Pedro Martin

Owner of Terra Group

Pedro Martin is the Owner, Chairman, and ex-CEO of Terra International Development LLC, a renowned real estate development firm in Miami. Born in Cuba and raised in the United States, Pedro’s early life and career offered only hints at his later entrepreneurial success. After earning a bachelor’s degree in engineering at the University of Florida, he worked on various electronics and missile systems at Martin Marietta (now known as Lockheed Martin). He then went back to school to study law, graduating again from the University of Florida in 1978, and established himself as a real estate and banking lawyer for Greenberg Traurig for the next 25 years.

Seeking another career change and drawing inspiration from his legal experience representing financial institutions and real estate developers, he teamed up with his son David Martin to co-found Terra Group in 2001. Starting small with just a single condominium in Miami Beach, the company grew quickly, and is responsible for the development of many housing developments, commercial spaces, and even skyscrapers all around Southern Florida, with a portfolio in excess of $8 billion.

Pedro Martin is currently continuing his work at Terra, now focusing on ensuring that he can leave the company in a strong and stable position when he retires.

Where did the idea for your career come from?

I was a lawyer for many, many years, and an engineer before that. So, I was dealing with a lot of real estate developers and developments, lenders and banks, and international buyers on a regular basis. I’d always wanted to, at some point, switch from being just a lawyer to being a businessman, and I saw a chance to do that when my son David was looking to choose business as his own career path. I suggested that we get started on a small project together and see how it goes.

That first project went well, so we moved on to another one, and then another one, and so on, and that’s how it all got started. It also helped that South Florida is very real estate-oriented, from an industry standpoint. We have a lot of beaches, a lot of golf courses, and a lot of good weather here.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

That has changed quite a bit over time as the company has grown and my role has evolved. Early on, I was out there physically doing a lot of the things myself rather than managing people. That way of doing things kept me very busy with details, trying to make sure that I wasn’t making any errors and making sure that I succeeded at each individual step. It wasn’t a management type of job back then.

As we grew in our profession and in our business, we had to start hiring the right people to do all that detailed work we had been doing up to that point—people who could do those jobs just as well or better than we had been doing before. It quickly became a team effort. Eventually, we grew to the point where it made the most sense for me to stop doing the actual work myself and move into more of a purely managerial and supervisory role. That’s where I am now.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I follow opportunities and come up with ideas all the time, and the truth is that sometimes you can bring those ideas to life, and sometimes you can’t. Sometimes executing an idea will take a lot of effort, or a lot of legal work, or a lot of money, and that may determine its ultimate fate. So, bringing an idea to life sometimes depends on your access to resources, investments, and funds. Some ideas are very small, like a change within a particular building or design. Other times, it’s a whole new project or a whole new community that you want to create and that you believe will be successful. Sometimes you can get those ideas done and convince investors to back it, but sometimes you can’t. If you can’t and your idea doesn’t work out, the solution is to just keep having more good ideas. If the property is located in the right place and you’ve lined up the right investors, the good ideas will always come out ahead.

What’s one trend that excites you?

There’s a big trend of people moving to this area; to South Florida. Buyers, renters, retailers, and commercial industries all find it advantageous to set up here. People want to be a part of South Florida, and of course, that is very good for our company.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Networking with people, and maintaining a good reputation in my field by consistently delivering great results and great service for our customers. No matter the field I’m in, I’ve always strived to work as hard or harder than the others in my industry. Many of our building projects might take 3-5 years to complete, but at the end of it, I’m proud to deliver an excellent end product. Do that over and over, as I believe I have done in my career, and you start to develop trust within the industry and the community. When that is combined with effective networking, the results can be tremendous.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would encourage my younger self to become an entrepreneur much sooner than I did. I started as a professional, first as an engineer and then as a lawyer, and I worked with larger and very reputable firms in both fields. I did learn quite a lot during that time—I learned to work with people, to appreciate design and quality, and I learned the importance of hard work. But I didn’t find my calling, really, until I went my own way, and that’s something I did quite late in my working career.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

