Generations of builders

By TC Brown
Photos by Will Shilling

Building as a family affair is by no means a rarity in central Ohio. The area boasts several families in which commercial real estate is now carried on by second generations, and in some cases, third generations. Those organizations include the Robert Weiler Company, Pizzuti Companies, The Daimler Group, Virginia Homes and the Hadler Companies, among others. Some of these organizations' founders envisioned a legacy for their families; in other instances, family participation simply evolved. 

The Daimler Group

The Daimler Group
1533 Lake Shore Dr. 
Columbus 43204

Employees: 39
Signature projects: Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center, Flying Horse Farms in Mt. Gilead
Build Polaris' first office park and first major corporate headquarters — Mettler Toledo.  

Another local real estate development group entwined with family is not obvious by its name – The Daimler Group. Co-founder and chairman Robert C. White leads the company he helped start in 1983. His sons, Robert C. White Jr., company president, joined in 1997, followed by younger brother, Tom M. White, project manager, in 2001.

White and his partners Conrad Wisinger, now CEO, and Glen Rowe, now vice president, along with numerous investors decided to focus on team concept over family name, White says from his expansive office overlooking Hidden Lake.

The founders put a lot of thought into the name, White says.

“Daimler Benz makes Mercedes Benz. We liked the sound of that so we took it off the windshield of a car. We are small enough we didn’t think they would have a problem with us, but we don’t do much work in Germany,” White says, laughing.

Humor is a big part of this family’s workday. For instance, during the interview for this story, the senior White bestowed the title “vice president” on his youngest son after feigning surprise that he was only a project manager. While the family is close, White and his sons embrace the wider concept of the entire company as family over the idea that it simply belongs to them.

“We typically don’t classify ourselves as a family business, all of our employees are part of the Daimler family,” Bob Jr. says. “All of our employees get an opportunity to invest in the real estate we create so they have skin in the game. Some of that is tied to motivation . . . and also to give employees an opportunity to help create wealth for their families.”

As the boys grew up, they knew very little about the family’s business, and there were no long-range plans to turn the company into a legacy.

Nonetheless, both young men, avid baseball players in college, labored on company construction projects in the summers of their high school and college years. Their inclusion was more slow evolution than methodical plan, but their father did impart the value of hard work, Bob Jr. says.

“In high school I went to work on construction sites doing manual labor, which was a great experience to start at that level of our business,” Bob Jr. says. “We understood what it takes for a building to come together and the management of a very complex process.”

Like his older brother, Tom worked on construction sites. After college he moved into the company’s leasing department and obtained a real estate license. But a couple of months later the 9/11 terrorists attacks severely impacted the real estate market, so he switched to construction, which he now manages.

“These guys work a lot more hand-in-hand together on a daily basis than I do with either one of them,” Tom says, acknowledging his dad and brother at the table. “By the time I’m involved the project is ready to roll.”

The entrepreneurial and risk-taking nature of real estate development is a driving force into attracting family into the business, the Whites and other developers believe. For success, the job requires many workable partnerships focused on land acquisition, design, construction management, negotiations with municipalities, lenders and attorneys and setting up leases with tenants, Bob Jr. says.

“Our business takes an incredible team effort because you are exposed to so many different things,” he says. “A younger person may think this business is exciting, challenging and unique every single day, and maybe that’s why younger generations get excited about doing it.”

Asked if it is good to work together every day, the senior White says jokingly, “Most of the time.” It’s clear after even a short exposure to this family, they enjoy each other’s company immensely.

“It’s a unique opportunity that not a lot of people have. A lot of families are scattered across the country in different professions,” Tom says. “I get to see these two every day, but I should probably call my mother a little more often.”

Disagreements are rare, but when they happen it’s a bit stressful, says Bob Jr. But there’s another side to that coin. “If there are disagreements, it’s a little tougher to voice those, but you get a great sense of pride when you work side by side everyday.”

Projects important to the company are the Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center and the Flying Horse Farms camp in Morrow County for kids with serious illnesses.