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Sarasota deal maker Ron Shenkin.

Sarasota deal maker Ron Shenkin.

It's hard to put your finger on Ron Shenkin. Even his own kids ask, "Dad, what do you do again?"

Certainly his office is no clue. It may be the least-likely-to-impress business setting in town--a small space at the back of Kane's furniture store. To get there, you walk through endless arrangements of living and dining room furniture, open a door with no name on it and see a desk and shelves cluttered with stacks of papers and scrawled messages. There is no computer, no fax machine, not even a Rolodex. In fact, Shenkin (who rarely wears a tie) is proud to say he doesn't have any business cards or stationery, never advertises, vacations at least six weeks out of the year and bought his first suit only a year ago. But don't be deceived: Shenkin helped put together deals involving more than $40 million in the last 18 months.

Ask people what Shenkin does and they'll say he's a salesman, a real estate consultant, a financier, a developer, a negotiator, a diplomat and a clearinghouse for investors who want someone to look over proposals. His friend and client Les Billib, marketing director for Peder Wallenberg Development Co., says the best way to describe Shenkin is as a "deal broker."

"He puts a party who needs money with a party who has money," Billib says simply.

It was Shenkin who orchestrated the cliff-hanging Aku Tiki deal last year. Agents for Canada's Granfel (the company also owns Lido's Half Moon Beach Club) had only three days to find $3.5 million or they would lose their $500,000 deposit along with the chance to buy the Aku Tiki, a Lido Beach hotel. Shenkin says he got investors together, collected $600,000 and found a bank that could move quickly to make up the difference.

Not every deal is so complex. Right now, for example, Shenkin is helping a Bradenton dentist who owns some tomato-growing acreage and wants to turn it into prime real estate. Shenkin says he's teaching his client how to think like a developer, from hiring the right engineers to finding a builder.

A Ft. Pierce woman recently called him about a 58-unit condominium she wants to buy for $5.5 million. She needs $2.6 million more and a bank won't make the loan. Shenkin is driving down to see the property and will decide if he has investors who might be interested.

His solutions show creativity as well as an ability to crunch numbers: For a local businessman in danger of losing his 72-foot Hatteras, he suggested and put together a time-share investment in the boat.

Shenkin says business is good right now. Investors come to him because it's more fun than the stock market and the return can be higher. Buyers come to him because he's more sympathetic than a bank and he can make loans where they can't. Private lending is more common since the S&L crisis, he says. In addition, the threat of a building moratorium has made Sarasota banks more leery of development loans.

But real estate is still a good investment, he insists. "It's infinitely better than coming down from the North and trying to buy a business. But it's different today. You can't just buy low and sell high anymore. You've got to be more sophisticated, know how to use lenders and not be greedy."

In 1973, Shenkin came down from Chicago, where his large advertising firm had gone bust. "I absolutely started over," he says. He headed to Sarasota, where he'd had some business connections, and started farming himself out as a consultant. That's how Les Billib, who was working at Paver Development Co., and Ed Kalin, who owns Kanes and invests heavily in local real estate, met him.

"He approached me as a consultant for my real estate division," Kalin says. "He impressed me as very upbeat and creative. He knows instinctively what I like. There's very little he can't solve. He's got street smarts."

He does indeed. In fact, Shenkin got only as far as the 10th grade before he quit school to go into sales. When you ask him how he's succeeded in the world of creative financing, he shrugs his shoulders and says, "I can communicate."

Those who work with him say it's more than that.

"He's very, very bright," says Dave McNabb, president/owner of McNabb Homes. "He can understand a concept before it's even out of your mouth."

Bob Kolton, a commercial real estate salesman who has worked with Shenkin says, "I've found him to be a tough but fair negotiator. He's willing to leave some money on the table so both parties walk away happy. He's not brutal if he senses someone is stressed. He won't take a property and run."

It's his track record, not his credentials, that matter to those who have worked with him. "I don't care how he got his education. He's got it," says Billib.

"Some guys will dress up in $500 suits but it's a front. Shenkin doesn't need a front. He performs," Kolton says.

Kalin says there's nothing negative he can say about Shenkin. "Except he takes too many vacations."
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Title Annotation:Sarasota Business
Author:Burns, Susan
Publication:Sarasota Magazine
Date:Jun 22, 1990
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