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TheStreet Open House

5 Black-Owned Businesses Making a Buzz

4. R. Donahue (Don) Peebles
Chairman and CEO of The Peebles Corp.
Lesson: Take a risk.
R. Donahue "Don" Peebles is the chairman and CEO of the country's largest black-owned real estate development company. The Peebles Corp. has a multibillion-dollar portfolio of luxury hotels, high-rise residential and commercial properties in Washington, D.C., Miami and Las Vegas.

He is one of the country's wealthiest African-Americans. Peebles is also the author of two professional success books and is well-known in the political circuit as a member of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and president of Barack Obama's National Finance Committee, according to his professional bio.

How did he get to such an acclaimed status? Peebles first dropped out of college and took a risk on an inner-city area in Washington, D.C., to launch his career.

"One of the most important skills, the fundamental foundation to being successful, is hard work, commitment, dedication and tenacity, but what I think is the essential ingredient is the ability to see things that others don't see -- to find value where others don't," Peebles says. "That aspect of having vision of what the possibilities are and also not having any kind of mental boundaries in your mind as to what is accomplishable and doable" is essential to entrepreneurial success.

Peebles uses the first building he put up more than a quarter-century ago as an example. At the time, Peebles had never bought property -- he even rented his home -- and had no professional track record or equity. To top it off, the area he wanted to develop into an office building was in an economically neglected area.

"That was a $10 million project. To think that a person who never built a building before and didn't even own their own home could believe that they could actually build a large office building and get it financed," Peebles says. "A big part of business is actually being willing to try to take the risk."

Peebles says he was lucky to be raised in D.C. In any other city, it would likely have been much harder for him, he says.

"I came of age after the civil rights movement had ushered in a new era. I started my business in Washington, D.C., which was a city that was predominantly African-American. The business power and wealth still resided in the non-minority community, but the local political power transferred ... There was a desire and a conscious effort to create opportunities for minority businesses and minority entrepreneurs to be successful," Peebles says.

Yet even as a successful developer Peebles remarks that "I don't think I was ever part of the club in, say, Miami, because it was a different culture and wasn't accustomed to seeing someone at my level who was African-American," he says. "But it didn't stop me from making a few hundred million dollars down there."

But the effort he had to put in was on par with The Boreland Group's Witter. "I felt that I had to win and by a bigger margin. I had to overwhelm. I had to be twice as good. I had to make it easy for a business person or political leader to want to do business with me," he says.

He also sees it as a responsibility to give back to the entrepreneurial community, particularly to blacks.

"We have a larger responsibility and a heavier burden, if you will, because there are so few successful black entrepreneurs. The No. 1 thing we have to do is be examples ... about the possibility of what is possible," he says.

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