Free Agent Investor – Ron Watson

CDA Pathfinder Ron Watson

Real estate and investment adviser Ron Watson has had several careers. When Dr. Helen Harkness counseled Ron about his future in the 1980s, she suggested that his accounting position might be too restrictive for his creativity and entrepreneurial temperament. It turns out she was right.

On a visit to CDA a few years ago, he discussed future opportunities in real estate investment and detailed his evolution from Big 6 accountant to independent businessman and investor. Mr. Watson’s presentation was part of the ongoing Pathfinder Career Conversations/Career Choices Workshops held regularly at CDA. The presentations are generally open to the public.

“I credit Dr. Harkness for introducing me to the concept of working as a free agent,” Ron says. “During our work together I began developing a personal philosophy of thinking outside the box, thereby allowing myself more freedom to be creative in my lifestyle and career choices.”

Doing business now as Watson Realty Investment Advisors, Ron is managing partner of Rocky Mountain Real Estate, LLP, the largest brokerage firm in Gunnison, Colorado, and he invests on his own account. He has 30 years of accounting, real estate workout, development, finance, investment and brokerage experience. Ron is a real estate broker in Texas and Colorado, is a Certified Public Accountant registered in the state of Texas, and is a Certified Mediator.

“The basic premise is to run my personal investment portfolio like a business, but maintain enough flexibility and personal freedom to pursue the opportunities that present themselves without getting too committed to any one investment or venture.”

An entrepreneur from the start, Ron began selling real estate and working in a title company to put himself through college. After graduating cum laude from North Texas State University in 1980 with a degree in accounting, Ron worked for a Big 6 CPA firm, and then for the Trammell Crow Company, an international real estate development firm. He began his own real estate workout business in 1986, and over the next eight years Ron and his partner grew the company to over 200 people and with offices coast to coast before selling out in 1993.

Ron and his partner worked with lenders across the country to get control of, manage and dispose of over $100 billion in troubled real estate (OREO – Other Real Estate Owned).

After selling the workout business, Ron took a 14-state tour looking for a new home and settled in Gunnison, Colorado. “When I sold my business and left Dallas in 1994, I was suffering from a rather significant case of burn out,” Ron continued. “My partner and I had been on a 10-year roller coaster ride, building a business to over 200 employees that was originally just my partner and me with a secretary.”

He admits to feeling some guilt at not staying in the corporate game, but concluded that a career in “company building” was too costly personally. While highly rewarding the first time, the trade-offs were too great. If he stayed, he would continue to have a lack of time for a wife, family and close friends, and little time for his health or other interesting distractions.

“I knew that I was going to have to reinvent myself if I was going to have my cake and eat it too,” he confides. “I started reading everything I could get my hands on regarding building true financial independence and identifying what was important in life, or getting a better balance in life, which pop psychology calls the simplicity movement.”

While Ron says it was somewhat difficult transition at first to think outside of traditional approaches, he conducted lot of research and talked to a variety of people who have chosen less traditional businesses and life styles. “What developed out of this study was a personal philosophy that leads me to only get involved in what interests me,” Ron advises. “I avoid getting locked down into any one opportunity or business, and focus also on the more important life issues of a successful marriage, spending time with my aging parents, and finding some of the fun that I had postponed.”

His personal financial picture minimizes a lot of “stuff.” He recognizes that toys, expensive houses, high personal debt or other things that only marginally contribute to quality of life are likely to exert more financial pressure.

Ron’s work and investment opportunities require him to satisfactorily answer the following questions:

  • Will it produce a return preferably in the 12% to 25% range without a disproportionate level of risk? He suggests that understanding and managing the risk has been an evolving process and a real balancing act.
  • How time consuming is it? Is it something that can run independently, or does he have a partner or contractor that can manage the day-to-day it to allow me to maintain my free agency status? (For example, he has a partner in the brokerage business in Gunnison, a great financial advisor, and a property manager on his other income portfolio in Gunnison and Rockport).
  • How does it fit into his overall portfolio to provide continued financial stability and diversification? He is committed to not get too overloaded in Gunnison or Rockport area real estate, even though his unique perspective in that small market helps him spot good deals.
  • Will it grow my net worth and can I do it as “tax efficiently” as possible?

He leaves himself plenty of “think time.” Preferring to keep his own schedule, he allows enough flexibility to pursue good opportunities as they arise. He says “some of my brightest ah-has have come with a fishing rod in my hand, the sun in my face and a fat speckled trout on the line. Somebody’s got to do it!”

In addition to going into specifics about lifestyle choices, investment strategies and his rationale for how much money and stuff is enough, Ron will discuss how he developed his personal philosophy to help you decide specifically what you want out of life and your career.

He recommends that, if you put together a business plan with all of the normal objectives, techniques and work steps including product, marketing and markets, management philosophy and financial goals that you will be well on your way to meeting that goal of being more independent or engaged, or whatever that ultimate goal might look like.