Peter Rotelle | Crain's Philadelphia

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Peter Rotelle

Background:  

A division of Rotelle Development Company, Rotelle Studio(e) offers personalized custom home building with services ranging from home design to access to financing. Rotelle Development Company, based in Eastern Pennsylvania, has been a home builder and environmentally-responsible land developer for more than 25 years.

The Mistake:

When I started Rotelle Development Company, I had staff, but I didn’t really have any in-house management. I was in the residential land development and new home building business, and was trying to visit every home for quality control, as well as handle the accounting, sales, and the marketing. I was trying to do it all.

Then I started looking around and began thinking: “How does that guy do it? How does that guy manage 1,000 apartments, and do five times the amount of business I’m doing without being a public company?”

It wasn’t an “aha” moment, but I slowly realized that if I wanted to continue being a mom-and-pop, then I could continue working all aspects of the business. What I wanted to do, though, was create a company that could be an ongoing entity after I passed. I also wanted more time to build another company — particularly, a propane company, so that if the housing market went south, I had another business in place that was recession-proof. The only way that could happen was for me to let go. It no longer made sense for me to be balancing the gas cards to the penny at 11:30 p.m.

I realized that I would be better working on my business, instead of in. I had to let go to grow. 

The Lesson:

I realized that I would be better working on my business, instead of in. I had to let go to grow. To do that, I hired people I trusted, put a corporate structure in place, and created a board of advisors comprised of highly-decorated business professionals in a myriad of different disciplines — meaning that none were in the residential home building and development industry. This was by design because I didn’t want to be subject to another home builder’s thoughts and beliefs, since I was the one bringing that to the table.

It was almost like a pair of scissors; I just cut myself away from the minutia of those roles, and never looked back. I was then able to get several startups and ventures going, like my propane business, which was a great decision. I ultimately ended up selling it off, and am now working on Rotelle Studio(e), which is another startup venture that has so far been tremendously successful.

I did all of this while managing my building and development company on more of a macro level: Giving the company a sense of direction, keeping an eye on various market trends, and the like. I didn’t walk away from it; instead, I was able to keep it more fresh and current than before.

Photo courtesy of Rotelle Development Company.