I think the Miami Heat has an impressive roster once all of the players are healthy enough to play, and they’re going to go a long way in the playoffs. They might even go to the NBA championship. A lot of people don’t agree—they think there are a lot of better teams out there—but I’ve been following the Miami Heat closely, and I think they’ve got a much better chance than most people would guess.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

There’s no one thing. Rather, there are several things you need to make a habit of doing if you’re going to be successful. You have to network a lot. You have to make sure your customers are satisfied. And you have to make sure that everyone is being productive and working intelligently and efficiently. All of these things are very important for any entrepreneur. Also, always be on the lookout for new ideas and changes in the industry and the economy so that you’re able to stay ahead and plan ahead.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

I think one strategy that has helped us consistently is our commitment to quality designs and higher efficiency. Our buildings may be more costly than some others, but they look great and they work great, and they are very efficient both in their construction and in their operation. To make that work, you need great architects, engineers, and designers, as well as great landscape architects and interior designers. We work with the best, and I think that has helped us make our mark in our community and even beyond. A lot of people around the world know about our company and like our products, and I can attribute that to our commitment to great design.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

The nearest we’ve come to an outright failure was a project outside of our Miami-Dade community that took a while to develop properly. The project was more than one hundred luxury homes. The project took twice as many years to complete as we first estimated, but in the end we were able to pull it off, so I don’t really consider it a failure. It was just a challenge that didn’t work out as well as we had hoped. It’s important to understand that not everything is going to go right and perfect all the time. That would be impossible. There will always be risks, and you’ve got to manage and account for those risks as best you can. Things happen every day that need to be fixed, corrected, or improved upon, and that’s just the nature of doing business in most industries.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I think that one of the best things that young people can do is look at the future ahead of them, and get involved in an industry and in a company or organization that is already working its way toward that future. Some examples might be electric cars, artificial intelligence, or modern architecture and efficient design, or the microchip business. Get into something that has a future. Sometimes it’ll be hard for a small entrepreneur to do that because those fields are often dominated by existing companies, and very large ones, usually. In those cases, it can be advantageous to instead enter into those industries as a professional. Learn as much as you can, work hard, earn some savings, and make sure that you’re networking the whole time. Then, when you have a great idea or great design that investors would be interested in, that’s when you branch off on your own and start doing your own thing.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Recently, I had a great lobster dinner at an upscale restaurant in the area. That said, I tend to enjoy spending money on experiences far more than spending money on some item that I plan to keep. Beyond that, if you have children and you buy them a particular toy or computer game or something like that, they’ll enjoy and appreciate it a lot and you’ll be happy to have done that—far happier than if you just used that money on some item for yourself.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

We’ve instituted a lot of computer data-run accounting software, which has freed up a lot of people’s time and significantly improved our efficiency in that area. It can be very labor intensive to manage a lot of projects, so finding the right programs and the right formulas to deal with that can be immensely helpful. Also, we’ve upgraded our communications capabilities. With Zoom and Microsoft Teams, we’re able to set up team meetings within minutes, whereas before, people had to come in from all over the place to get together in some conference room. The efficiency with these systems is unbelievable.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I recommend the book Execution: The Business of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy, who is the Chairman of Honeywell International. Also, another book I endorse is The Age of the Customer by Jim Blasingame, who is an expert on small businesses and entrepreneurship.

What is your favorite quote?

“In basketball—as in life—true joy comes from being fully present in each and every moment, not just when things are going your way.” — Phil Jackson

Key Learnings:

  • Not every idea will be a winner, but if you don’t give up and keep coming up with new ideas, the good ones will come out ahead.
  • No matter what field you’re in, strive to maintain a good reputation through high-quality results and good customer service.
  • Things go wrong all the time. What matters is how you manage that risk, and deal with those issues as they arise.
  • Change is a constant in this world. How you deal with it determines your future.