Robert & Richardson Lee Vernon
It was when President Richard Nixon vacationed on Key Biscayne, that he’d arrive at Vernon’s Drugstore before it opened for breakfast. “I would have to open up an hour early, start the grills and wait for the Secret Service to do a sweep. Then President Nixon would come in for a cup of coffee and conversation,” recalls Richardson Lee Vernon, founder of the drugstore. “I made sure my son, Buzz, was there to see the President. It was very memorable. Who knew one day Buzz would be Mayor of Key Biscayne?”
Buzz is better known on the Key as Robert Vernon, and was indeed Mayor of Key Biscayne. A Coral Gables native, Richardson Lee Vernon moved to the Key when his father, Harry Vernon, asked him to join in on an unlikely venture — to open a gas station.
However distinct, it was a venture that founded what has been a Key Biscayne landmark since 1951, and more importantly, an unbreakable bond between father and son.
“My parents encouraged me to get an education,” says Robert. “They assured me that if I went to pharmacy school, I was guaranteed a job when I was done. “
He continues: both my kids grew up working in the store — whether it was taking out the garbage or putting the newspapers together on Sunday morning. They knew they always had a place to go,” says Richardson. “I had hoped my son would want to follow in my footsteps; however, I never pushed him.”
Robert grew up with a passion for sports that inspired his decision to study sports management, and scored him a dream job with the New England Patriots.
As much of a change that it was, fate wouldn’t have it. “I wanted to return and go into business with my dad and help run the business he had built,” says Robert. “Best of all, he provided me with the opportunity to live and raise my family in one of the best communities around.”
Now a real estate broker with Fortune International Realty, Robert’s success — in and out of the public eye — is the legacy of his dad. “It’s not often you can continue to learn from your parents long into your adult life, but that’s exactly the case with my dad. He instilled in me what I have tried to instill in my own children: Work ethic, honesty and integrity are all values that are in your control. With those attributes you can achieve just about anything.”
Q: Best part of working together?
A: “First thing in the morning, we’d have our first cup of coffee together and go over the sports page and read about the local news on the island. We would also play practical jokes!”
Q: Worst part?
A: “Trying to convince each other that our ideas are good ones. We don’t always want to listen to one another.”
Q: Common hobbies outside work?
A: “We like to watch sporting events together, walk on the beach, and talk about the children and grandchildren.”
KB Hardware: The Cambós
The Castro Revolution was what brought the Cambó family to the U.S., where their visionary minds were quick to flourish and eager to create. Father Roberto Cambó was a pioneer in the produce sector before moving on to real estate development, inspiring his son, Manuel, to build a business for himself. At 19, Manuel started a paint contracting business. His first big job: Painting his father’s real estate development in the Latin Quarter in Little Havana — two shopping centers and a 60-unit condominium topping the structure. “It was quite challenging,” says Manuel, who led a team of a half-dozen men. “I enjoyed real estate development enough that by 1991 I decided to get my real estate license to sell commercial real estate, which I’m still doing today.”
At the same time, the father and son duo operate KB Hardware, the retail business purchased by Dad in 1993. Ironically, it wasn’t in Roberto’s plans for his sons to pursue his line of work. “I wanted my three sons to get the college education I didn’t get, so they wouldn’t face the struggles I came across,” he says, although he can radiate nothing but profound pride in what has resulted.
The rewards this duo has reaped is most obvious in the expansion of their hardware store, what Manuel calls “The perfect matrimony of retail and real estate development”; and what we call the merging of two great minds. Manuel jokes: “I’ve learned that you definitely can’t teach an old dog new tricks! My father made a lot of money in real estate with nothing but paper and a notepad, no computers. Today, while I search the Internet for new products, my father is in his car driving to other hardware stores on the mainland. See the difference? He’s always ahead of the game.”
And the most interesting part of the equation is that all of their success is based on Dad’s hard luck principles. “The harder you work and the better ideas you implement, the luckier you get on the balance sheet,” says Manuel. “Then you just have to save enough of your earnings to stay confident, and give the rest away. The giving part is what I want my children to remember. Get married to life, not to money.”
Q: What is the best part about working together?
A: Manuel: “As a son, the completive part. I always want to come up with the better marketing idea to sell something presently on the shelf.”
Q: What do you enjoy doing outside of work together?
A: “Wining and dining. We’re always talking about restaurants and food, especially cheeses. This brings about the conversation of wines that complement them.”
Q: What is your secret to success?
A: Manuel: “Dad’s hard luck principles state that the harder you work, the luckier you get in business. The key is to save as much money as you need to stay confident and then give the rest away.”
Coastal Building Maintenance: The Sullivans
When we first met Ray and Matt Sullivan, Ray was away on a sailboat cruising the Exuma Islands, and son Matt wasn’t surprised. “A lot of people wish they had my dad’s life,” he says. “Growing up he had this picture frame in his office that read, ‘Dad’s wish is to someday make enough money so he can live the kind of life his wife and kids live’…well, I can safely say his wish has finally come true.”
The Sullivans have lived on Key Biscayne since 1973, and for the past 20 years, have worked together in the family business of Coastal Building Maintenance, a.k.a. CBM, founded by grandfather Raymond Sullivan in 1953 in New Jersey. The commercial janitorial company provides full-service cleaning and maintenance services for properties including office buildings, schools, condominiums, medical facilities and with offices in Florida and Vermont. “We moved to Miami to open a satellite office, and I instantly fell in love with the water and the small-town feel of Key Biscayne,” says Ray.
With Ray’s son, Ted, his daughter Ashley, and his son-in-law, Jeff, involved in operations, CBM is a true family business. In 2007, Dad sold Matt controlling interest of the company. “Although my first title was Sales Executive — which meant my job was to increase sales for the company — my dad always kept me involved in the operations part of the business, as well as banking, back office support and personnel decisions,” says Matt. “Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, he was grooming me to be a business owner and to be hands-on in all aspects of the business.”
Jokes Matt: “Lets be honest, the janitorial industry isn’t something that everyone strives for — but I have achieved a lot of success and personal satisfaction growing the company and watching our employees and executive team evolve and prosper under our leadership,” he says. “It’s been a truly amazing experience I wouldn’t trade for the world!”
Q: Matt, why did you follow in your dad’s footsteps?
A: “Having the opportunity to be in business for myself was the motivation. It gives me the flexibility to set my own schedule and be involved in my kids’ extracurricular activities, like coaching their little league teams.”
Q: What’s the worst part about working together?
A: “Separating work and family, although we do a decent job of trying to not talk shop when we get our families together.”
Q: What do you enjoy doing together outside of work?
A: Ray: “We enjoy golf, boating and skiing. We also both love sports so we can be found at many ‘Canes, Dolphins, Heat and Marlins games, providing I can get him to share his tickets with his old man!”