by Brandi Forte
For New Pittsburgh Courier
WASHINGTON (NNPA)—It’s hard to know what to expect when you meet a Forbes “lister.” Someone literally so wealthy, so successful that we’re forced to pluck them once a year from office suites, stages and basketball courts and rank them by the zeroes in their bank accounts. Names like Oprah and Magic and Bob and Sheila Johnson float to the top. Now we can add Washington native R. Donahue Peebles to that list.
R. DONAHUE PEEBLES
Don’t expect to find Peebles, a real estate titan with a portfolio worth $4 billion, hiding behind designer shades or spinning in a tornado of security and Blackberry-wielding Ivy-league assistants. If you don’t mind, he’ll introduce himself. It’s barely above freezing in the nation’s capital and he’s dressed comfortably in a deep navy, pinstriped suit tailored to his slim 6-3 frame. He smiles and says he’s use to the weather. By the way, you can call him Don. Last year, Forbes Magazine named Peebles the “Eighth Wealthiest African-American.” From his swank downtown D.C. office just two blocks from Macy’s, Peebles shared his story of grit and determination that propelled him from a humble, working-class upbringing into the world of self-made millionaires.
“I am a big believer that anything is possible,” he said. Warm hues and photos taken with President Obama and former President Bill Clinton and portraits of his wife and children cover the walls. “The only limitations for us are those we allow society to impose on us.”
That is the story that Peebles wants every Black boy and girl, man and woman in the District to know—a story of how to succeed against the odds. He has captured his success principles in a book that bears his name: “The Peebles Principles: Tales and Tactics from an Entrepreneur’s Life of Winning Deals, Succeeding in Business, and creating a Fortune from Scratch.”
“It’s at the top of my reading list,” said city of Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille, one of Peebles’ admirers.
This book should be on every aspiring businessperson’s bookshelf to be read again and again, said Robert L. Johnson, BET founder and Charlotte Bobcats owner.
Born in 1960 at Freedman’s Hospital, now Howard University Hospital, Peebles grew up on 9th Street. Peebles’ parents divorced when he was five. Though his mother raised him, and his grandfather and uncles played key roles in molding him, he adopted his father’s work ethic.
“My father and I had a close relationship in the early part of my childhood. After my parents divorced there was some distance. I learned the willingness to work hard from my uncles and my grandfather taught me that there were no limits,” Peebles said. “At the same time my father always had two jobs. He worked for the government and as an auto mechanic. I got my work ethic from him.”
In 1965, he and his mother moved to Naylor Road and Southern Avenue. Then in 1974, they moved again, this time to Connecticut Avenue and Van Ness in upper Northwest. He attended Alice Deal Junior High School, Wilson High in 10th grade and graduated from U.C. Capitol Page School.
“I was just better than average,” Peebles told the District Chronicles, referring to his academic acumen. Peebles liked playing basketball and was a member of the chess team. Someone else was the valedictorian. After high school, Peebles attended Rutgers University for a year before dropping out to focus on making real estate deals and building The Peebles Corp.
“One thing that playing chess taught me about life is how to plan ahead, thinking forward, being strategic about my opponent and how to be eight steps ahead of the game,” he said.
Peebles’ grandfather worked as a doorman for Marriott Wardman Park Hotel for 41 years. It was no small bit of irony when, in 1994, Peebles bought and converted 900 F Street, N.W, into what it is today: a Marriott Hotel.
Now the Peebles Corp. is the nation’s largest African-American real estate development company. The company boasts luxury hotels and high-rise residential and commercial properties in D.C., San Francisco, Las Vegas and Miami Beach. In the near future, he plans to invest and build more minority banks that provide loans and capital to minority businesses.
One factor that thrust Peebles to the pinnacle of wealth and success is his political savvy. And he is not shy about discussing politics or getting politically involved. The real estate titan said that the city has only experienced moderate improvements since 1989. There’s still a lot of work to do.
“There is generational poverty in Wards 7 and 8,” he said. “What I see is two cities, a city that is Black and a city that is White. It is poor and prospering. As a native and resident I would like to have one city to create more opportunities and success for all residents. How can you tell residents that you don’t have money for services, but you have millions to give to businesses in Maryland to move to the District?…We need a public servant whose heart is in D.C.,” he said.
D.C. Council member-At-Large Michael Brown, a friend of Peebles, agrees with him on the state of the District.
“Don is right. We need public servants that have compassion and solutions,” Brown said. “Don is a great leader and public servant. He exudes experience and foresight for the voices that are not being represented.”
Peebles’ political education started in high school, working on Capitol Hill as a page and as an intern for Rep. John Conyers of Michigan and Rep. Ron Dellums of California.
“I had a pretty grueling schedule, but I got to see how politics and business interacted,” he said.
Councilman Marion Barry also mentored him during his 20s, and Peebles was later appointed chairman of D.C.’s Board of Equalization and Review, D.C.’s real estate tax appeals board, at 23.
These experiences gave him a strong sense for public service and politics, which he still cherishes.
“My dedication to realizing the potential of Washington remains steadfast and my desire to work aggressively to bring about change will always be unwavering,” he said.
For now, Peebles said that he’ll work for change as a private citizen focusing on family first. The land developer said that his 15-year-old son, Roy; 7-year-old daughter, Chloe; and his wife, Katrina, keep him grounded.
“My vow as a husband and my responsibilities as a father to support my wife and children, supersede my desires to serve in a public office. I don’t plan to be a candidate.
(Special to the NNPA from the District Chronicles.)