Russell Post grew up in a small Indiana town identical to the one seen in the movie “Hoosiers.” He attended the University of Evansville. He enlisted in the Army for two years and spent a year in Vietnam before returning home.
Post didn’t envision spending his days working on farms or inside factories in Indiana. Instead, he looked for places likely to experience growth in 30 years. Arizona, California and Florida were the choices, and Post decided on the Sunshine State. A career would be the next big decision upon his arrival to the Florida Keys.
He ended up serving as director and president of the Ocean Reef Community Association from 1977 to 1985. He was also president and director of Ocean Reef Club from 1980 to 1992. A year later, Post established his own brokerage firm to help the Ocean Reef community with real estate needs.
Founding principal and managing broker/owner of Russell Post Ocean Sotheby’s International Realty, Post discussed his journey from Indiana to the Keys and the successes and stories along the way.
When I came to the Keys, I worked five or six days. I’d take Wednesdays off and put on a suit and tie and go interview for various jobs. I’d set up the interview not really looking for the job but seeing what different businesses were like and try to find one that turned me on.
I focused on resort development, real estate and heard about a job here at Ocean Reef with management. I interviewed for it. It had already been promised when I got there. But the guy who interviewed me spent a lot of time with me and convinced me that ownership was good and management was terrible. I said I’ll take anything you got.
I started midnight to 8 in the morning at $2.10 an hour, which was less than I made since I think I was 12 and had paper routes. Ten months later I was running the place. I made a major commitment obviously.
In my mind, I said, ‘You know, I’m not going to drink, smoke, dance, play cards or swear. I’m just going to work my a** off and see how far I go. I had a couple promotions and then 10 months later the owner grabbed me and said let’s have a drink.
Everything was done over drinks in those days. He said ‘My manager is drunk by 3 in the afternoon drinking my whiskey.’ He says, ‘You’re making those decisions, it’s like you’re running the place. Why wouldn’t I pay you to do it instead of him?’ I said ‘Well, hopefully you’re a little patient. But I’ll do it. I’ll figure it out.’ And he bet on me. I ran the place for about 18 years.
In the early ’90s, I started what I called Russell Post Properties and Real Estate Sales. And we were blessed within three years, we had over 50% market share and then grew that over time. Eventually I sold that business to Ocean Reef Club, which would have been three years ago, and I’m on a four-year deal to run it. I’ll still have a license and be able to sell and list here. But I’ll give it up. I’ll spend a lot more time in the Keys and helping Lauren Varney grow the business.
There was a guy named Harper Sibley, a visionary who owned Ocean Reef from the late ’60s to the 1990s. He had tremendous people skills. He was a guy who was crazy enough to hire me and give me a shot.
In any business, you have to have a plan. You have to have a commitment and total focus. Sometimes you can overcook that total focus and never take any time off, which I’m pretty good at. And I’m pretty good at screwing that up. I think it doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, race, none of that matters. … If someone has the attributes and attitude, you can get anywhere.
I learned a lot about water, and Ocean Reef pioneered the reverse osmosis desalination process in the early ’70s. We were the only plant in the world producing over 50 thousand gallons a day. We were 1.1 million (gallons). Through the ’70s, the Israelis, the Arabs, and everyone were over looking at our plants. We had two plants from two companies. They competed with each other. King Faisal, when he was prince, came here for an international water association meeting. He opened the meeting by saying, ‘Gentlemen, I have $12 billion I’ll be spending in your industry in the next 10 years.’ This was in the ’70s when $12 billion was a lot of money. Every time we’d tell them that Prince Faisal or a group of Israelis were coming, they’d make their plants like new because they were selling out of here.
About 11 years ago, I liked the Islamorada market a lot, so I opened an office there. It’s grown into the top office in the village area. Then I expanded into Key West and then Marathon. Key West was with Bob Cardness. He has a great reputation. Solid. We started there on Fleming Street and now we’re over at the Val Square — it’s probably the best location in town. I wanted to be in Marathon, and Bob introduced me to Jo Ann Cook. In Marathon, she’d be like Michael Jordan to what he was in Chicago. She’s the franchise. She’s a great human being. A great professional. Now we’re in all three markets.
I have no interest in retiring. I don’t know what the hell I would do. I get more pleasure out of seeing agents have their kids go to college and make a good living.
I thought I was going to be a Boston Celtic, but really didn’t grow into that role physically. I just loved their style of ball with Bob Cousy and then Larry Bird. I actually know the guy who owns the Celtics. I never would have thought that when I was growing up in this tiny little town.
When COVID hit, we prepared for the worst. But then certainly for six to eight weeks, it became clear we were going to be the beneficiary. I don’t think that’s going to stop in the Florida Keys. The Keys are very undervalued. I think people will want to come down here. There’s so much.
In all my years I‘ve never seen so much wealth around. Stock markets are hot and people who had $5 million on the market 10 years ago have $10 or $15 million now. It’s extraordinary what’s around. I think the Keys are going to continue to benefit from that.
I think the density in the Keys, everyone complains about the traffic. I think hopefully over time, all the properties will be occupied by residents who are willing to pay a pretty price to get them and are committed to the environment.
The thing that has changed the most that needs to be fixed is the reefs. What I saw when I came here in the ’70s, if that was 10 on a 10 scale, what’s out there right now is .5. It’s something we’ve gotta fix. The whole economy of the Keys and many jobs relate to the reefs.
I always have at least three books going. I like novels based on history. That’s a fun way to get your history. I usually love this guy named Daniel Silva. He writes about the Israeli Mossad agent who eventually becomes the director of Mossad.
A lot of people can show houses better than I can. But I can do a pretty good job finding out and convincing people if the Keys are the right place for them. Once philosophically that’s accomplished, then they’re going to buy something. It’s a matter of what and we’ve got plenty of people who can help them with that.
There’s a perception that real estate is not an honorable trade and they are looked on like used car dealers. I think the misconception comes in when you find a company, like ours, full of very committed professionals with high ethics. That’s where we try to differentiate.
College is where you learn. Your job isn’t too much more than learning what you enjoy and what you’re good at. Once you’ve figured that out, then everything is out there for you. Figure out what you’re good at and what you like.
My younger self would be surprised I’ve done as well as I’ve done. I think if it was the old self, me sitting here looking back I would say, ‘Jeez, I could have done a lot better at this and that.’ But that’s just life.
Post is the father to Alex, Caroline and Lilly, all of whom are in college. Post said he’s planning to take his kids to Israel next year. When he’s not working, Post is out on the course enjoying a round of golf.