Ex-execs fly solo: Horn, Shoopman, others trade big firms for small

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As president of The Dura Cos. Inc., Paul Shoopman was responsible for a 155-employee company that brought in $75 million in revenue in 2003 and built as many as 700 homes a year in Marion and the surrounding counties.

Last year, Shoopman won an Ernst & Young national Entrepreneur of the Year award and sold his company to publicly traded California-based KB Home.

This year, he’s starting over.

Shoopman, 51, opened Indiana Land Development Co. in early January. From his small office on the northwest side, Shoopman oversees a staff of a dozen people and fine-tunes his business plan to cater to residential and commercial builders.

“This is a great opportunity for me to be able to stay in the [real estate] business,” Shoopman said. “It’s one of those picture-perfect kinds of things.”

Shoopman is one of a handful of local real estate executives who seem to have real estate in their blood-given the opportunity to change careers or retire, they choose to launch new real estate businesses after leaving major firms.

Staying in real estate allows them to use their experience and contacts gained through years in the industry, while putting new ideas to the test, they said.

“I have a very strong vision of how I want to spend my career,” said Richard Horn, former president of Indianapolisbased Duke Realty Corp. “I want to at least stay in Indianapolis for a while.”

Horn left Duke in 2002 after 18 years at the company to join Carmel-based Brenwick Development Corp., but soon left Brenwick to found Horn Properties.

Entrepreneurs such as Shoopman, who start new businesses after selling one, aren’t uncommon, but it is more unusual for corporate executives such as Horn to leave the support of a large company for a startup, said Steven Beck, president of the Indiana Venture Center. Many of those who do, he said, don’t end up succeeding with their new businesses.

“People coming out of big companies are used to a big-company environment and the support that comes with it,” such as marketing, operations, research and financial departments, Beck said. Once it sinks in that entrepreneurs are solely responsible for all the company’s functions, “a lot of them will, after a while, chuck it.”

Horn, however, doesn’t seem to mind running the entire show at his company.

“For me, it really wasn’t whether the company is big or small,” Horn said. “What’s important to me is the culture and the business models.”

Horn’s first local solo project is MetroAir park at Six Points and Stafford roads in Plainfield, a joint venture with Chicago-based McShane Corp. This spring, construction will begin on a 110,000-square-foot office/industrial flex building that will anchor the 56-acre mixed-use park.

MetroAir will be smaller and will include a wider variety of product types than most parks in Plainfield. The exact uses will be driven by demand, a flexibility Horn said typifies his business strategy.

For now, Horn is working on MetroAir and projects in several other cities, including Denver. He said he doesn’t aim to build the next Duke. For now, his goals are to complete one deal a year in cities where he likes to do business.

“I’m not necessarily looking to compete with the big dogs out there,” Horn said. “I’m more driven by what I think will be a good project.”

Both Horn and Shoopman are relying on their experienced eyes.

For Shoopman, one of his biggest opportunities has come from his former employer. ILDC and KB have an agreement to work together on some projects, in which ILDC will assemble land, seek zoning and install infrastructure, and KB will buy the lots from ILDC.

“At Dura, we did about half of our own land development,” he said. “It was an easy transition for me.”

Although ILDC already has one major client, Shoopman said he’s actively looking for other projects, including those in the commercial development industry. Early in his career, Shoopman worked for a commercial and industrial building firm, so the area’s not unfamiliar to him.

The one aspect of Dura that Shoopman said he’ll miss the most is building houses. Shoopman’s agreement with KB prohibits him from building homes for “the near future,” but he may again someday, he said.

“I’ve always had a passion for building houses,” said Shoopman, who began doing so at 18. “It’s a fun business.”

Other former local real estate executives are staying in their industries, as well. Crossmann Communities co-founder John Scheumann returned to his hometown to found Tempest Homes after Crossmann’s 2002 sale to Atlanta-based Beazer Homes.

Scheumann couldn’t be reached for comment, but the Web site of the Lafayettebased builder indicates Tempest builds in White, Clinton and Tippecanoe counties.

And Horn’s former boss, ex-Duke CEO Thomas Hefner, appears to be dabbling in development as well. Hefner retired from Duke last spring and stepped down from the board of directors in the fall.

Recently, Hefner began work on a 2,000-square-foot office building in Broad Ripple under the name Hefner Investments LLC. Hefner was out of state for several weeks and couldn’t be reached for comment, but his assistant said Hefner’s real estate activities are, for now at least, a sideline.

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