The Money Issue - Profile: Bankers South
Amid the financial meltdown, Brian Philpot and Rob Harper have turned profits from a real estate firm into a lending source, helping borrowers who can't get conventional loans.
Hitting It Off
Rob Harper and Brian Philpot bring complementary skills to running their businesses. Harper provides the trader’s instincts, and Philpot has the legal and organizational skills. “Rob’s strength is thinking on his feet,” says Philpot. “He sees an issue very quickly and sees where something is going to run into problems and identifies those problems early. I jump in and come up with a solution and structure that works.”
The two first met when Philpot bought a property from Harper. While both turned a profit on the deal, Philpot says he was impressed with how much more money Harper made from it. Harper, who ran a development firm, says he suggested a collaboration after a prospective seller tried to play them against each other. The combination clicked from the beginning. “I needed someone who’s organized — that was sort of the part of my company that was missing,” Harper says.
So far, the biggest challenge to the business came after Philpot began suffering from flu-like symptoms in 2002. Over three years, he lost about 30 pounds and ended up in the hospital, where doctors diagnosed Lyme disease and Brucellosis. “It was a scary and frustrating time,” says Philpot, who had to take antibiotics for 18 months to recover. “I was in my mid-30s and in great shape, and it was all taken from me. It helped prioritize what’s important.”
Building a Partnership
David Rancourt, co-founder of the lobbying firm Southern Strategy Group, first became involved with Land South seven years ago when he led the governmental affairs strategy to sell a large tract of land owned by Land South to the Florida Forever conservation program. His association with Land South continued when he joined Philpot and Harper in purchasing Cypress Gardens in 2007 for $16.5 million. Based on advice from management consulting companies, Land South initially tried to operate the theme park itself, before realizing it lacked the talent and experience to make money in the amusement business. Land South eventually sold the 150 acres of lakefront theme park land to Merlin Entertainments, which turned it into Legoland Florida. Rancourt, meanwhile, joined Land South’s management team in 2011 and relocated from Tallahassee to Lakeland. He works with financial institutions from which Bankers South occasionally buys loans and also handles investor relations at the firm.