Jim Heistand

Building Billions

How Jim Heistand started a real estate empire.

Growing up in Miami, real estate development happened before Jim Heistand’s eyes. Constantly seeing properties being bought and sold, he was intrigued to learn about how these deals happened. Coming from a family with little financial means, understanding how he could make money in the process was significant, too.

When it came time for Heistand (BSBA ’74) to attend college, the first in his family to do so, choosing the University of Florida was simple.

“Being from Florida, UF was the premier school to go to then, as it is today,” he said. “I was fortunate that I got admitted with my less than stellar grades in high school.”

While Heistand also struggled with his grades early in college, even being put on academic probation in his first year, his real estate studies captured his interest as they enlightened the development he had seen in his hometown. Heistand fondly remembers his classes with Dr. Wayne Archer, who is still an essential element to real estate studies at UF today.

“I wasn’t a Rhodes Scholar, but of all my grades in my real estate classes were my best,” he said.

While he didn’t know it at the time, with his years watching the changing Miami skyline combined with his interest in his real estate classes, Heistand had found his path.

It would take only a couple of years of “quite boring” working in internal auditing at his first job out of college with Coopers & Lybrand, now PricewaterhouseCoopers, in Pittsburgh for Heistand to get back to his real estate passion. In his internal auditing role, he was able to take on a few real estate clients and ultimately move into the company’s real estate department.

“By the time I was 30, I had finally been able to get into the discipline I wanted,” he said.

After that, Heistand’s career can only be described as rocketing to success. In the years since 1987, Heistand moved back to Florida, was recruited to be the president at a public real estate company and would start four of his own real estate companies – one which would become the largest owner of office space in Florida.

Heistand’s first company, Associated Capital Properties, was where he was able to ramp up his success through an expansion into institutional capital. Lehman Brothers would become his biggest client, allowing Associated Capital to become the bank’s real estate investment arm in the state.

“If you wanted to buy office space in Florida, we were the ones who would do it,” Heistand said.

Associated Capital’s success caught the eye of Highwoods Properties, which would ultimately buy Heistand’s business for $622 million in 1997. For two years, Heistand stayed with Highwoods as Senior VP and as a member on its board of directors until his departure to his next ventures.

While Heistand’s assets had primarily been office space, he expanded into medical office buildings with the purchase of DASCO in 1999. Around the same time, Heistand also founded Eola Capital, which went back to his office building roots. While he would sell DASCO five years later for $240 million, Heistand grew Eola Capital to hold $1.3 billion in assets and more than 13 million square feet across three states in the Southeast.  

Heistand’s abundant success once again caught the eye of a buyer, and he sold Eola Capital in 2011 to Parkway Properties. Just a few months after the sale, Heistand was asked to join Parkway, a publicly traded real estate investment trust (REIT), as President and CEO. 

After a few years acquiring assets across the Sun Belt, Parkway grew to holding almost $4 billion in assets and expanded into Houston, which would be a key aspect of Heistand’s next step. Declines in the Texas oil market caused Parkway’s stock to dip steadily, and Heistand decided a merger would be the best outcome for stockholders. He sold Parkway and spun the company’s Houston assets off into a new public REIT, also called Parkway.

It’s this iteration of Parkway that Heistand continues to lead today as CEO and Founder in Orlando.

With more than 30 years of experience in owning companies with assets in the billions, Heistand has collected plenty of pieces of good advice for how to be successful in business.

One of the most important lessons Heistand learned and said is critical for good business is to keep tabs on your reputation.

“In any business, reputation is crucial,” he said. “Always assume you will deal with the same people again. Treat them right. It will only hurt you going forward if you don’t.

“You can’t escape the good things you do or the bad things you do.”

In the same vein, Heistand notes a similar lesson he learned the hard way – keep your ego in check.

“When I think about the mistakes I’ve made, and there’s been plenty, a lot of those have been ego driven,” he said. “It’s those [mistakes] that come back to bite you.”

For students and young professionals, Heistand suggests learning as much as you can and taking on tasks that you aren’t familiar with.

“Put yourself in an environment to learn as early as you can,” he said. “It’s also up to the individual to take on things that you don’t know how to do. Ask if you can go to meetings about something you’re not familiar with.

“Don’t be content to just do your work. You won’t learn much by doing that.”

Heistand practices what he preaches, adding that he’s excited to grow in areas he’s not as familiar with. Professionally, that means expanding Parkway’s assets to include more multifamily and industrial properties. Personally, a little more than a year before his 70th birthday, he’s eager to continue expanding his fitness pursuits. 

“I played basketball at the Y during my lunch hour for 28 years straight,” he said. “I never wanted to have lunch.”

These days, biking is Heistand’s pastime, even taking some international trips to ride through backroads of some of the world’s quaintest locations, like the French regions of Provence and Burgundy.

“For me and my family, I’m ready to take more time for myself,” he said.