A 6-year-old boy lugging a red wagon down a suburban sidewalk might seem like a typical occurrence. For Mitch Glaeser, though, the four-wheeled contraption embodied something much more. Brimming with freshly dug elephant ears, this small boy was chasing big dreams.
The start to his entrepreneurial successes originated with that wagon and a few leaves. He’d travel to a neighbor’s house, convincing them to let him thin their plants for a dollar. Minutes later, you’d find that same boy imbedding those very same plants in a different yard—again for another dollar.
Looking back, much of the successful entrepreneur’s imaginative concepts can be traced to his parents and siblings. Finding a friend in the Glaeser household came easy. With four boys, one adopted girl, and collectively (throughout his childhood) 76 foster children, acquiring even a little attention and allowance, however, did not. Glaeser dubbed his household a “fun, creative, competitive environment to grow up in,” undoubtedly attributing his tenacious, sociable and creative demeanor to his rearing.
“I think a lot of that upbringing had a tremendous impact on how entrepreneurial I am,” he said. “We were always encouraged when we were young that if we ever wanted anything greater than the simple means my parents provided, we would have to get out and work.”
And that’s exactly what he did. At the ripe age of 17, he was given a thousand dollars after he graduated high school and moved out on his own. He made ends meet working at a drugstore, where he would calculate how much it was going to mean for him to earn a nickel pay raise. By the next year, he earned his real estate license and bought his first home, a 100-year-old house with leaking windows and a wood stove. With no loans or assistance, he worked his way through college as a full-time real estate agent at the company where he soon became the top sales representative.
“Selling houses – which are most people’s largest investment – it was very hard to get respect at 18, but it didn’t deter me. If anything I was more motivated and more fired up to prove I could do it,” Glaeser said.
With a father as a real estate broker, the ins and outs of selling property were dinner table talk. He jumped right in to the field showing properties, selling deals, writing contracts and handling all aspects of customer service.
“I was somewhat fearless in the business community,” he recalled. “The reality is that it’s easier to take business risks when you’re younger than when you’re older. Part of it is you’re naïve about what failure will feel like. If there was anything I could do to build and create a company that was profitable and helped people, I was all about it.”
While mastering the art of realty, he worked in the local post office for nine months, clocking in at midnight and leaving at 9 a.m., where he would then race straight to his day job in real estate. For nearly a year, he battled workweeks with an excess of 80 hours.
By the time he was 19, he was ready to heed his father’s recurring advice: spread out into diverse fields and make a stable income. He launched Alluring Profiles, a day spa ahead of its time—and the first of eight businesses he would later build. Two years later, he started Collins Court, the very first adult living facility in Alachua County specifically designed and built for elderly care. The company turned out to be widely successful, with Marilyn Monroe’s mother as one of his first clients.
Always itching for a new challenge, Glaeser moved on to open a copy center, until he took a deviation for a few years as a legislative aid to State Rep. David Flagg. He eventually ended up running for city commission and subsequently ran for supervisor of elections—a race he lost to the mayor of Gainesville at the time.
“It was one of the best things that ever happened to me,” he said. “So many opportunities opened up after that election.”
Shortly after the election, John Fitzwater, the publisher of the Gainesville Sun, approached Glaeser about bringing an innovative new phonebook concept to the area. In the following eight years, he worked as the sales manager and general manager until the New York Times Company sold the business. In just a year’s time, he broke—and still holds—the sales record for the most ad sales in a given year.
Following his run in phonebook sales, he accepted a position with a Michigan-based firm to do motivational and sales training, centering on his past experiences with the Times and his entrepreneurial successes. After three years traveling the world, he started his own publishing company called MEGAbook, which he ran for two and a half years, turning it into the fastest growing phonebook company in the country. After he sold MEGAbook to the Hearst Corporation, Glaeser finally decided to take a break and retire—which lasted less than a week.
“It sounded great [to retire] at the young age I was, but I had too much energy not to dive into something fresh and new. I wanted to continue to be creative and start new companies and stay very involved in the community.”
