How a Gas Station Led Steven McCraney to Become Orlando’s King of Industrial Development

Over breakfast on a recent morning in Winter Park, Steven McCraney opened a manilla folder and spread out pages of numbers across the table, excitedly pointing to multicolored columns and rows.

The spreadsheets map out what’s driving the president and CEO of McCraney Property Co.’s success in the Southeast where the company has more than 14 million square feet of active speculative industrial projects under various stages of development in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.

They also reveal why McCraney, one of real estate’s biggest names in South Florida, uprooted his home weeks ago and replanted in Central Florida. A hastily drawn line connects two cells between Central and South Florida with an arrow pointing to “5x” — a figure showing Central Florida will see five times the industrial growth in the years to come versus South Florida.

“Central Florida is on fire,” he said. “Most of the institutional money sources missed it for years.”

This is usually where the conversation around McCraney ends — at what he’s developed and what he plans to do. After all, it’s what he’s most comfortable talking about. However, he rarely reveals his career story of how he rose from almost nothing to becoming the king of industrial development here.

In an exclusive interview, OBJ spoke with McCraney, 60, about his past, his biggest fears, life lessons and how he defines success. Read on to learn more.

How did you break into business? I was 28, and my wife and I cashed out our IRAs. It totaled $64,000. We built a gas station in South Florida, and we both worked behind the counter. It wasn’t glamorous. We borrowed family seed money for 90 days. The gas station was more work than I’d ever seen in my life. If someone didn’t show up to work, I was behind the register. At 4:30 in the morning, I was sticking the tank to measure how much gas was in there.

How did you get into industrial real estate? After seven years, we owned 36 gas stations in seven Florida counties. In 1997, we sold the gas stations and then built a 20,000-square-foot warehouse. Our next project was a 40,000-square-foot warehouse. That turned into a half-million square feet of development a year before the Great Recession. Our development pipeline today is roughly $1.2 billion.

What’s your best piece of advice for people starting in business? Stay the course. Too many people quit too early. That said, when you’re starting out, you have a lot of ambition, and you need to be in a place where people allow you to grow and not handcuff your energy.

How do you make effective decisions as a leader? I find that too many people today wait to make choices. But a huge difference maker is thoughtful, fast decisions. Good, bad or indifferent, make a decision. You can always course correct if you need to. If you’re not in the game, you have no shot at scoring.

Is there a dream deal where you’d call it quits and retire? No. I get so much joy out of showing up. It’s like putting a puzzle together. I’ve been putting it together for 30 years. Every time I think I may think I’m pretty good at this, I realize I have so much to learn.

Isn’t it scary to realize there’s an infinite amount to learn but our lives are so short? My biggest worry in life is running out of time. If I could live another 50-100 years and be really healthy, I would enjoy that so much.

If you could do any other job, what would it be? It’s crazy, but I would have loved to have been a music producer. It’s still putting together projects, and I love music.

There are so many developers that come to Orlando and leave. Why did you move here and why have you been giving out meals during the pandemic? You mean, developers usually come to town, cut the trees down, build a project and take everything they can. But it’s about the giving, not the getting. And if you’re focused on the getting, life can be hollow. During the pandemic, we were committed to feeding those stressed by the pandemic. Our goal was to feed 100,000 people, and as of last Saturday we exceeded 80,000. We’ll hit that 100,000 and keep going. The pandemic’s not over. People are still financially strained. There’s still a hangover effect.

You said once in an interview that your favorite business book was “A Land Remembered.” But the book ends tragically for the main character, who is a developer. Why is that your favorite business read? I do think about that ending. It gets at, what I say, is, “How many pieces of apple pie can you eat at a time?” It’s important to do these food drives and try to be as involved in the community as you can be. But there’s a balance in life. We’re always chasing opportunities in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, and I try to be in every market in every month. It’s easy for me to get out of balance. Thankfully, my wife has the ability to point out when I’m out of balance.

What’s the difference between success and failure in business? We all want to start things, but it’s executing that’s a difference maker. You have to follow through on the vision and surround yourself with people who are so much better than you are at specific tasks. We need to spend life being smart enough to get out of the way of ourselves. There are people who work just as hard as I do — and I work hard. For some reason, it came together for me. However, I know this: In a blink of an eye, if you’re not paying attention or giving back, it will be gone in a second.

McCraney Property Co.

  • Founded: 1989
  • Headquarters: Orlando
  • In the pipeline: 5 million to 7 million square feet annually
  • Value of projects in the works: $1.2 billion

Steven McCraney, President and CEO of McCraney Property Co.

  • Hometown: Jesup, Georgia
  • Education: Villanova University
  • Hobbies: Active alpine climber, cycling
  • Favorite vacation spot: Round Hill in Jamaica
  • Coffee or tea: Tea
  • If you could spend an afternoon in any store: REI
  • Title of story of your life: “Climbing Out”