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Getting to Know: Michael Colangelo

Michael Colangelo is executive vice president of Johnson Realty Advisors Inc.

Where you grew up: Spotswood Estates at Four–Mile Fork in Spotsylvania.

Your experience growing up in the area then and how things were different: I had a great childhood. Fredericksburg was a lot more rural then. We rode our bikes everywhere, hung out at the pool all day and built tree houses. Summers lasted forever; Mom calling us in for lunch was an inconvenience.

When it snowed, we rode around in the back of my Dad’s truck and shoveled driveways for the elderly in the neighborhood. Payment was M&M’S or a soda; we never would have thought of asking for money.

I experienced Courtland High School when State Route 208 was a two-lane road. It was during the football state championship years of my neighbor, Coach Ken Brown. There is something special about growing up with families from kindergarten through high school.

I think things were different culturally. Fredericksburg was very much a blue-collar area. Families were careful with their money. We wore hand-me-downs and had patches in the knees of our pants. We played Parks and Rec ball; for $5 you got a cotton shirt with a number on it. The big economic news was the mall and its arcade.

In the late 70’s, we had a population boom from the higher-income commuters. Neighborhoods with bigger houses popped up, along with travel sports teams, private schools, designer clothes and requests for amenities similar to Northern Virginia.

Education: I majored in business and economics with a minor in studio art at Randolph–Macon College.

Current job: I am executive vice president of Johnson Realty Advisors Inc., a commercial real estate brokerage firm in downtown Fredericksburg.

Jobs you held prior to that: I was always entrepreneurial. I delivered The Free Lance–Star for years. At that time, you had to go house to house and collect money every month for the paper. It was my first experience providing a service and having to actually ask for payment.

Later, I started a lawn service mowing yards. Of course, I used my Dad’s truck and mower. I liked working for myself and my pay being tied to the amount I was willing to work.

In college, my parents required that I pay for my books and fraternity dues. I got a job in the library working small shifts. My sophomore year I designed T-shirts for events and sold them. I found I could sell enough T-shirts at the beginning of the year to cover my costs for the entire year.

How you got interested in business and real estate: My family, some of whom were immigrants, had many different career paths, but they all shared a strong work ethic and family values.

One uncle came over with a rope used as a belt. He built a very successful masonry business. We would vacation at his beach house annually; his driveway had his initials in it. I was familiar with my Mom putting initials on the tags of all my clothes, but to see it in a driveway made me start to think about business.

My grandmother bought houses when my Mom and her brothers were small. They would live in the basement and rent out the upstairs. Another uncle owned rentals and a motel. No matter what level of success, taking care of each other was always part of the business plan.

Early on I was contemplating a life course, possibly in business and real estate. Doug Stewart, who then was with Wheat First Securities, spoke to my 11th grade economics class during career week. It was probably one of the most important days of my life, I was completely hooked. This is probably the first time he’s heard this.

How you know your business partner, Fitz Johnson: One summer there was a buzz about a businessman moving in right next to us. Fitz’s family had been involved in the business community in Fredericksburg since before the Civil War.

I wasn’t actually sure what he did, but he was the first client of my lawn business. When I made flyers for Michael’s Mowing, he let me use a copy machine he actually had in his home office. He had the first cell phone I ever saw. He played tennis and golf, and, at one point, he had a limousine.

He would talk to me about business on a level I could understand. I still didn’t know what he actually did, but in my eyes, Donald Trump didn’t have anything on Fitz Johnson.

In my senior year of college I called Fitz and offered to take him to lunch at Renato’s. I put on my new interview suit praying the bill wouldn’t go over my allotted lunch cash. My goal was to ask him if he knew of any contacts I could meet for a job. I think he still bought lunch.

He worked at Johnson and Glazebrook Inc., a company his father started with Ray Glazebrook. He and Randy, Ray’s son, were looking for a new hire. I started two days after graduation.

On my first day, my line rang and everyone in the office ran to watch me answer my first “business call.” I answered very seriously and remember saying “Hi, Mom.”

In my mind I thought of limos and playing golf, but the truth was the country had just come out a major recession. I analyzed investments and showed small commercial properties.

We worked mainly on RTC properties, which were failed savings-and-loan assets. I showed residential rentals at nights and on weekends. We worked hard six days a week, and I don’t think either of us took a full week’s vacation for years.

Fitz had a vision in 2000, and I was excited to start Johnson Realty Advisors Inc. with him. It was to be a smaller boutique brokerage that specialized in commercial real estate.

To this day, we still take pride in being small. We don’t take 100 listings; our clients want us to be their broker with total focus on them. This latest downturn has been significant, however we were still able to fulfill our clients’ needs in a timely fashion.

Why you enjoy it as a profession: That’s very simple. I love working with people, and I believe in the product. We assist people who are starting out, growing a business or laying a foundation for wealth in investment assets.

In order to plan for retirement, I partnered with two investors and started a portfolio of commercial real estate with an end-game objective in mind. I really enjoy it and know it has made me a better broker. It has grown beyond my original thoughts three or four times.

I constantly reassess all my goals, however I never let them be defined as limits.

Your community involvement: I am thankful to be a part of this community. I guess I was pegged early on for having a lot of energy. I try to think out of the box at work and also collaborate for a worthy cause.

I am a member of the Fredericksburg Rotary Club, past president of Dominion Club, past chairman of Fredericksburg Ducks Unlimited and board member of the Fredericksburg Area Museum & Cultural Center, Fredericksburg Economic Development Authority and Chamber of Commerce Leadership Fredericksburg Advisory Board.

I currently serve on the Virginia State Council of Ducks Unlimited. I served six years on the board of Rappahannock Big Brothers Big Sisters and became a “big” to a second-grader, a relationship now going on nine years.

I established a family endowment at the Community Foundation of the Rappahannock River Region to support local programs for those in need.

On a more fun note, I am currently the president of the Fredericksburg Wine Society.

Thoughts on the local economy—strengths and how it could improve: Our most powerful asset is our individuals. One doesn’t have to go to Harvard or a big city to find paramount business leadership. The greatest education comes from those who have successfully traveled the path ahead of us.

Fresh out of college I got to know local business icons—individuals such as Fitz and Bill Johnson, Chris Hallberg, Joe Wilson, Malone Schooler, Neil Sullivan, Chuck McCormack, Ed Allison, Bill Vakos and John Fick. To this day I’m lucky to call them friends and still go to them for counsel.

We are aware of the strengths and weaknesses. Attempts are being made to address problems like transportation. Population growth will continue at a strong rate, but government contracts, like any economic catalysts, are beginning to slow.

I’m not sure whether government jobs are being grown to service the needs or the needs are growing to service the new government jobs. At some point, the money runs out.

Diversification is key. Education, policy and increased infrastructure that companies require, even before they consider an area, should be actively researched and developed.

On a local level, education on the importance of economic development is crucial. Competitive pay for top teachers, first responders and more doesn’t grow on trees. Buying locally instead of the Internet directly infuses money into retaining better public servants.

Family: My Mom and Dad, John and Peggy, still live in the same house I grew up in. I go over and “rustle the nest up” just about every day.

David, my brother, retired from 20 years in the Air Force. He is married to Lisa, and they have three terrific daughters: Maggie, Ellie and Audrey.

My sister, Mary Ellen, teaches at Atlee High School.

My newest addition is my 10-month-old black lab, Belle Ann.

Hobbies: I enjoy hunting, fishing, collecting local art, good food, good wine and good friends.

Something people don’t know about you: When I was young, I really wanted to be a pig farmer.

—As told to Bill Freehling