AUSTIN, Texas — The travel is luxury, but the work is gritty.
And few people know more about both than Roy Carroll II.
An hour after gliding into Austin on his Gulfstream jet, the fit 55-year-old, in khaki pants, boots and a hardhat, is crunching across a hot field of Texas dirt.
His company graded that field and it’s in the process of building an apartment complex to go with the 11,440 apartments he has all over the Southeast.
The son of a grocer from Guilford County, Carroll now owns an array of apartment complexes, hotels and mixed-use projects that have left their stamp on such cities as Greensboro, Nashville, Asheville and Wilmington.
In any given week he visits two or three of those places, meets with staff and might find time to hold a party of influential people in his personal ballroom.
And he makes it all look effortless.
The long meetings with executives in his downtown Center Pointe office. Hopping quickly over rocks and dirt at a construction site. Sitting down for a quiet meeting with an apartment manager in Columbia, S.C.
The plain-spoken Carroll uses a personal touch to keep his $2.4 billion company running.
It’s the touch he’s used since he was a teenager fixing up cars to sell for cash.
“There’s just a few more zeroes on the back of it,” he said, “but it’s the same business principal.”
• • •
The apartments, the hotels and the plush lifestyle reveal only a fraction of the man at the center of an empire.
Carroll is few of the things that many people believe. He didn’t have the help of a rich daddy. There were no fancy schools, no connections, no strings to pull.
He doesn’t behave in an arrogant way, though some would say his actions are just that. He’s a tough negotiator, and that can chafe some people.
To people who know him, Carroll is a devoted family man and committed Christian. He is as likely to profess surprise at his success as others are to assume he adopts an attitude of entitlement.
Commercial real estate executive and former Mayor Robbie Perkins has known Carroll and his wife, Vanessa, for decades and believes the developer has a singular impact on Greensboro.
“He’s got tremendous vision, and he’s got tremendous ability to organize,” Perkins said. “Our city would be a vastly different place if Roy Carroll wasn’t here.”
Carroll began his career with his late father, Roy Carroll Sr. Together, father and son started to build custom houses, not with a stake from some wealthy benefactor but with stakes in the ground they drove themselves.
The Carroll name is now a brand signifying wealth, power, prominence. But the man behind the brand still wears plaid buttondowns and rarely a suit in his boardroom overlooking Center City Park.
A tall man who, but for gray hair, seems 10 years younger than his 55 years, Carroll knows that no amount of success can prevent some of life’s more humbling situations. No cause is more dear to him than diabetes, a disease that has struck his family.
The Carrolls are involved with a variety of charities, but their attention is most closely focused on JDRF, the diabetes research group that is helping people like their 28-year-old daughter, Brittany.
When she was 12, she fell ill during a family vacation from what turned out to be diabetes.
“While she was in the hospital, when I realized there was not a cure for diabetes after doing a little research ... I went online and donated right there in my hotel room to JDRF,” Carroll said.
In business, Carroll still has the attention to detail that drove him decades ago when he and his dad were building houses. Even on a project where his company is building hundreds of apartments in, say, Texas, Carroll will stop and tell his construction managers to clean up a pile of trash.
Carroll owns a company worth $2.4 billion in existing properties and planned projects, a private jet, boat, Ferraris, downtown penthouse and homes on the coast and in Florida.
But his early life showed a young boy who seemed destined to be ordinary.
Talent, hard work and maybe fate have all played a part.
Until his early 20s, Carroll was in search of himself. But when he found a direction, he didn’t look back.
Today, he moves in a part of society that few see.
When he speaks, Greensboro leaders listen.
In personal interactions, he is serious with a disarming sense of humor, precise without being a bore, a focused man whose thoughts seem to come so rapidly he occasionally jumps from subject to subject in one conversation.
Surrounded by driven, serious lawyers, accountants and construction experts, Carroll is the creative force behind some of the most successful projects in Greensboro.
He can be prickly in public when challenged. His relationship with the News & Record, which he has more than once said he’d like to buy, has had its ups and downs. A few years ago, he boldly declared in his Rhino Times newspaper a moratorium on talking to the News & Record, picking a date entirely at random. And he stuck to it.
The relationship has since thawed.
High Point University President Nido Qubein said Carroll knows how to create a balance that guarantees success in most cases.
