Inside Track: Integrity goes a long way
Former golf pro Brad Rosely uses his golf mindset to make over West Michigan commercial real estate.
All Brad Rosely ever wanted to do was play golf.
Instead, Rosely, who for years played the gentleman’s game professionally all over the world, ended up a real estate force to be reckoned with as co-founder of Grand Rapids-based Third Coast Development.
But although his career changed, his mindset did not. Commercial real estate and golf have something in common: It’s all about location — or as Rosely put it, it’s really the only sport where you’re always trying to position yourself in ways to figure out where the best spot is for the next step.
Golf is also a game that requires tremendous integrity, which Rosely described as the most important legacy in commercial real estate.
“Golf is one of the only sports where you call your own fouls. The integrity of what my father taught me and what the golf game taught me: You’re the only one who has to live with yourself, so if you do it right, you have no problem sleeping at night,” he said.
“There are people who don’t do (commercial real estate) right out there, but we’ve tried to make sure we always do it right. It hasn’t always worked out great for us, but in the long run, we’re better off for it because I can live with the deals and the situations I’ve been in and fall asleep well at night.”
Rosely grew up just out of St. Louis, Mo., in Quincy, Ill. His father, who played in the U.S. Open and qualified for the Senior PGA Championship, worked as a golf professional at the Quincy Country Club, where Rosely spent much of his childhood working in the backroom and playing golf with his dad, inheriting his father’s gift and love for the sport.
“He taught me the sense of being honest with people, making sure you treat them how you’d like to be treated, and that’s how I’ve always worked it.
Although he attended the University of Southern Mississippi where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in banking and finance, Rosely “just wanted to play golf,” and his 20s were marked by move after move to pursue that dream.
After graduating in 1989, Rosely headed to Florida and played at the PGA National in West Palm Beach. About six months later, he went on tour in South America with a team of American golfers, playing in places like Bogotá and Medellin in Colombia, he said.
He then spent two years working at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, Mo., then about a year and a half in San Francisco, and then three years in Hawaii, where he once broke the course record at Kapalua Golf Club Bay Course when he shot a 62.
He’s not as dangerous on the course as he used to be, he said.
“When I play, I go out and do the best that I can, but I haven’t played professionally in quite a while. … If I play half a dozen or 10 times a year, that’s a lot.”
“You don’t make a lot (playing professionally) unless you’re Tiger Woods or one of the guys well off on tour. The top 100 guys on tour, they’re the only ones making money. It you’re not doing promotionals or commercials, it’s tough.”
Rosely’s pro golf career ended about 20 years ago after he moved to West Michigan and became an assistant golf professional at Cascade Country Club. He credits this changeover, along with everything good in his life, to the day he met his wife, Mary Anne Wisinski-Rosely, a partner at NAI Wisinski.
“It was a spring day before the golf course was even open. She came in; we started talking,” Rosely said, smiling. “I did give her lessons throughout the summer — all professional.”
Rosely soon learned he was dating the daughter of an icon of the Grand Rapids commercial real estate industry. After he and Mary Anne married, it was his father-in-law, Stan Wisinski, who eventually convinced him to get out of the golf business and go into commercial real estate; Wisinski invited him to join what was then S.J. Wisinski before it merged to become NAI Wisinski of West Michigan.
“It was one of those things where he said, ‘You could come work for me. There are no promises, no guarantees. Work for what you make. … We’dlove for you to come work for us and I think you would be good at it,’” Rosely said.
“(Like in real estate), in the golf business, when you’re teaching people, you have to understand what their strong points are, what their weaknesses are, communicate with people well … and I do think I’m very good at that.”
Rosely spent about five to six years with Wisinski, calling his father-in-law a wonderful mentor who was always willing to give his time to train young talent.
“Unfortunately nowadays, there’s less people you can do that with. They’ve got their agenda; they’re all ‘me, me, me.’ And that’s not Stan. He’s not looking to better himself; he’s looking for how to better you,” Rosely said.
“He’s given so many guys and gals an opportunity … and the different people who have come through his doors, you see that a lot of them have gone out on their own.”
In 2004, Rosely went out on his own and co-founded Third Coast Development with his friend, David Levitt, whom he called a “phenomenal partner.”
“The Third Coast story began in the parking lot at Towne Air Freight with Dave Levitt and his dad, Ed Levitt,” he said. “They were looking at purchasing a building — the Towne Air Freight building — and I said, ‘I’ve got an idea,’ and really it started with Mid Towne Village and it kind of grew from there.”
Rosely said part of the reason he wanted to start Third Coast was because he saw development opportunities out there and it was difficult to find people with the same vision. Rosely has been the company’s gas pedal and Levitt’s cool-headedness has been the company’s brake.
“My biggest hare-brained idea was Mid Towne Village, but it ended up coming true. To think that you would go out and get 50 homes from 50 individual people. … You can’t keep 50 homes quiet before you get everything locked up. There’s always going to be one or two people who are going to try to come in and buy the house in the middle. That, by far, has been our greatest achievement.”
As he looks to the future of his company and the community, Rosely said he expects there to be many new projects and developments. There’s a lot of positive growth in the city, but he still wants to do more and ensure he’s left the city a better place, he said.
Like a golfer, he has had his eyes trained on longer distances.
“There’s always projects out there. It’s just how aggressive someone wants to be and whether or not it’s where everybody wants to go,” he said.
“Do I think that there’s a bunch of buildings that are out there to be rehabbed? No. But I still think there’s plenty of opportunities out there.”