Pillars of North Carolina: Steve Stroud
From humble beginnings, Steve Stroud rose to become one of the state’s most highly regarded commercial real estate pros.
Commercial real estate professional Stephen Stroud remembers taking Christmas treats to another family when he was a child. Although the Stroud family didn’t have much to give, it was an attitude and environment that he says shaped his life.
Stroud, 77, grew up near Hollis in Rutherford County. He came to Raleigh in 1961 to attend N.C. State University. While working at an appliance and furniture store, he met local real estate broker Clarence Adams; Stroud asked him for a job. While he left school early to pursue commercial real estate, he’s stayed heavily involved in N.C. State affairs for decades.
By 1972, Stroud founded Carolantic, a commercial-property brokerage that later affiliated with NAI Global, a national group of independent firms. In late 2019, Stroud merged NAI Carolantic with Raleigh-based Tri Properties. Greg Sanchez serves as president, while Stroud is senior executive vice president of land services.
Over more than 50 years, Stroud has influenced much of the Triangle’s development, including a part in the creation of the PNC Arena; persuading the Hartford Whalers to move its NHL team to Raleigh, later becoming the Carolina Hurricanes; assembling land for Durham’s Imperial Center office park; and assisting with the creation of the Highwoods Properties real estate investment trust. He’s rarely shy about sharing his opinions, as the following conversation suggests.
Stroud and his companies have received various honors including the A.E. Finley Distinguished Service Award, the Pinnacle Business Award by the Raleigh Chamber, and The Order of the Long Leaf Pine from former Gov. Jim Hunt. Stroud recently moved to a townhouse in downtown Cary. Between real estate deals, he’s often found sipping an orangeade from Ashworth Drugs’ old-school soda fountain. His comments are edited for length and clarity.
Where I grew up, the Saturday night Grand Ole Opry didn’t get there till Wednesday. I truly grew up in the foothills of North Carolina out in the country. The house my brother and I were both born in had no electricity, no running water, no indoor facilities. It was three rooms and about 600 square feet.
For some reason [Clarence Adams] took a liking to me and agreed to let me come to work. I sat out in the reception area. I took a call one day, and it was Temple Sloan. Of course, I didn’t know who Temple Sloan was. He was getting started in the auto-parts business, and I was trying to get started in the real estate business. I didn’t know anything about auto parts, and he didn’t know anything about real estate. The truth is, I didn’t know much more than he did. He told me he wanted to find a piece of property to build a distribution center on.
I did find [Sloan] a piece of land that met his requirements. The bill was $35,000. He bought the piece of land only to find out after he bought it, it didn’t have a dedicated street to it. I said, “Temple, it was my responsibility to know that, and I’ll take care of it.” The fact is, I spent more than I got in commission solving that problem. Temple and I became friends, and he appreciated that I didn’t collect my money and run. We still do business together and that was over 50 years ago. [Sloan formed General Parts International, which was sold to Advance Auto Parts for $2 billion in 2014.]
I think 2021 will be a good year for North Carolina. This combination of the pandemic and civil unrest is giving us a lot of looks from companies from other parts of the country that are having more trouble than we are. We’re going to start benefiting from some of the flights from some of these major cities. Our residential markets are the strongest they’ve ever been. The business opportunities and the employment opportunities are growing daily. We’ve got available resources, available land and quality of life — everything you’d put on a list that companies are looking for. It would be hard for anyone to beat what we have to offer.
If I don’t get out and [drive] around at least once a month, I can’t keep up with it. [The Triangle] is changing so rapidly. It’s almost beyond imagination about what has happened in a fairly short period of time. I think we are just at the beginning of what’s going to happen. We just have to be smart enough to manage that growth in a fashion that keeps the quality of life and the good environment that we currently have.
Well I’m going to get in trouble here. I’ve probably said for years that Raleigh, Durham, Cary, Chapel Hill all need to get together and have a metropolitan planning unit, a metropolitan police force, a metropolitan utility division for water and sewer. They should be much more collaborative than they have been. Everyone has their fiefdom and once you start messing with police chiefs and fire chiefs and people like that, no one wants to give up their fiefdom.
It’s going to be a contiguous region regardless of what the politicians might think. We could operate so much more efficiently, and we could prevent a lot of problems if we had it under a metropolitan unit where we planned highways [together]. Raleigh plans a highway going west, and Durham plans a highway coming east, and they’re a half a mile apart when they should have been connecting.
It would be so much simpler to explain to someone new to this area with a business or a development if we didn’t have a dozen sets of rules that they have to wade through. You’d have common zoning so people would know exactly what they can build, where they can build it and how they can build it without having it change when you cross over a county or city line.
In the ’70s, Roddy Jones, Temple Sloan and I were able to put together the initial land for Highwoods Properties. We started setting some new trends on how good development could be done in a way that benefited the city and the people who worked within the boundaries of that development. We were able to grow that company into a Southeast region business that still ranks pretty high among all those development-type companies.
I would give the airport more protection. They’re letting development, particularly residential development, creep in too close to the airport. We have become a major international airport. We’ve seen what happens in Atlanta. As Atlanta’s airport grew, they had to spend millions of dollars to buy residential communities to allow the airport to grow. When you come into Raleigh/Durham and you’re ready to land and you look out the window and see people grilling in the backyard, you know that’s a problem. ■