Ron Edwards

The building blocks of a serial entrepreneur

Even before Ron Edwards (BSBA Accounting ’70) graduated from college, he was building his entrepreneurial skills – quite literally, in fact. Edwards started his first business building wood pallets with his father and brothers in his small hometown outside of Jacksonville, Florida.

“We decided to try [building pallets] one weekend to see how long it would take,” he said. “We found that it was pretty simple to do, so we kept going. My brother Pat actually still runs the company (RPM Wood Products), and it will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year.”

Since then, Edwards has been involved in starting and running countless businesses, including SoBe beverages, which was sold to Pepsico in 2000, and Blue Buffalo Company, which recently sold to General Mills.

Edwards’ success as a serial entrepreneur, he said, comes down to having a strong business foundation.

“Good business principles apply to any good business endeavor,” he said. “A lot of what I’ve been involved with has been everything from manufacturing goods to agriculture, but the same principles apply.”

Edwards credits the education he received at the University of Florida Warrington College of Business with helping him gain the business foundation as well as the communication skills that have played a large role in his success.

“[At UF] I learned accounting, and that helps,” he laughed. “But probably only half of what you learn in college is in classrooms. Learning about interpersonal relationships is important, too. Ultimately, it’s about learning how to communicate and show that you have ideas and leadership.”

The business, communication and leadership skills Edwards learned at UF have been paramount throughout his career, from his first position as a CPA at Ernst & Ernst (now Ernst & Young) to his subsequent role at Tropicana as Chief Operating Officer, and the position he’s been in for 30 years as President and CEO of Evans Properties, a family-owned agribusiness and real estate company based in Vero Beach, Florida with cattle and citrus operations in eight Florida counties encompassing 40,000 plus acres.

Edwards’ business skills and entrepreneurial background serve him particularly well at Evans Properties, as Florida has lost about 70 percent of its citrus trees to greening and other diseases in the past decade. Finding a way to repurpose Evans Properties’ citrus land for other agricultural uses benefits the company as well as Florida’s environment, he said.

“In reviewing alternate uses of our land, we are converting certain large groves situated along the major south Florida drainage canals to retain and store excess nutrient laden storm water during the rainy season for the state of Florida,” he said. “This will reduce the negative impact on the Indian River Lagoon and Estuary. This would be a temporary 10-year contract that would serve as a bridge until the longer-term Comprehensive Everglades Recovery Project (CERP) reservoirs can be built and then return Evans land to farming.”

He added, “Evans and I, personally, have become the lead investors in a venture capital startup company developing the Pongamia tree as an alternative to diversify some of our citrus land. TerViva Bio Energy, Inc. is an Oakland, California based company. Pongamia is a tree native to India and Australia which produces an oilseed crop suitable for conversion into bio diesel renewable fuel. The tree can be directly planted on existing citrus grove infrastructure and can be mechanically harvested. The TerViva developed cultivars require low inputs and have excellent yields offering growers returns equal to or better than citrus.”

“I’m a practical environmentalist,” he said. “I think there’s a way to preserve our natural environment and continue to make Florida a place where we can prosper as well. We’re a part of nature, too.”

Edwards spoke with Florida Trend about the impact of citrus greening and how Evans Properties is reimagining it’s land use to help solve Florida’s growing water problem. Watch the video from Florida Trend featuring Edwards here.