Sean is an American businessman and real estate investor. He is the CEO and founder of Detroit-based Centureon Investments, an alternative investment firm with around $250 million in managed assets.
Sean was inspired to get into real estate at a young age and in 2008 he seized on that dream and jumped at the opportunity to begin investing in property himself. Over the next 10 years, he grew his dream into Centureon Investments, which now has over $300 million in completed investments in the Southeast and Midwest United States.
As of 2020, Centureon Investments continues to expand and grow to include sophisticated individual investors, funds, and family offices as clients.
Where did the idea for Centureon Investments come from?
From a really young age, I knew I wanted to be involved in property. The way I got my start was through wholesaling. I got a great deal on my first contract which took a lot of negotiation. I ultimately sold that contract to someone who had the funds to buy it and that’s where my startup capital came from, allowing me to start investing in properties directly. It took me a year to buy my first asset and from there I bought two properties with my own money and renovated them myself to save on costs.
Because of market timing and the global financial crisis, It took about 4 years before I was ready to sell those properties and make a profit but in that time, people were taking note of what we were doing. I was approached by a group to start buying property, renovating those properties and ultimately putting renters in those properties.
Detroit property was like the wild west in 2009 and I realized that many of these properties were selling for $25,000 and had good cash flow. Because of the low cost of the properties and the high rents, I was able to achieve outstanding rental returns for my investors. That’s when I decided to get out there and network and really push this and grow investment options. I branched out into new construction, multi-family, single-family, and then into different markets. We went all over the country and kept improving the Centureon platform into what it is today.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I think like a lot of business owners, my typical day is pretty busy. To stay productive, I like to address issues as they arise, and I hate pushing tasks to the back burner.
I also tend to be on my phone a lot throughout the day. If I see something happening with a client’s portfolio that needs immediate attention, I go out of my way to call and talk to the client. It’s important that my team and I build and maintain relationships with our clients and have regular conversations about what’s going on with their portfolio. Of course, my team is very helpful in answering client questions and jumping on calls, but I still find myself on the phone quite a bit.
When I’m not helping clients problem-solve or build out their portfolios, I’m spending my time researching properties, managing the team, and maintaining the strategic direction of Centureon. We’re expanding internationally right now which involves a lot of logistics, so that’s taking most of my focus right now.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Ideas have always just come to me, so the “what to do” has always come easy. Because of that, I have a lot more time to focus on “how to do” something. Once I figure that out, I become insanely focused. When it comes to, Centureon Investments, for example, I know how everything should run and operate. So it’s really a matter of solidifying that vision, conveying that vision to my team, and ensuring that we stay on track and execute against that vision. I think it’s gone pretty well so far.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Great question. I’m excited to see more US-based businesses expanding their offerings to the international market and quite frankly, we want to be a part of that trend. We opened an office in Tel Aviv in 2019, and are working on opening other offices in Hong Kong, and the UK presently
Our goal is to expand in these markets so that we can deliver better customer service to our international clients and scale the business. It’s exciting to see our business expanding and we’re planning to be really successful out there.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I understand people really well. Now, that may not sound like a productivity hack, but hear me out. Over the last 10 years, I’ve made it a point to study ourselves, and others in the same marketplace. It all boils down to understanding your client. To drive change in our business, you have to understand what your clients need from you and be able to deliver that to them.
We’ve noticed that a lot of companies in our space fall short on this at times. Not enough thought is given to the client and when you see that, you begin to notice problems. We’ve driven change by understanding our clients and adapting our business to meet those needs, so we take on a more consultative approach.
So really by understanding our client, our business runs a lot smoother overall and that’s another reason we’ve been able to become as successful as we have in such a short amount of time.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell myself to take every opportunity you can to educate yourself and make sure you partner with someone who has integrity and more experience than you. That’s what it comes down to in the world of real estate.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
You’ve got to educate your customers. I know it’s a popular opinion that you want to reach customers who are already educated but think about it. How do these customers get educated in the first place? Somebody has to be willing to take that leap of faith and educate them. I’m willing to do that.
For me, that comes down to understanding the client’s pains. Don’t be afraid to have an hour-long phone call. As long as your customer emerges more educated and more assured, you’re doing the right thing. A lot of businesses don’t run that way, and I can understand why, but to me, it’s the right thing to do. Plus, it’s paid off in spades for Centureon’s growth.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
For me, connecting with customers for potential customers is the name of the game. That comes down to both customer data points as well as understanding their fears. It’s getting the best that you possibly can in the way of both demographic and psychographic data.
Centureon Investments has managed several thousands of units across the U.S. and we have local expertise in each of our markets to ensure that we understand the tenant demographics properly.
It really comes down to understanding what each customer wants from you and what their fears might be; it’s about relationship building. You really can’t just guess what’s important to them and that’s when having these hour-long phone calls pay off. I’ve gotten to know so many of our customers that way. As an entrepreneur, I can deliver better customer service when I know what’s keeping people up at night.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Real estate is traditionally an industry where you need a lot of money to get started. At Centureon Investments, we want to offer different entry points to serve more investors. There’s the novice investor who has never invested before but has always wanted to get into real estate. They’re more likely to invest in a lower entry point since they’re essentially “testing the market.”
Then you have the more established investors who have actually bought property before. These investors are interested in buying packages of new construction rentals or multi-family buildings.
We’ve built the asset types that we have in order to have a more thorough offering to clients of all experience types as well as investable funds they are able to invest. We think that’s made us more successful because we aren’t limiting our pool of potential clients.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I always joke and say that I went to the Harvard of real estate investing. I made a lot of costly mistakes early on in my career that I likely could have paid for an actual Harvard education many times over.
Not doing enough due diligence on the properties I invested in or the people on our team was a huge mistake for me. In my business, it’s critical that you do thorough due diligence on your partners as well as the properties you choose to invest in.
Centureon started off with a few smaller properties our first year and that number grew exponentially year over year through the first few years of business, so there were obviously areas we could have been better at what we do. We’ve made an effort to continue to grow from those lessons and will continue to do so as business goes on.
- Put your customers and clients first.
- Take every opportunity you can to educate yourself.
- Just because something hasn’t been done, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.