“A funny thing happens on one’s way from small success to humongous achievements: Some people will criticize you or envy you or even try to dismantle your solid record!” Qubein wrote in an email. “It comes with the territory. He handles both criticism and admiration with dignity and class. And he keeps marching forward.”
Carroll has become the city’s best-known developer by building his reputation and his business one house, apartment complex and industrial site at a time.
Qubein believes Carroll’s astute instincts and devotion to his hometown have helped him stay grounded.
“He came from a humble background and made it all the way to the top. Not because he is lucky, but because he is devoted and smart. And he works hard.”
• • •
Carroll has worked throughout the Southeast to build his holdings, but in Greensboro he wants to build a legacy.
Carroll’s holdings are spread from Texas to the Carolinas to Florida, but in the past decade he has also built a higher profile in the city of his birth.
With several major projects in the works, Carroll has never been more prominent in his hometown.
As his success in Greensboro has grown, so has his influence. He has become a reliable donor to Republican presidential, senatorial and congressional candidates. He steps out of the party when it’s in his interest, donating twice to former U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, a Greensboro Democrat. And most recently, he didn’t donate to any candidate for president in 2016, including winner Donald Trump.
Carroll owns the Rhino Times and occasionally uses it to express his opinion. Last week, he announced the conservative weekly was dropping its print edition and “moving into the future” exclusively on its website.
In 2014, he heaped criticism on local economic developers who, he said, weren’t getting the job done. He singled out President Dan Lynch and the board of the Greensboro Economic Development Partnership, which he said was not effective in recruiting jobs to the region. He even hinted that he would form an alternative recruitment group if he didn’t see positive change.
Since then, the economic development agency has made major changes, like getting a new president, and Carroll said the City Council and the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce’s efforts to work more closely create a better climate for economic growth.
Earlier this year, he got into a very public tiff with the city over negotiations for the $30 million parking deck he was working to build at the intersection of Bellemeade and Eugene streets.
After discussions broke down, Carroll and the city worked out a less ambitious, but practical design for a scaled-down deck that would allow him to eventually pursue plans for a hotel and office building on his site.
Carroll has had to overcome public skepticism in Wilmington, where he plans to build The Avenue, a massive mixed-use project. Residents there felt the long-term project would choke traffic in the growing city. But, after a year of work, a study and promises by Carroll’s company to make major road improvements were enough to persuade the Wilmington City Council to approve the project in early June.
• • •
A lifelong resident of Greensboro, for many years Carroll was a quiet developer building custom homes and then apartment communities as his company began to spread throughout the Southeast.
Today, his apartment complexes and Bee Safe self-storage centers dot the area and are his company’s staple.
But it’s Carroll’s high-profile deals in the past decade that have established him as a widely-known force in development, politics and media.
One of his industrial projects will soon yield a $300 million Publix Super Markets distribution center on U.S. 70 that could employ 1,000 people.
In Wilmington, Carroll’s $200 million The Avenue is a splashy mixed-use project anchored by an upscale hotel.
He’ll soon make his first mark in downtown High Point when he builds a planned hotel at the city’s new minor-league ballpark. That project is partially the result of a working relationship, and longtime friendship, he has with Qubein, the leading champion of High Point’s economic revival.
“His involvement in any project usually guarantees its success,” Qubein said.
In 2005, Carroll became a high-profile player — and imprinted his name on Greensboro — when he bought and began a major rehabilitation project of an aging office tower at the corner of West Friendly Avenue and North Elm Street.
By 2008, he had turned the building into a $40 million showplace of luxury condos called Center Pointe. He now lives in the spacious penthouse.
The 17-story building had once been the local headquarters of Wachovia, but after the company moved out in the 1990s it became an ugly and abandoned relic.
Carroll wanted to renovate the building, to make it a landmark for downtown, but he knew it would take millions to make a difference.
Over three years, he turned the dowdy structure into an essential part of the Greensboro skyline that deserves its place alongside the Lincoln Financial building. With Center City Park as a kind of front lawn, Center Pointe’s distinctive steel balconies and glass skin stand out beyond the trees and green space.
But some critics pounced on the $2.2 million in incentives given by the Guilford County Board of Commissioners and City Council, saying a wealthy developer was taking easy money from the public till.
Perkins, who was serving on the council at the time, said Carroll took on the renovation project only after consulting his wife, his most trusted advisor.
