ORLANDO, Fla. - At the age of 23, fate and tragedy thrust Terry Stiles into a truly frightening situation. The year was 1971, and Terry's father, Howard, died unexpectedly while traveling overseas, leaving Terry at the helm of the company his father founded in 1951. Soon after Howard Stiles' death, Terry visited his father's banker, a man who, at the time, struck the fear of God in Terry because of his hard-nosed personality and demeanor.

The banker turned Terry down for a loan and told him his father would have wanted him to figure out the family business - at the time primarily residential development - on his own and make something of himself.

Obviously, Terry Stiles and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Stiles Corp. figured it out. Stiles was named the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP) Developer of the Year at NAIOP's 2000 Annual Conference in Orlando. Noting that nothing significant in Ft. Lauderdale happens without Stiles' involvement, entrepreneurial legend (Blockbuster, AutoNation, a slew of Miami professional sports' teams) H. Wayne Huizenga presented the award, saying, "Straight up, there is no better man than Terry Stiles."

Stiles was recognized for upholding NAIOP's criteria for its developer of the year: quality products and services, financial stability, social conscience, solid reputation, ability to adapt to change and serving as an active NAIOP member.

Stiles Corp. now has 450 employees in seven operating companies; it has has developed more than 20 million sq. ft. of office, industrial, retail and multifamily product for companies such as Disney, Sony, Samsung and Huizenga Holdings; and it operates in seven cities throughout the Southeast.

At the conference, NREI caught up with Terry Stiles to chat about the secrets of his success, development in Florida and the Southeast and a few other topics.

NREI: What are some of the keys to your success here in Florida and throughout the Southeast?

Stiles: The people we have as both our employees and partners. We would not have a successful real estate business without our partners. We were also fortunate to get involved with NAIOP. The association gave us several great ideas to bring back to Florida and access to some of the top people in commercial real estate who were not our competitors and were glad to share their knowledge with us. Strategically, we also bought some land in areas that eventually experienced tremendous growth.

NREI: How do you insulate yourself from downturns in real estate markets and take advantage of the good times?

Stiles: We feel them (downturns) last and come out of them first. [Florida] is not a huge market where you have a number of 1 million-plus sq. ft. buildings. We insulate ourselves by analyzing risk and only put so much product on the market at one time. As a company, we also stay active in the third-party business and not just development.

NREI: Identify your best opportunities over the next few years?

Stiles: I would say we feel very confident about our urban core in Fort Lauderdale. We've been fairly successful at controlling that area for a while. I also think we'll do more business in Jacksonville, Fla., and Nashville, Tenn., over the next few years. We see them as growth cities with a good quality of life, cities on the upswing. If you look at quality of life issues in those two cities, I think they're well suited to draw the kind of young, up-and-coming employees companies look for today.

NREI: How is technology changing commercial real estate?

Stiles: With respect to call centers, technology is impacting the density of real estate with the number of employees using a certain amount of space. We're also seeing a big question mark as far as what's next. A lot of people are asking us if we're building smart buildings. Is it going to be wireless? Is it going to be hardwire? You just have to provide flexibility. You're just making a bigger hole in your floorplate [to meet the wiring needs], but not enough to make a difference as far as profitability. [Technology] is going to dictate somewhat where properties are located. It's really important to understand where your fiber loops are. You're going to have to understand that as well as you understand traffic patterns. It's that important.