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Trendsetters - Jan. 2006

Cara Mantovani
Mantovani Realty

Education: Bachelor's, University of Miami. She studied creative writing and broadcast journalism, which she decided against because of the long hours. "Isn't it ironic that I ended up in a field where I work

Junior year: Crossed the equator three times on the QE II.

Pastimes: Boating and tennis

Fatherly advice: "My dad says to stay focused. When you go into a meeting or a showing, you don't ever want anyone else in that room to know more than you do. (And) there are no shortcuts in life -- he never stops saying that."

A Strong Showing

Growing up, Cara Mantovani helped her father collect rents and manage property at his commercial development and brokerage firm. And when she got her real estate license, she naturally assumed she had an "in" at her dad's company. Kenneth Mantovani Jr. informed Cara in no uncertain terms that her assumptions were illusory. "Keep sniffing glue," Cara says he told her. "He said if you were going to do anything in this life, you've got to do it yourself," Mantovani says. "Tough love."

So she went out on her own, spending a year as an apprentice at a Miami firm and then another year in which she earned sales production honors. But things were slow at first. "It took me six months to make a deal. It was awful. Mac and cheese every night. Friday night was real fancy by making it tuna casserole. Then it started rolling and popping." She returned to her father's firm in 2003. By then, his Miami office was only for property management and he was going to close it. She took it over, opened a residential sales division and later a new developments sales division.

In 2004, her mother died, which drove Mantovani to work all the harder. By the end of that year, her firm had more than $100 million in listings. Says Mantovani, 27: "You've got to love it. You've got to believe in it. It's not a job. It's a lifestyle."

Other Notables

? Lani Kahn Drody, 33, executive vice president of Miami-based builder Lowell Homes, is the first woman president of the Builders Association of South Florida. Lowell builds in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach and is moving into St. Lucie County and central Florida.

? Carmen Dominguez, 56, started her Homes by Carmen Dominguez high-end custom home building company in 1999 in Orlando after her children went off to college. The Puerto Rico-born daughter of a sugar cane farmer did $15 million in volume in 2005. She won the honor of constructing The New American Home, a "real world" demonstration home, for the 2007 International Builders' Show in Orlando.

? John Wiseman, 41, president, Core Construction's Florida operations, oversees condo and other project construction for developers around the state. Core had $150 million in revenue in Florida in 2005. "The market has changed. Two years ago, we competed for work. Now we're competing for resources and manpower to get the work done."

? Oscar Barbara, 45, CEO of Miami-based builder Quantum. Quantum built 650 homes in south Florida in 2005 at an average price of $300,000. It most recently expanded into the Palm Beach market.

The Renovation Shuffle

Ed Dion

Ed Dion
Dion Builders

For fun: A 1984 Corvette and golf. He also writes poetry and family stories.
Workday: Estimating and invoicing. "If someone told me I was going to spend most of my time as a builder at the computer screen, I wouldn't have believed him."
Early work: Building skiers' second homes in New Hampshire
Second home: The Home Depot
Most popular job: Kitchen makeovers, which average $50,000
The reality beyond reality makeover shows: "You generally don't do whole house makeovers."

After 25 years in home and commercial remodeling, Ed Dion knows a lot about dancing. There's the keep-costs-down dance that customers do. They may want expensive counters but opt for cheaper laminate. Then, when ordering time comes, they go with what they really wanted. "I can't tell you the last house I put laminate countertops in," he says.

Patience and hand-holding come with the repair and renovation territory that Dion, 53, has staked out. As people look askance at their dated kitchens and baths but want to preserve their shorter commutes and Save Our Homes low property taxes, they look to upgrade.

A Rhode Island native whose father came to Florida to rebuild jet engines for the Navy, Dion founded Dion Builders in 1981 to do new construction and renovation. He found renovation paid better. He has stayed small with 14 employees and $1.2 million in annual revenue. In May, he bought and remodeled a 65-year-old home as a "renovation innovation" house in the local Parade of Homes, winning awards. He kept it as a model for potential customers. "We didn't realize how hot an item it was," Dion says. Features include an accessible bathroom that avoids the nursing-home look and an accessibility ramp outside disguised with lattice work and plantings. The house paid off with so much work he now has a six-month backlog.

Dion keeps abreast of what's hot, like residential elevators. He also keeps up with his 'dancing,' especially the while-you're-here tango, done by customers tired of waiting for spouses to get around to a repair, and the changed-my-mind waltz. Only once in 25 years, Dion says, has a customer not changed anything.

Todd Gates

Todd Gates
Gates McVey
President, CEO

PROFESSIONALLY: 10-year-old Gates McVey, with $85 million in 2005 revenue, expects to grow to $500 million in five years. Revenue derives equally from office, retail, multifamily and public projects. Also, Gates chairs the Economic Development Council of Collier County.

EDGE: Statewide, fully integrated land acquisition, development, design, financing, construction and property management for clients. "Lots of people want to develop -- but don't have the time and skill set."

QUOTE: "Commercial is speed, speed, speed. Every day that school, that auditorium, is not open, people are losing money."

BIGGIES NOW: $120-million, 192-unit condo project in Aventura, The Atrium

NEW IDEA: Gates would like to build a school and lease it back to a county.

DESIGN APPEAL: "I like projects that are unique and special. It needs to be a project that is timeless and that is an asset to the citizens and the state."

BEYOND CEMENT: Gates sponsors and competes in backwater fishing tournaments.

PERSONALLY: Virginia native, 43. Wife, Angela, his high school sweetheart; daughters Courtney and Britney

Ugo Colombo

Ugo Colombo
Developer, business owner

Miami condo developer Ugo Colombo, 43, has brought in his brother Claudio to run Glasswall, a Miami company Colombo took over a couple of years ago to ensure a supply of high-performance glass, railings and mirrors for his projects. Glasswall now supplies products, including hurricane-proof glass, for mid- and high-rise projects throughout Florida and in Las Vegas. Meanwhile, Colombo, a Milan native who came to the U.S. in 1983, is busy with Epic, his newest downtown Miami condo project.

You can reach Mike Vogel at mvogel@floridatrend.com