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John Darby, President and CEO of The Beach Company

John Darby

John Darby

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LowcountyBizSC:
Discuss the origins of the company.

John Darby:
The Beach Company was founded in 1945 by my grandfather, JC Long.  It all began with the purchase of the Isle of Palms.  Following the development of the Isle of Palms into a popular beach destination was the construction of the Sergeant Jasper Apartments, still a prominent building in downtown Charleston.  This was just the beginning; many properties soon followed across the Charleston Lowcountry and the Southeast region.

In the mid 1970's, leadership of the company passed to my uncle, Charlie Way.  The Beach Company transformed into a full service real estate company offering services such as development, construction, property management and real estate brokerage. 

Noteworthy projects that soon followed include Kiawah Island, Hobcaw Creek Plantation, Seaside Farms, Majestic Square which houses The Beach Company's Corporate Headquarters, Victoria Center and Cannon Place-just to name a few.

LowcountrybizSC:
Where were you born and raised? 

John Darby:
I was born in Charleston and raised on the Isle of Palms and in Mount Pleasant.  I went to Bishop England High School, and I attended the Citadel on a football scholarship.  Being a Charleston native allows me to completely understand the area, the people and the Charleston tradition. 

LowcountrybizSC:
What was your degree?

John Darby:
Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a concentration in Finance.

LowcountrybizSC:
How did you end up back at the family business?

John Darby:
Originally, I was not planning on working for The Beach Company.  My career started in the banking industry working for Raleigh-based Cameron Brown, which later became First Union Mortgage Corporation, then Wachovia, now Wells Fargo.  I worked in Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Orlando and Columbia.  In 1988, Charlie Way approached me to work for The Beach Company.  A couple of years later, I moved back to Charleston and joined the company in 1990. 

LowcountrybizSC:
What is the core business of The Beach Company? 

John Darby:
Our core business is real estate development and investments.  Business includes a diversified portfolio of real estate to include residential for sale and rent, office buildings, retail, industrial and marinas.

LowcountrybizSC:
Are you involved in the construction side of the business?

John Darby:
Yes, we are.  Gulf Stream Construction, a subsidiary of The Beach Company, has a heavy concentration in site work.  We used to do a lot of building in the area, but strategically decided to reduce that line of business and increase the focus on site work.  Horizontal development is something we have always done well and expanding that business was a great decision for the company.  Even in this challenging economic time, Gulf Stream continues to thrive.

LowcountrybizSC:
What projects do you have in the pipeline?

John Darby:
We have approximately 3,800 acres on Lake Marion called Cantey Bay Plantation and a little over 2,000 acres on the Kiawah River called Kiawah River Plantation that will keep us busy for quite some time.  Both will involve mixed uses – residential, amenities, retail, office and possibly industrial.  For the moment we are holding off construction on these projects until the economy improves. 

LowcountrybizSC:
Is The Beach Company still involved with the Isle of Palms and Kiawah Island?

John Darby:
Residential development on the Isle of Palms has drawn to a close, but we still own and manage several retail properties on the island.

The Beach Company is no longer involved in the operation of Kiawah Island, however Gulf Stream Construction remains active with the construction of certain amenities including the Beach Club, the Cassique Club House and the River Course Club House.

LowcountrybizSC:
What are you most proud of at The Beach Company?

John Darby:
The Beach Company is known for great execution, innovation and a tradition of exceeding our customers' expectations.  Everything we do is designed to service our clients and our shareholders with long-term value for the company and the community as a whole.

LowcountrybizSC:
What is your ownership structure?

John Darby:
The Beach Company is equally owned between the Darby and Way families.  The company has three generations of family ownership and will soon include a fourth generation.  We are very proud of our family legacy.

LowcountrybizSC:
What adjustments have you had to make in this economic environment? 

John Darby:
The Beach Company has felt the weight of the depressed real estate market.  We have adapted by renewing our focus on our core businesses.  Also, we are not taking on any new ventures at this time. When the market improves, we have a pipeline of exciting opportunities. 

LowcountrybizSC:
Have you ever faced this type of market before?

John Darby:
I joined The Beach Company in the middle of the housing slump of the early 1990's, but today it's a more severe recession. The difference then was that there was more credit available in the marketplace.

LowcountrybizSC:
Are there lines of business or sectors that are doing well for The Beach Company? 

John Darby:
We have two new, Class A apartment communities that are open for leasing and thriving: CanalSide in Columbia and Central Square at Watermark in Mount Pleasant.  We feel that these are two of the nicest complexes in the state. 

LowcountrybizSC:
What are a couple of your favorite projects?  Why?

John Darby:
Every project has a unique story.  The Isle of Palms and Kiawah Island, two of The Beach Company's flagship projects are certainly noteworthy, but Majestic Square, at the corner of King and Market, is special for me personally and the company as a whole.  Majestic Square was one of the first projects that I was involved in from start to finish.  The excitement of the project solidified my passion and dedication to the industry as well as my commitment and pride toward the work.  It now houses the Corporate Headquarters for The Beach Company.  Majestic Square is a landmark building in Charleston that helped redefine a new center of town for the peninsula. 

Seaside Farms was also a very unique project.   The approval process was a bit controversial at the time, but it has turned into a vibrant community and has become a mainstay of the local real estate community.   

LowcountrybizSC:
Is there a particular real estate niche or strategy that you have tried to develop over the years?

John Darby:
Around the office we have a saying, "At the end of the day, water wins."  If you look at the history of the company from the Isle of Palms, The Bristol, The City Marina, to CanalSide in Columbia and looking forward to our planned developments on Lake Marion and Kiawah River – the majority of our investments have an orientation to water.  That is not by accident; there are premiums that come with water related assets.

LowcountrybizSC:
What are some of your hobbies outside of work?

John Darby:
Charleston is such a great place to live with ample access to the water and the outdoors.  I grew up here and the salt air is in my blood.  I am an avid hunter and sport fisherman.

LowcountrybizSC:
What is your leadership style? 

John Darby:
I became CEO and learned overnight that you have to be a delegator in order to be a successful leader.  I am fortunate to be surrounded by great people, so I give them a lot of latitude.

The work atmosphere at The Beach Company is very important.  I treat our employees like family.  They know that my door is always open for them, and we do our best to keep open lines of communication.  I think that the mutual respect keeps people motivated and feeling appreciated.

LowcountrybizSC:
What leaders have inspired you?

John Darby:

My grandfather, JC Long was a great inspiration.  Even though we were years apart, we spent a lot of time together and were very close.  He was a Renaissance man - captain of the football team at South Carolina, politician, trial lawyer, real estate developer and entrepreneur– just to name a few.  He was the type of person who lit up the room when he walked in.  Though he commanded a large presence, he had the ability to make you feel important whether you were digging ditches or serving as governor.  Even today, people still come up and tell me how proud they were to have known him.  More than anything, JC loved his family.  That is his most important legacy.

My parents, Charlie and Joyce Darby, have also been an inspiration and great support system for me.  At an early age, they taught me the importance of giving back to the community.  As a physician, my father founded and ran the MUSC Children's Hospital.

My relationship with Charlie Way, Chairman of the Board of The Beach Company, has been significant.  When I took over as CEO, Charlie went out of his way to make sure that there was a seamless succession. I handle the day-to-day decisions for the company, but I still rely heavily on him for strategic decisions.