South Florida Business Journal Ultimate CEO: Mike Pappas

Originally published in the South Florida Business Journal. By Jeff Zbar

 Ultimate CEO Insights: Mike Pappas on the thrill of leading and working with great people.

President and CEO, The Keyes Company 

Residence: Pinecrest 

Age: 63 

Think of Mike Pappas and The Keyes Co. as keyholes into South Florida’s history – and future. The 96-year-old company has evolved as Miami and the region have. And, like his father before him, Pappas has watched the region’s diversity grow, and recessions shake and shutter thriving businesses. 

Soon after he and his brother, Tim, bought out their father, Ted, the Great Recession sliced Keyes’ top-line revenue to $40 million from $100 million. In a business with 5% margins, “that was a doozie,” he said. “We bled hard and fast and mortgaged everything we had.” 

With Pappas’ team, faith and family at his side – including his daughter, Christina, who today is an executive with the company – Keyes saw its way through the challenge. 

“You find what you built in trust and camaraderie is what gets you through it.” 

As a leader, what drives you? Being a good steward, but also the fear of failure. It used to drive me more in my younger days – failure more so than hope of gain. The litmus test, is what my dad used to say. If he started to hate Mondays, it was time. I also say on Sunday night: “Am I ready for the game?” I am. I still find the thrill of business, because of the people we get to work with. And we’re in the fourth generation here. Building a team that will lead past me, that drives me. 

Over your career, how have you changed as a leader? I listen more and pair up words and actions better. I used to listen and hear the words and didn’t necessarily line them up to the actions I was seeing. Individual real estate agents have similar personality traits. They’re CEOs. They’re independent, and they want to run their own show. So listening and watching their actions, through the process of getting to a solution, the truth comes out. 

What do you like most – and least – about leading? I get a thrill from leading and working with great people who like a challenge. In our business, there’s no day 

that’s the same. There’s so much diversity and uniqueness in every deal. What I like least is having to address people who aren’t pulling their weight and let them go. 

If described as an animal, what’s your leadership style? I asked my daughter. She thought about an animal that’s gentle and loyal, but tough. Maybe a lab. But they’re not mean enough. Maybe a coyote. 

Leadership-wise, what keeps you up nights? The competition, obviously, and the desire to continue to win and be relevant. The market has shifted. How do you re-adapt? You have to be looking six months down the road, seeing where the puck is going. There’s a lot of moving parts that take a while to digest. There’s some angst until that happens. 

Where do you look for your inspiration? I read a chapter in the Bible every day. There’s great wisdom in the Good Book on how to live. My accountability is to my maker. Someday you hope that he says: “You’ve done well, my good and faithful servant.” 

What one thing makes you most proud about your career? Our team and what it’s accomplished. That sounds trite. I do a summer tour of our offices. It started with my dad. I do two visits a day. When I go to these offices, I see people who have been loyal to us. One office had an associate from 1976. The manager’s been there since 1978. Some of these people are my age, but they’ve been with us all their lives. You’ve seen their kids, grandkids; you’ve been to weddings and bar mitzvahs. There’s a richness that’s rare.