Perkins remembers the day he called Carroll and asked him if he’d consider renovating the empty office tower.
“The first words out of his mouth were ‘Let me talk to Vanessa and I’ll call you back,’ ” he said. “Three hours later, he called back and said, ‘Vanessa said we can put our home on the top floor. And we could put our office on the second floor. We can figure out what to do in between. Let’s set it up and get going.’
“That’s one of the most impactful projects in the history of Greensboro.”
• • •
On a recent June day, it was wheels up at 6:30 a.m. in Carroll’s gleaming Gulfstream G-450 jet. He and a team of executives headed for Austin, Texas, just under three hours away.
Easing back in a tan leather seat, Carroll unfolds The Wall Street Journal and remarks on a story about Chinese investors bidding up the price of real estate in Canada.
He wears a blue-checked, button-down shirt and tan khaki pants, a variation on the business-casual uniform that the eight executives traveling with him are wearing.
During the trip, Carroll talks about his passion for business, his excitement over the Wilmington project and one more thing: his love for Ferraris and racing.
His love of cars goes back to his earliest days as a budding businessman.
But he says he learned the hard way that investing in real estate was the path to financial success.
Carroll longed for a Ford Mustang, but he was too young to drive. His impatience to own it — he had to hire a person down the street to take him to school until he could get his license — taught him a lesson he hasn’t forgotten 40 years later.
He got the money to buy the Mustang by selling a house he bought as an investment at age 14 for a modest profit.
His father had found two small, inexpensive houses, and Carroll had a little bit of money to invest that he had earned through various jobs.
“Dad had a chance to buy two houses in Danville, Va., and it was owner financing, and I’d had a chance to save a couple thousand dollars and Dad said, ‘You want to buy the small one?’ and I said, ‘Yeah.’ ”
After he and his dad sold the houses, he had a bit of money left over.
“It wasn’t that much, but it was enough for a good down payment on a car,” he said. “The house was a better investment than the car. I went to a depreciable asset. I learned that lesson.”
Carroll — who now favors Ferraris — knows a lot more about cars today. He owns seven of them.
And he learned as a teen that people will make sacrifices to own cars, so he became an amateur car dealer for a while, fixing up and selling them.
“I’d have two or three cars in the driveway at a time that I was buying and selling. I wasn’t getting rich, but I learned lessons ... that I use today,” Carroll said.
He said that buying and selling those cars for a few thousand dollars taught him how to work up to business deals worth millions.
“It’s not about the money for me,” Carroll explained. “It takes money to play in the size sandbox that I play in, but I love creating things. I love creating apartment communities or a hotel or whatever.”
Carroll’s career has been one of building on success.
First, he and his father built custom houses. Then after Carroll bought his father’s half of the business in 1990, he focused first on subdivisions, then apartments and eventually commercial development.
Carroll bought acres of land, built a model home and then built subdivisions of modest homes for people who wanted to live in the suburbs.
Carroll realized, however, that if he stopped building homes his income would stop. He wanted to find a business that would generate income as his holdings grew.
That’s when he decided to enter the apartment business.
His grandly appointed penthouse atop Center Pointe is one of those triumphs that could just as easily have become a business tragedy.
In 2005, when Carroll bought the former Wachovia building, many felt it was a blight on downtown. Carroll vowed to transform it into 94 upscale condominiums, offices and a restaurant with the help of city and county incentives.
Carroll had initially borrowed $33 million for the project and had sold a quarter of the condominiums.
Then the recession hit in 2009.
Carroll was left holding $22 million in bank financing with no condo sales coming in to pay the debt.
He remembered a conversation he had with his father in 2006.
“Well, can you afford the worst-case scenario?” Roy Sr. asked.
Carroll chuckled. “Yeah, things are good. People are lining up to buy condos across the country,’ ” he replied.
Then his father said something Carroll wouldn’t forget: “Just make sure you can afford the worst-case scenario.”
Carroll’s father died of cancer in 2008, but Carroll had those words in the back of his mind in 2010, when sales had slowed.
He wanted to allay any community fears that he might walk away from the building as hundreds of developers did during the real estate crash. So Carroll asked his chief financial officer if the company had enough money to pay off the $22 million. He did, taking money that most developers would hold back for other projects and paying off Center Pointe.
