Vince Graham has built award-winning communities. He has infused his personal philosophy in the work of his company, the I’On Group. He takes an unconventional approach to just about everything. We’re excited to have I’On as one of our business partners.
Praxis: Tell us a little about your history. How did you become a developer?
VG: First, I think it important to define “developer” because it’s an elusive word. With regard to real estate, the biggest developer is surely the government, which is behind the construction of major projects like highways, schools, and dams. By comparison, I am a very small developer who coordinates the building of small infrastructure projects. This involves developing opportunities for other “developers.” For example, at I’On we constructed infrastructure to service building lots that we then sold. Each lot represented a development opportunity for another party, upon which homes, commercial buildings, and civic structures were built.
With regard to how I became a developer, I spent a lot of time in my late teens and early twenties working in residential construction and finance. This led to jobs working with real estate developers, including a project management position in Beaufort County, South Carolina. In my spare time, I renovated an old home and developed a vacant lot into a new home in the historic district of Beaufort. My experience working with others, along with the success of these small projects, evolved into a decision to start a real estate development company at 27.
Praxis: What about your philosophy. Who or what are some of your intellectual and professional influences?
VG: I’m an avid reader with diverse interests – history, economics, philosophy, art, sociology, anthropology. I’m inspired by radical thinkers and doers. By “radical”, I mean what most people think of when they hear that term – different from the usual or customary. However, I’m also partial to the first definition of radical (derived from the Latin radix – root), which means of or related to the root or origin. Radical influences include figures such as Jesus, Ivan Illich, and Kevin Carson; to those who were directly engaged in developing real estate – people like James Oglethorpe (the founder of Georgia), Thomas Jefferson, Charles Fraser, and Robert Davis.
Praxis: Do you see yourself as simply responding to what consumers want, or are you trying to actually shape what they want?
VG: I respond to what I think that some (not all) people want. I include myself among this group of “some people” because I build and renovate the kinds of places that I would choose to live in myself. To the extent that I aim for continuous improvement, I suppose you could say I influence the shape of what some want.
Praxis: What’s the hardest part about what you do?
VG: Maintaining patience with absurd dogma.
Praxis: When you run into obstacles, what drives you to push through?
VG: A stubborn belief that I’m in the right.
Praxis: What’s the best part about being an entrepreneur?
VG: Feeling somewhat in control of my own destiny and time.
Praxis: Any particular successes or failures that you’ve learned from?
VG: The aforementioned small projects in Beaufort were tremendous learning experiences as they involved, at a small scale, all the development processes involved in a larger project. They also were great confidence builders.
The recent downturn in the real estate market provided many important humility lessons.
Praxis: What’s your advice to young people looking to build a fulfilling career?
VG: Remember that the way to make God laugh is to show Him your plans. Your career will take many turns. It’s good to have short and long term goals, but don’t be presumptuous in your approach to achieving them. “Happiness”, as Aristotle and Jefferson thought of it, involves fulfilling your potential. In the pursuit of this happiness, dig deep within yourself to identify core values. From there, formulate a purpose to serve as your guiding star – acknowledging that it can’t be reached, but that it will serve to direct and inspire a fulfilled life. Note: the process identifying values and formulating a purpose to achieve your potential could easily take several years.
Praxis: Parting thoughts?
VG: Always be learning. Read, write, speak, think. Those are are abilities that make us human.
Good relationship is key to life. Forming relationships by becoming someone others can count on, and surrounding yourself with solid people you can count on, is of utmost importance.
Take time to wonder and dream, but don’t forget that vision without execution is hallucination.
Praxis: Thanks Vince for breaking the mold every day!