Local Company That Helps Others Grow Continues its Own Growth
Brandon Clark has been promoted to president of The Ruthvens, a position he was being prepared for since he first joined the company as vice president in 2018.
He succeeds Greg Ruthven, who will work part-time as chairman and CEO of the company his father founded in 1957.
“It was earlier than I was expecting, and I think it’s going to work out great,” Clark said. “It will allow Greg to reduce some of his office time and focus on the stuff he likes to work on, like leasing. He’s ridiculously good at it. He has a large portfolio of tenants, and he likes to help them if they need more space or are expanding or renewing.”
Ruthven will also focus on strategy and the big picture, said Clark, who is married to Ruthven’s daughter, Lauren.
Clark said Joe P. Ruthven never fully retired before he died suddenly in December 2019. That, along with his sister’s illness and death in October 2019, prompted Greg to make stepping back a priority.
“When Kay got sick, it really rocked the whole family a little bit. You have to enjoy time with family and friends when you can.”
Clark will be the company’s third president, following Joe P. and Greg. He will be responsible for The Ruthvens’ construction and development activities, leasing, finance and operations. Since he joined the company, it has developed more than 560,000 square feet of new warehouse space and increased occupancy to 99%.
Before joining The Ruthvens, Clark worked at J.P. Morgan and SunTrust Robinson Humphrey for 11 years.
“Brandon’s prior experience in finance and his time at The Ruthvens has prepared him well for this next step in his career,” Ruthven said, “The Ruthven family is excited to have Brandon on board and leading our company into the next generation.”
Central Florida Development Council President & CEO Sean Malott said The Ruthvens are an important contributor to the economic engine of the community. “Greg is admired as a businessman and person, and Brandon shares many of his qualities,” he said. “Together, they have continued to grow The Ruthvens, and fulfill a critical niche in the real estate market, Polk County, needs to help industry grow and attract new employers.”
Ruthven joined his father’s company in 1983, overseeing the company’s growth from about 350,000 square feet to more than 4 million. “I was fortunate to work alongside my father for 36 years. He would be proud to see Brandon taking over as president of the company he founded,” Ruthven said.
Clark said both Ruthvens worked in the industry so long they’ve forgotten more than most people ever learn. He reminds people that the company first was a real estate development firm, with holdings that included apartments, shopping centers, retail and, yes, warehouses.
“Then, with Interstate 4 and Tampa and Orlando growing, they started seeing more and more demand for warehouse space. Greg pushed to sell non-warehouse holdings and really focus on the warehouse piece. He’d say, ‘Specialize in it and make that what we do and what we do well. They made that decision to be the warehouse specialists.”
Ruthven was so focused on it he took a tennis ball and wrote the letter W on it and hung it from his office ceiling, Clark said. “You had to see it. You couldn’t not see it. Every time you started working on something else and taking your eye off the ball, you saw the W and were reminded what you should be working on.”
The company evolved using feedback from tenants and prospects to thoughtfully design spaces that would be in demand, Clark said. And their tenants evolved because The Ruthvens were there to help.
Krystal on Memorial Boulevard was the company’s oldest tenant until The Ruthvens sold the land the restaurant sat on to the restaurant’s owner. Now, Omnia Inc., a disposable medical supply company, is the longest-running tenant at 32 years, said owner Cindy Maddox.
“They treat their tenants like family,” Maddox said. “Joe P. was like a second dad to me; he treated me like his child. I could call him and ask him for anything.” Greg has followed in his footsteps, she said. Both would bring people by her manufacturing space to show them what Omnia makes, including cotton balls for Publix.
“I’ve watched them grow through the years,” Maddox said. “Nothing changed with them; they’re the same people who I met 30 years ago. They were very active in helping (her late husband) Ed and I become part of the community. We moved here and didn’t know a soul. They encourage tenants to get involved in the community and help them meet people.”
Clark said he was involved in the company from the outside at first, serving as a board member. Now that he’s involved in the day-to-day operations, he appreciates all the small businesses like Omnia he works with. Many tenants are small mom-and-pop shops “that are doing really unique things in Lakeland. We’re not one of 50 distribution sites for them; we’re their corporate headquarters.” Those include companies that modify cars and bakeries that sell goods, along with appliance repair, air conditioning and solar businesses.
“When you spend time with our tenants, it’s just neat to learn their story, how they got into it, what they do, then help them be successful,” Clark said. “It’s the most fulfilling part. I knew it existed, but you don’t really think about that from the outside.”
Clark said in the next few years he wants to continue adding to the team and building out some additional capabilities. “Strategically, we’re looking more broadly than we have before. Our focus is on Lakeland, but we’re also looking in Central Florida. We want to make sure we stay focused on our core and keep growing in a non-flashy way, to be as conservative as you can be in spec construction.”
The Ruthvens currently own 90 buildings located along the I-4 corridor between Tampa and Orlando, providing quick access to all major north, south, east, and west highways.