“If you had a room full of Harvard MBAs, they would tell you to keep your powder dry for that time when you’re coming out the backside of the recession because that’s when you make your money on real estate,” Carroll said. “You go out and you shop with that $22 million.”
Carroll paid off First Horizon, Carolina Bank and High Point Bank, but he was surprised by the nonchalant response.
“They said, ‘OK,’ ” Carroll recalled. “I’m, like, really? That’s all I get? I mean, you’ve got all these other condo projects and people are giving them back to you and I’m sitting here telling you I’m going to pay you off. (One of the bank executives) said, ‘No, we talked about it. We knew you were good for it.’ ”
Carroll stops telling the story for a second to laugh.
“I said, ‘Well, you sure did take the thunder out of my message there.’ ”
• • •
Carroll’s jet touches down in Austin a little after 8 a.m. local time. He and his entourage board two SUVs headed to the Rivery Ranch apartment project in Georgetown, about 30 minutes northwest of Austin.
Carroll steps out of his light-tan Lexus SUV and strides across the red, rocky dirt to a group of construction managers waiting for him.
He surveys the project and immediately starts pointing out specific details he’d like to know more about.
“Out here, I’m just looking at progress,” explained Carroll, wearing a white hard hat in the hot Texas sun. “It’s kind of like art. My art is a bunch of dirt.”
Carroll could just as easily delegate this part of the job to someone else. But that’s just not how he’s wired. He’s used to building houses, sweeping up at night after the workers had gone home.
“He’s a construction guy first,” Perkins explained.
Carroll often walks off to remote parts of sites by himself, lost in thought, taking in details perhaps only he would notice.
“It’s my money, and I need to know where my money’s going,” said Carroll, who operates his businesses without equity investors. He answers to his staff and any banks he may be dealing with. But that’s it.
Even before he agreed to buy this apartment site, Carroll revealed: “I walked this whole site. Every square foot of it.”
Within an hour, Carroll is back in the SUV headed across Austin to another job site.
• • •
Carroll’s plain-spoken approach strikes some as blunt and obstinate — and that has caused a few high-profile clashes that generate headlines.
Whether he’s taking on nightclubs or pushing to refresh the city’s economic development approach, Carroll can attract critics.
In 2012, not long after Carroll opened Center Pointe and moved into its penthouse, he noticed loud, late-night music from two downtown rooftop nightclubs.
His complaints about the noise to police and City Council members stirred up a debate over acceptable noise levels.
In the end, a more conservative ordinance in 2013 drew fire from some downtown businesses and praise from others. Carroll came out looking like he had used his influence to sway the issue.
Carroll, who met with council members and business owners during the debate, may have complained more loudly than some, but councilwoman Nancy Hoffmann said the issue would have come up regardless of his role.
“It seems like a minor thing in a way, but it was out there and festering and creating an issue,” Hoffmann said. “It’s something that’s been part of the whole transition of downtown. Roy played a role in that because he felt that it was a negative for his Center Pointe property that he had made a big investment in and the city had made a big investment in.”
In 2015, even small business sniped at Carroll’s operations. When Carroll’s company began construction of the $70 million Carroll at Bellemeade apartment and hotel complex near First National Bank Park, the company tore down some buildings that the owner of a neighboring restaurant said affected the structural integrity of his building.
Jimmy Contogiannis, whose family owns one of the buildings that houses the Acropolis Restaurant on North Eugene Street, said Carroll company executives did not honor an agreement to preserve parts of his building.
Contogiannis said the situation was never fully resolved, but it hasn’t caused him long-term problems. And he’s hoping construction will be over soon so customers can more easily reach his restaurant.
He said he holds no hard feelings against Carroll himself, citing the developer’s reputation as a reasonable man.
“If I would’ve been able to talk to Roy at the beginning, I don’t think we would’ve had problems.”
• • •
Carroll was an 11-year-old boy with little self-confidence and no awareness of his leadership gifts when he joined a Boy Scouts troop at First Pentecostal Holiness Church.
During Carroll’s first months he wasn’t advancing, so scout master Eddie Wilkinson tried to help the skinny kid from southern Guilford County follow his instincts and overcome his fears.
“He was ready to quit,” Wilkinson remembered. “He was a natural leader and I saw that.”
