Local Business Leaders and Philanthropists
The wisest of ancient Hebrew kings once said, “Two are better than one, they get a good return on their work. If one falls down, the other can pick him up, but woe to the man who falls with no one to help. If they lie down, they can keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.” It is amazing that after 2,500 years, this sage of antiquity rightly understood that the dynamic of a duo, is superior to what any of us are alone. Not only in optimizing our productivity, but helping us through our inevitable stumbles, providing the warmth of human relationships and helping us both discern and overcome the opposition life throws at us. Few couples have exemplified these qualities to our community more than the development and philanthropy partners of Wendy and Harry Brandon.
SCB: What were each of you doing before you met?
WB: I was an attorney in general practice and had the opportunity to ply my trade in Los Angeles, New York and Paris. Harry was in computer management marketing with Harris Corporation.
HB: We were both pretty well established professionals in our respective careers when we met.
SCB: Tell me about your first encounter.
HB (Laughing): We actually met at a blackjack table in Lake Tahoe.
WB: I was learning how to play and as always I was cracking jokes. Well, from that moment, Harry became and has continued to be the best audience for my humor. That was certainly attractive, not to mention the fact that he was very good looking.
HB: And she was beautiful – but I also noticed not only her quick wit, but her sharp mind. What is more, she was really lucky, that is another thing we have carried through our life together, our luck!
WB: Harry reminded me a lot of my father. I know that sounds Freudian, but I always admired my father. He had a strong personality and was very self-confident, just like Harry. But he encouraged me that I could be anything I wanted to be – that was at a time when girls were often told they could ‘educate themselves out of a husband.’
SCB: How did you get from Tahoe to Melbourne and from your respective careers to development and property management?
HB: We dated, sort of long distance, for a couple of years, but then I got promoted to vice president which required that I move to Dallas; that’s when we decided to get married.
WB: He was making more money than I was and I figured I could practice law anywhere. Eventually, Harry was transferred here to Melbourne, which is when the development venture began to congeal.
HB: When I first brought Wendy to Melbourne, I intentionally flew her in at night. It was 1978, the Apollo program had ended and the area looked pretty blighted; there were a lot of empty properties dotting the landscape. However, we believed the community was destined to grow, much like we had seen happen in California. Therefore, it was a good time to start buying property. It wasn’t long before we both fell in love with the area and wanted to be a part of shaping that future.
SCB: What was the catalyst for that new venture?
WB: Real estate was a common interest. Both our fathers had been general contractors, so we grew up around the building industry. As Harry likes to say, “We had dirt in our veins.” We talked about it a lot. What’s more, we realized we not only were able to work well together, our skill sets were very complementary.
HB: I was traveling all the time with my job and I wanted to find a way to stay at home as we started raising a family, while enjoying the lifestyle we had become accustomed to. We looked around and saw incredible assets, like the abundance of waterfront property, both river and oceanfront. The move into property development was where we wanted to be.
SCB: You mentioned complementary skill sets . . . please explain.
WB: Harry was great at identifying potential properties and interfacing with all the people involved in a deal. I would handle working with the lenders and covering all the legal or contractual issues. The bottom line is we both respect and trust each other explicitly.
HB: She was very picky – excuse me, ‘selective’ (smiling) – in helping determine which properties had the greatest potential. Also, she has a lot of discernment when it came to individuals and their intentions.
WB: Harry is so optimistic about people; he believes the best about everyone.
SCB: Was separating your personal life and your professional life challenging, and how did you find that balance?
WB: For us it all blends together, our life isn’t like husband and wife teams that have to man the till (run a retail store). We don’t spend eight hours a day in the office; wherever we have a phone we can do business.
HB: It is never dull and we don’t consider our business, or more particularly our tenants, as an imposition on our life; they are our business. It is our tenants that have the value, not the buildings; without the tenants the buildings are a liability.
WB: My father taught me to always treat tenants with respect. Harry embodies that quality. I don’t think he has an enemy in the community. For that reason most of our referrals come from our tenants. We consider ourselves as partners with our tenants, working for their success. The longer you know them the better you are able to evaluate their situation. If they are going through a tough time, we want to help them make the turn.
SCB: What advice would you give to couples starting a business together?
HB: The most important decision is the field you choose to go into. Some professions lend themselves to working together and some do not. In our case we needed the other to be complete. We rely on each other’s perspective rather than clashing over our differences.
WB: To succeed, each need separate gifts, which cause the sum of the two to be greater than what they could be separately. Harry loves the negotiation phase of deals; he has always been a sort of ‘go-to, how-can-we-make-this-deal-happen kind of guy.’
SCB: What are the most important values you share with each other?
WB: I think trust, respect and humor. When we disagree, as all couples do, we fight fair. We try and look at the issue objectively and we don’t pull out old issues and throw them at each other. Instead, we have learned to forgive quickly.
HB: Wendy tends to be the more logical/objective side of the team and, as I said earlier, she is very intuitive when it comes to people.
SCB: What do you enjoy most about this stage of your life?
WB: We enjoy our involvement in the nonprofit sector. It has always been something that is important to us, going back to the Downtown Melbourne revitalization. But now we have more time and resources to contribute.
HB: The skills we have learned and developed in the business world can bring great value to the nonprofit sector and vice versa. We both like to solve problems; without that challenge, what would we do? We now have the opportunity to invest our business acumen to provide structure and support for these amazing and worthy organizations.
WB: People want to make a difference and when they can put their time, resources and talent into a worthy cause, it is very gratifying.