Savannah, GA attracts visitors and residents not only because it is a beautiful city that is rich in history, but also thanks to its visionary founder, James Oglethorpe, who helped make it the first planned city in North America. That same ambiance of design, thematic symmetry and beauty is also seen in the growing central Brevard community of Viera. With a similar vision, Joseph Duda laid the ground work and the fourth generation of Duda family leadership, like Scott Miller, has taken up the baton. Miller, a licensed real estate broker and community association manager, joined The Viera Company in 1992, moving into community manager, where he learned from the “grassroots” what people were looking for – a valuable bank of knowledge as he now serves, since 2006, as vice president of commercial and residential property sales.
SCB: Describe your current position and how you got here.
SM: After college I worked for awhile with a political campaign, but I knew I wanted to get into real estate. However, I wasn’t sure what discipline I wanted to be in. It was a tough time in that industry in the early 90s, but I did commercial sales and leasing with the Henderson Group and met people like Bob Stuhlmiller, who was a great mentor. Then I worked for Kirk Kessel in general residential real estate.
SCB: Let me interrupt your journey for a moment; you say he was a mentor to you, please explain.
SM: He was one of the brokers in the Henderson Group. The primary lesson I learned from him was there was no moral grey area or ambiguity; for Bob ethical issues were black or white. His policy was always, ‘Do the right thing.’ Also, Bob’s work ethic was second to none, yet he balanced family with that. He always found a way to accomplish his business goals without shortchanging his family. He taught me how critical it was to have the balance and the boundaries between your work life and your family life.
SCB: How did you eventually land at The Viera Company?
SM: I was always fascinated by the Duda Co. My wife is Joseph Duda’s daughter, but I wanted outside experience before I even considered working here. In 1992, I was able to avail myself of the ‘Rotational Training Program’ the Company set up. This is a one-year training program that exposes you to almost all the disciplines in the business, yet is tailored to your interests and skill sets. I did everything from vegetable sales in Belle Glade to a production manager in the citrus groves, working with harvesting crews and in the packing house. These were invaluable hands on experiences where you weren’t treated as a visiting dignitary. I even did a study for the Company, which took me to Texas and Mexico, learned the onion business and then wrote the equivalent of a master’s thesis on the subject.
Initially, I took a job with the ranch business, planning and implementing landscape projects, because there were no direct opportunities in real estate. I was able to work with our environmental people as well as learning the art and science of landscaping. But eventually I broke in as a community association manager. It was tough, but you really get a ground floor education in what customers like and don’t like, not to mention all the soft skills of personal and public interface.
Then I got my broker’s license and became the broker for Viera Realty. Now I am responsible for developing the vision for our ongoing residential community development, which centers on four villages and the town center project. My role is now more strategic. We are dealing with over eight miles of frontage along I-95 and any one of the villages we’re planning is a huge project in and of itself, thousands of acres, with capacity for 4,000 to 5,000 people.
Each of these new towns has various components and residential products serving a variety of price ranges from entry level first-time buyers to estate size homes. It is also important that we have a timeless, well maintained look; that you never stumble as you look across the Viera landscape. Yet, each village will have its own unique features and themes.
SCB: Describe these villages.
SM: The first one will be south of the new Viera Hospital and will play on some of their themes and architectural designs to keep a consistent look, with a variety of residential and retail offerings. The second village will be located around the Pineda/I-95 interchange, which, because of its proximity, will no doubt have regional type retail and commercial offerings. We will develop incrementally between village 1 and 2. Village 3, which will be west of 2, may have more of a rural theme to it, with less density, as it is close to the wilderness park and conservation areas.
SCB: What are the steps in ‘imagineering’ a project like this?
SM: We start out with charettes with a lot of different disciplines and stakeholders giving input. We formed a CAP (Citizens Advisory Panel), because we learned a long time ago that we don’t have all the answers or ideas when it comes to a project like this. Those groups are made up of both supporters and people with concerns. This helps us determine what people like and want or don’t like. That includes a variety of housing styles, interesting and open public spaces. Some wanted a more dense urban style concentration; others wanted 5-acre equestrian options. We look at how to accommodate those needs and to examine how deep the market actually is, while also preserving the natural beauty of the ranch.
Our first step though was to develop ten guiding principles for all of Viera; those give us a basis or starting point from which to build. Then we begin at the 20,000 foot level and gradually work down, adding more and more details. No one here wants to just clear land and build houses. Our formula has always been to purchase land and use if for agricultural purposes and then as the value of the land increases, we look at what the highest and best use, can and should be.
However, whether in development or in agriculture our mission to be stewards of the land is always at the heart of what we do. Though agriculture and development may seem diametrically opposed to each other, they blend well into this ongoing triangle of acquiring, cultivating and then developing to divest, which enables us to repeat the cycle.
SCB: Duda is a fourth generation family business; did you have second thoughts about going to work for your in-laws?
SW: I felt a sense of pride about working for the Company. I have often told people, ‘If there is a black sheep in the Duda family, I haven’t met them in 20 years.’ That is pretty high praise. The family shares a deep Christian faith and they labor to live those values in their personal and their public dealings.
I, along with all the other family members, view our positions in the Company with a high sense of responsibility. I never talked about this publically, but usually I don’t divulge my status as an in-law until people have had the chance to observe my professional abilities, work ethic and my personal character. Then let people be pleasantly surprised.
SCB: How has Duda been so successful maintaining their core values through four generations?
SW: It begins with the family’s common faith and their pride in what the family business has accomplished. I, for one, enjoyed working for a company that provided healthy products, first in their farm produce and now in their developments. But one key is they allow their core principles to really be the guide in decision-making. If a course of action doesn’t pass the muster or through the filter of the core principles, which I was given a copy of when I came to work to carry with me, that decision is made for you. The core values make the decision, period, no matter how high or how low in the corporate structure you are.
SCB: Why do you think this family has been so successful with succession when so many others have failed?
SW: That is truly an amazing accomplishment in itself; as you know, most family-owned companies don’t make it past the second generation. But the Dudas have been diligent in planning for succession. Joseph Duda’s primary responsibility in the final years of his leadership was to ensure that the transition to the fourth generation was seamless. They hired the best outside consultants and put people on the Board that understood the challenges of family businesses.
SCB: We know being in a family doesn’t mean you are a part of the family business. What are the unique benefits of working for a family-controlled business?
SW: There is a sense of caring and benevolence in a family business you don’t always find in other corporate environments. You feel, not only that you are going to be rewarded for your work, but that you are going to be taken care of as well; if the chips were down, the Company is for you. The Company has your interests at heart.
SCB: Are you referring to an attitude that extends beyond the family members that work for the Company?
SW: Absolutely. Family makes up a rather small percentage of the Company; the proof lies in how long people typically work for Duda. At our communication meetings within the Company, where we have all the management staff in the various divisions together, we go around the room introducing ourselves. It is amazing how many people have been working for Duda for 20, 30 or 40 years. There is so little turnover in the Company and I think that speaks to how people are treated.
A respected author and speaker, Eric Wright is the assignment editor for SpaceCoast Business magazine.