Wilkinson said the troop took regular weekend camping trips to Camp Wenasa in Browns Summit. But two days was never enough for Carroll, who thought the troop would have more fun during a full week in the summer.
“He said it enough — that he’d have a good time and that I might have a good time, too,” Wilkinson said.
So they started going more often during the summer, where Carroll flourished as a troop leader.
“He’d come up with all kinds of challenges for the boys to do and I let him do it,” Wilkinson said.
Soon, Carroll was on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout.
The Roy Carroll who sits in his office today and directs his top executives hasn’t changed so much from that skinny kid so many summers ago, Wilkinson said.
“What he has now isn’t anything new,” he said. “Everybody thinks he grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth, but he grew up just like I did. They weren’t wealthy people.”
About a year into Carroll’s scouting career, Wilkinson recalled that he told him: “I don’t know how much of a success you’ll be, but you’re gonna be a success in life. And he didn’t see it. I saw a successful future.”
• • •
Carroll’s success can be partially traced to his thrifty spending habits — even if he does spend on luxuries that, for many of us, would be the stuff of dreams. He once said if he could figure out a way to make money from his socks, he would.
Investing in Ferraris is one way Carroll gets to experience the luxury of success while also turning a buck.
Many exotic Ferrari sportscars, which cost from hundreds of thousands of dollars to more than $1 million, don’t depreciate the day you drive them off the lot like most cars. They’re actually prized by collectors and the company limits the number made on some models, which increases their value.
Carroll has been buying them long enough that he usually gets a prime spot on the waiting list for those cars.
“Ferraris are certainly beautiful cars,” he said. “But I would say I’m more drawn to Ferraris because I like the investment return on certain models.”
His family, travel schedule and workload keep him from enjoying them as adult toys, however.
“I really don’t have much time to drive my Ferraris, but I do like taking them to (Virginia International Raceway) once or twice a year,” Carroll said.
A year ago, Carroll spent the better part of June in Bermuda, watching the boat races of the America’s Cup.
For Carroll, who has a boat of his own named Skyfall — he bristles at the term “yacht” — “watching the America’s Cup was an opportunity to check something off my bucket list.”
Carroll has acquaintances in the Ferrari and rarified boating world, but he said he keeps his close friendships on a more grounded level.
“Most of my friends are regular people who drive Chevys and Fords and not Ferraris,” he said.
• • •
Carroll got that grounded attitude from his early life as a working man’s son in a family “full of love.”
Roy Carroll Sr. worked as the manager of a Bestway grocery store on Phillips Avenue during his son’s childhood. The small company would hold its own against the bigger grocery chains, but the job was never easy and money wasn’t plentiful.
Carroll’s father, by all accounts a kind manager with clear expectations for his employees, showed his son the benefits of hard work by example.
“He worked all the time in the grocery business back then, and it was a tough business — low margin, long hours — but I always knew where he was. He wasn’t out doing whatever. He was either at work, he was working somewhere else or he was home.”
His father had always wanted to find a way to succeed in business, teaching his son how to invest in cars and sell them.
“We loved to sit around the table and talk business when I was in eighth grade all the way through high school,” Carroll remembered. “I don’t know if I could pass an English class, but I could read a Wall Street Journal cover to cover.”
Carroll Sr.’s business acumen would serve him well as the grocery business faltered in the shadow of chain stores that dwarfed the smaller Bestway.
“He would have probably retired with Bestway if it hadn’t been that they eventually laid him off,” Carroll said.
Before he left that job, Carroll Sr. did the best he could with his modest salary and even found a way to help others.
“I remember we were living in a trailer park and him going out and helping other people,” Carroll recalled. “And I remember him going and buying a car full of groceries for people down the street and going with him to deliver groceries. He really was a generous man.”
Carroll Sr. was born near the small city of Dunn in Harnett County. By age 15, he had lost both his parents, accelerating his path to adulthood.
Carroll said he appreciates what his father went through in those days. A large portrait of him hangs in a hallway at Center Pointe.
“I think my life is nothing if not a miracle,” he said. “My father was basically on the street when he was 15 years old. He put everything he owned in a paper sack and tried to hitchhike to New Jersey. He had a sister up there.
