April 29, 2019
by Stefan Junge
Safe Harbor Equity Founder and Managing Director Ralph (Rafael) Serrano is a Miami- based entrepreneur.
A South Florida native, Mr. Serrano’s professional career began while he was a student at Florida International University. Even as he pursued other opportunities, he has continued to invest in real estate throughout his career.
In 1992, Mr. Serrano founded MTU, Inc., a commercial vehicle fleet maintenance firm based in South Florida. As acting CEO, Mr. Serrano amassed a deep stable of national clients across a cross-section of industries.
After exiting MTU in 1999, Mr. Serrano took a position with WorldCom, Inc. – formerly MCI – as a national corporate accounts manager. Mr. Serrano earned plaudits throughout his tenure for his sizable client portfolio and innovative client service.
Mr.Serrano represented British Aerospace Systems (BAE Systems), the global defense conglomerate, in 2001-2005 as a strategic consultant and business development specialist in the Mercosur trade region of South America.
Ralph Serrano founded Safe Harbor Equity shortly after leaving BAE Systems in 2005. Since then, Mr. Serrano has been involved in the execution of hundreds of residential and commercial real estate transactions. Although Safe Harbor Equity’s activities center on South Florida, which Mr. Serrano knows well, he seeks suitable opportunities elsewhere in the continental United States as well. In the years ahead, Mr. Serrano looks forward to maintaining Safe Harbor’s commitment to its clients, be they managed accounts, partnerships, participations, or joint ventures.
Representing Safe Harbor Equity, Mr. Serrano is a prolific speaker and panelist at real estate investment conferences throughout North America. Over the years, he has earned a reputation for frank commentary on trends in commercial and residential real estate, and for advocating a balanced approach to real estate investing and asset management.
In his personal capacity, Ralph Serrano supports a number of charities in Florida and beyond. These include Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, a Miami cancer treatment facility that brings a cross-disciplinary approach to cancer treatment and management; the Ganley Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to destigmatizing mental health issues through education; and Best Buddies International, which provides fellowship, employment, and leadership opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
I recognized early on in the mid-2000s real estate boom that the market was substantially overheated. I began to have conversations with friends about how to capitalize on the situation, and decided to start purchasing notes that were in distress. I’ve always been very lucky and I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. The rest is history.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I get an early start. Before I officially begin my work day, I organize my tasks and to-do lists in writing.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I start by writing everything down – taking notes in every meeting, every brainstorming session, even just going about my day around town. I make a detailed, step-by-step plan with a deliverables timeline that tells me what I or my team need to do, and when.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I’m really big on impact investing. I love that it combines philanthropy with evidence-based investing, and I think it has the potential to solve a lot of the problems that have vexed industry to date.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Writing everything down — I always have a notebook with me and I take copious notes.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t take yourself so seriously.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Happiness is very rare. The world has more rich people than happy people. Money really can’t buy happiness, but it sure makes things easier.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
In a word, be curious. Read as much as you can, and use what you learn to think things through. Also, don’t be afraid of change; see what others perceive as risk as opportunity. Persistence is critical for success -especially persistence in the face of failure and learning from your mistakes.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I follow a simple, five-step strategy over and over. Step one: write it down; step two: plan it; step three: recruit the right people; step four: surround yourself with people smarter than me; step five: execute.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
There is more than one way of doing things, my way is not always the best or only way. Learning from others’ mistakes is better than learning from your own
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
If I had more time and didn’t love real estate investing, I would definitely focus on the health and wellness space. We’ve seen tremendous growth in the past decade and I believe the industry is really poised to take off.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The last $100 I spent, cumulatively, on books. I’m a ravenous reader; I’ve always believed that knowledge is everything.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I use Zoom for videoconferencing, remote meetings, demonstrations, and document sharing. It’s my go-to productivity aid, and my business wouldn’t be the same without it.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“The Tipping Point,” by Malcolm Gladwell. It convinced me that seemingly little things can shape big events and trends.
What is your favorite quote?
“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” – Bill Gates
• Read as much as you can, and use what you learn to think things through.
• Don’t be afraid of change; see what others perceive as risk as opportunity.
• Don’t take yourself so seriously.