Ultimate CEO: Terry Stiles on the importance of building communities | VIDEO

It could be said that Terry Stiles' career is one of a son rising through the family business. But though he's one of South Florida's most prolific builders who learned his trade early under his father's guidance, the younger Stiles was on his own at 23 when his father died in 1971.

Stiles has since branded the family name and made an indelible mark across South Florida, especially Fort Lauderdale where he's known as the catalyst that helped build its thriving downtown.

One of his first jobs was hanging the front door at law firm Ruden Barnett. Since then, Stiles helped develop a million square feet for IBM and launched downtown Fort Lauderdale's revival with the Sun-Sentinel building and his work with H. Wayne Huizenga on buildings for Blockbuster Entertainment and Republic Industries. His Corporate Park at Cypress Creek is considered one of the region's first business parks.

In all, Stiles has developed some 43 million square feet across the region and into the Carolinas and Tennessee.

His battle with cancer has left the business leader with a new outlook on life. With son Ken as CEO and a succession plan in place, Stiles now enjoys more time with his grandkids and reflecting on his proudest moments in helping to transform Fort Lauderdale.

Terry Stiles, Chairman, Stiles Corporation
Age: 69
Birthplace: Cincinnati, Ohio
Residence: Fort Lauderdale

When did you know you wanted to be a builder?
As a kid, I was always building — tree huts, tying steel into foundations when I was 13, or building my first house at 20 years old. I laid the block, laid the trusses, sheeted the roof. I don't think I was ready to run the company when my dad died [when I was] 23, but it was in my blood.

What's been your greatest career accomplishment?
The Corporate Park put us on the map, but what I'm the most proud of is downtown Fort Lauderdale, being in the heart of all this, and getting ready to do the new Broward College building. It will be a 350,000-square-foot, iconic building and a 350-unit rental apartment building with an open-air amenity deck.

What do you believe is left for you to accomplish in your career?
We've built a company that's sustainable in different areas. We have 31 employees who've worked for us for over 20 years. We have opportunistic areas that hopefully will build equity and value. What I'd like to know is when I do leave this company, I've created a company that's sustainable.

What do you appreciate most about the South Florida business climate?
The fact that it's pretty open. We went to Atlanta with AutoNation. People see you as competition. We went to Columbia, South Carolina. They wanted to protect their own people. You don't see that here in South Florida.

If money were no object?
I'd like to have the opportunity to build some iconic buildings like you see in Dubai. We went to China and these buildings went up that made no economic sense but they were beautiful. The money we have doesn't allow you to do that. We have to be market attuned. You can't go blowing $5 million on the top of an office building. Hopefully, Broward College will be the closest we get to that statement in my career.

One person, one question?
Wayne Huizenga. I'd ask him what was the underlying theme of what made him as successful as he was. He was really loyal to his people, loyal to Fort Lauderdale. At one point, I was trying to get him to go to Sawgrass with Blockbuster. That could have been a lot cheaper [for him]. He bought the Mercedes City Center [in downtown Fort Lauderdale] and stayed here.

The one opportunity I let get away?
In the late 1980s, the city manager of Miami Beach called. It was right after we did the corporate park, and he asked us to get involved in the redevelopment of South Beach. We went by there when all the old people were still sitting on the porches on their lawn chairs and drugs were running rampant, and I said, "This will never happen." Three years later, [I thought] what a mistake.

Special Feature by: Jeff Zbar
South Florida Business Journal