“You could not hitchhike in Delaware, the story goes. And so he had just enough money to buy a bus ticket and the guy looked at him who sold the tickets in Delaware and said, ‘I’m not going to sell you a ticket to get across Delaware into New Jersey because there’s enough bums already in New Jersey.’
“He had to stay awake all night just to avoid being arrested for loitering.”
Carroll Sr. eventually did get to his sister’s home and got a job in a plant nursery.
He later returned to Dunn and married.
“When they were expecting me, they located to Greensboro because my mother’s sister and her husband lived in Greensboro,” Carroll said.
It was 1962. That same year, Carroll Sr. got his first grocery job as a meat cutter at Bestway.
• • •
It’s 11 a.m., and Carroll boards his SUV and heads across Austin to have a look at the Hollybrook apartment development.
Austin, one of the fastest-growing cities in America, has a burgeoning tech industry and a fashionable culture. The city adds about 30,000 jobs a year, and new workers means apartment customers, Carroll says.
At Hollybrook, Carroll closely studies the dirt surrounding a corner where one apartment building will be constructed. He’s worried that the dirt is too sparse and may lead to weakness in the corner. A couple of construction managers pull out a sheaf of blueprints and try to find a solution.
Carroll inspires an intense level of attention in his managers just by being on the scene. They work out a plan for the corner and move on.
Soon, Carroll is headed down the highway again, but this time for food and hydration.
Nothing fancy for Carroll and crew. They pull over to a gas station/restaurant called Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q for some classic Texas brisket, sliced any way you want. Served on wax paper with a four-inch stack of sliced white bread, Carroll’s entourage crowds together on a long table covered with a vinyl red-checkered tablecloth and digs in.
All around them, men in ties and a female deputy in a cowboy hat amble to the back of the big room where the staff hand cuts the beef to order.
Fueled up, Carroll is off to his last stops of the day, first a Bee Safe site then an apartment complex.
• • •
Carroll says his crowning achievement is not building the Carroll Cos. into what it is now, but “marrying the right woman.”
Vanessa Yount Carroll’s upbringing was far different than that of her husband. It was a family of privilege and educational achievement.
Her father was the chief financial officer of the Pine State Dairy in Raleigh. She got an undergraduate degree in psychology at UNC-Greensboro, followed by a masters in psychology and then another masters in public welfare administration from UNC-Chapel Hill.
She was living in Greensboro and attending UNC when she met Carroll.
Lifelong church connections would unite the couple.
Even as children, Vanessa said, “we crossed paths a lot of times and never met each other.”
When they were around 11 years old, Roy and Vanessa both attended church camp at West Market Pentecostal Holiness Church.
Her deeply religious father was a strong supporter of mission programs and kept her connected to Greensboro through a minister friend they knew in Raleigh.
Vanessa and Roy crossed paths again when she came to a church Halloween party in Greensboro to celebrate her 16th birthday. Roy was at the same party, but they never met.
“Years later, we started talking about people we knew and realized we were both at that party,” Vanessa said.
When they finally met, it was as adults when she joined her brother at West Market Pentecostal to visit their old minister friend from Raleigh. When Carroll arrived 30 minutes late, it didn’t go unnoticed by Vanessa.
“You’ve got to seize the moment,” Vanessa said. “He called that afternoon to go out that night.”
That was Nov. 1, 1986. They were married in December 1987 and have been together ever since.
Roy’s way with a dollar was clear on nearly every date, Vanessa said.
“We’d go on dates and he always had a coupon,” she recalled with a smile. “We’d go wherever his coupon was good. We ate a lot of Bojangle’s chicken.”
She laughs that, at the time, Carroll told her he was “destined for greatness. I’m gonna make a million.”
• • •
After their barbecue lunch, before heading back to the airport around 3 p.m., there’s time for one more stop — a new apartment project where Carroll can touch base with his managers and get a look at a site in the shadow of major road construction, his empire growing along with the expansion boom in Austin.
• • •
When Carroll was a boy, he wasn’t a good student. He laughs about it now and realizes that attention deficit disorder drove him to distraction and curiosity.
“They didn’t diagnose it in the ’60s and the ’70s, and the school kept telling my mother I needed more discipline. And I remember my mother saying, ‘I’m spanking him so much now my arm’s tired all the time,’ ” Carroll recalled. “I’d just be sitting in class and a fly would fly overhead and I’d be off wondering how many times a second that fly’s wings are beating. Wonder where he’ll land? I’ll bet he lands on that wall. I’d be all over the place.
