitors. We created an Internet-based software called GovMax in-house to improve our own performance and then started to offer it to other institutions, leasing it for $25,000 to $65,000 a year. We now host that application for seven other local governments, including Alachua, Monroe and Seminole counties and the city of Tallahassee. We expect to make about $190,000 this year. We aim to cover the whole state and take the concept national.

3. What does GovMax do?It combines strategic planning, performance management and financial planning. It lets us track how we are doing and make all of that the basis for our budgets. Bringing together all those pieces helps enable a shift in government from the traditional, bureaucratic perspective to a more performance-based orientation. We can become a constantly improving organization, focus on doing a job the best way, and give our constituents more for their tax dollars.

4. Why did you push to bring WiFi access to downtown Sarasota? Sarasota was one of the first broadband-wired communities in this country. Now we are among the first truly active wireless communities as well. The intent is to see what the impact will be. We expect there to be some economic development, particularly in the tourist and real estate areas. But other things will emerge as well-products and services that we can't envision today, but that creative minds will invent.

5. What other technology developments do you foresee for the area? In the next 18 to 24 months we will see wireless technology emerge with the potential to make the whole county a hot zone. We could create an emergency services channel, so that police and rescue workers can communicate and improve their services. We could bridge the digital divide and create an education channel with workstations for each student in the classroom and in their home. Every time we can do something to improve our educational process, it helps our workforce development and boosts our local economy. This community is truly blessed. We attract the best and the brightest, we have dynamic leaders. Sarasota will be on top of the heap for a long time. -Interviewed by Chris Angermann

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