“I had to learn how to deal with it. I’ve never been on medication, but when I got to college I realized this is real expensive and I’ve got to figure out how to harness it.”
He would find the frenetic world of real estate to be the place where he could flourish, but not before attending four colleges in four years.
He attended Emanuel College in Georgia, Greensboro College and UNC-Greensboro before a career-defining stint at Guilford Technical Community College, where he learned how to earn licenses to be a contractor, real estate agent and appraiser.
“If there was a magic shot you could get to be cured from attention deficit disorder, I wouldn’t take it,” Carroll said.
“There’s so much information and so many things I have to focus on at once ... it’s pretty valuable.”
Carroll admits whether traveling the world with his family or going cross country on business, he is never far from a phone or computer.
He answers emails from every time zone, sometimes using satellite phones.
Carroll said his father stressed two things: hard work and looking out for other people.
“He said it doesn’t matter which side of the tracks you’re from or your background, if you work hard enough and are smart enough, you can make a success out of yourself,” Carroll said. “One of his favorite sayings was: ‘Success doesn’t start ’til after 5 o’clock.’ ”
• • •
Carroll said that attitude stays with him.
“He cursed me with that, so today, you know, I can’t sit around on the weekend,” Carroll explained. “If I’m home, I’m in the office. At night I take home a stack of work, and after dinner I have a sitting room in the house and I’ll start going through financial statements or invoices or something.”
Carroll Sr., who had made it into management at Bestway, could see that the grocery business was faltering amid recession and heavy competition from larger chains. After he was laid off in 1982, he began to pursue his contracting business.
“If somebody wanted a deck built or something, he’d do it on the side,” Carroll recalled. “He could rebuild the engine on your car or build a sunroom on the back of your house. There was not much he could not do.
“I’m in college in the early ’80s, and he started doing little renovations and stuff once he got laid off. We had some friends who wanted a house built. So we built the house, nailed the nails, swept the floors.”
The Carrolls hired just a few subcontractors.
“I’d never taken a drafting course or anything, but I knew how to put the sticks and bricks together,” he said.
Carroll and his father pooled what savings they had to keep expanding their business.
“It’s fun going back and pulling those tax returns” from the late 1980s.
The first year of business they paid themselves $16,000 apiece.
“We were happy,” he said. “We enjoyed what we were doing.”
But as the business grew, Carroll felt they could earn more money building production houses in subdivisions.
“Dad didn’t want to go into production housing,” Carroll explained. “He enjoyed the custom housing and the customer interaction, and so that’s when he said, ‘Why don’t you buy my half of the company?’ ”
Carroll found some land near The Cardinal development that would later become his Crystal Lakes apartments.
A real estate agent offered him 21 acres for $20,000. Just one problem: There was no road to access the land and it was very steep.
But Carroll’s creativity kicked in and he saw an opportunity.
“I took the site to some local engineers and they basically laughed at me,” he remembered. “So at a builder’s show, I ran into an architect out of Colorado and I said, ‘I bet they’re used to dealing with hilly topography. What can they do? I’ve already been laughed at.’ So I sent it to them and they said, ‘Oh, this is what we consider flat ground.’ ”
The Rocky Mountain architects drew some sketches and so began Carroll’s apartment career.
“I still have them today,” he said.
• • •
It’s late afternoon, and on the trip back from Austin Carroll chats with company executives and drinks two Perrier waters in a glass tumbler. He takes a short nap in his seat near the front of the cabin. Later in the evening, he’ll appear before the Guilford County Commissioners to go over a road closure he’s requesting at the site of the prospective Publix distribution center.
But right now, the plane is tranquil as it cruises at 552 mph.
When the Gulfstream lands in Greensboro around 6:30 p.m., Carroll bounds down the stairs and heads toward the hangar where he began his day 12 hours earlier, a routine he’s followed many times before.
The company’s executive team follows and heads for their cars and trucks parked a few hundred feet away.
It’s been a long day, but nobody has that beat look of the executive who’s just unloaded from a commercial flight.
Carroll will be back at work tomorrow full of ideas from the Austin trip and ready to spot new opportunities in other cities.
Contact Richard M. Barron at 336-373-7371 and follow @BarronBizNR on Twitter.