A fresh start allowed him to move onto his next innovative project, a complete renovation of Tower Center, which in 2010 earned the City of Gainesville Beautification Award.
Soon after, he found his way back to a love affair with realty. “I love real estate,” he said. “The last few years have been tough, but I love taking things and making them vibrant and healthy.” He eagerly took over his father’s company, Glaeser Realty, which turns 50 this year.
Business aside, his father – and mother – passed on a devoted aptitude for community service and involvement. His parents, in addition to many other philanthropic projects, started the Alachua County Foster Parents Association, both locally and in the state of Florida.
“I grew up with that kind of involvement in the community, it was a natural progression for me to get involved, and I certainly embraced the idea of being included in those great causes.”
Glaeser is a past president of Crime Stoppers, Guardian Ad Litum and the Exchange Club. He currently is the chair of the Council for Economic Outreach and the incoming chair for the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce. He has previously served on the Red Cross board, is a member of the Leadership Gainesville Alumni Association, co-founded ACEL and currently is the vice chair of the Gainesville Community Foundation. He is also a past board member of Keep Alachua County Beautiful and the Board of Directors Realtors.
“I try not to sleep,” he joked. It’s a waste of time. I wish I didn’t have to sleep because I just love life.”
“He’s a visionary; he looks beyond what’s right in front of him, whether it’s with the yellow pages or what we’ve done at LogoKick,” said Art Stone, who has worked with Glaeser for 12 years, as the previous sales manager of MEGAbook and the current owner and partner of LogoKick (the custom design apparel store he opened in 2009 with Glaeser). “The conversations we have are not about how the stores are now, but the level they’ll be at in five years. It’s nice to be able to work with someone and know it’s going to grow in the right direction.”
On top of that, he is working on his new book deal, focused on goal setting strategies for building business relationships, personal improvement and achieving higher levels of personal outcome. He’s also working on obtaining a patent for an idea he has on air conditioning efficiency.
Any free time he has is spent monitoring homework hour and the whereabouts of a middle-schooler. He jokingly refers to himself as a “co-parent,” as he helps raise his nephew Malcolm, who lives with him three days a week.
“Mitch takes on much responsibility—some that’s not necessarily even his,” his mother, Joan, who many fondly call “Saint Joan,” said. “It certainly hasn’t always been easy; he’s had his share of obstacles just like anyone else in business, but in hindsight, I think a lot of the ways Mitch has learned to really bite the bullet when he needed to was because he’s inventive enough.”
His burning desire to start something new and inventive is arguably irretraceable. Even after his days as businessmen operating out of a wagon, he was generating ways to profit right from his neighborhood. His parents told him he could start a lawn mowing business—but just not with his family’s lawn mower. In spite of no equipment on hand, he persistently knocked door to door until he found a garage with two lawn mowers, and a generous neighbor who would let him borrow it.
“He was the kind of kid who was a neighborhood treasure,” Joan said. “Everyone kind of just loved him, including all of his siblings. He always was very empathetic and certainly pulled his share of family duties.”
Despite encouraging a tenacious work ethic, Mitch has learned a few tricks of the trade along the way—and some he’s learned the hard way. His business advice for startups is to always formulate a business plan. While it sounds like a simple concept, it’s something he said most fail to do.
“It gets you to focus on all cylinders of the business,” he said. “To make the engine work you have to have all cylinders working together and that’s exactly what a business plan does.”
His early companies didn’t have business plans, but working for the Times taught him to understand how a game plan at the beginning of each year is truly critical.
“Success is almost insured by [writing that plan]. I went back out on my own, and that’s just what I did,” he said. “If you can’t strategize for where you’re trying to go then you don’t know if you’re really successful or not.”
Throughout his own successes, there hasn’t been a period of time he can recall where he hasn’t been thrilled about what he is doing. There is, however, one project that stands out. “MEGAbook was so incredibly successful that I will forever try to emulate that kind of track record.”
Perhaps another notable achievement is the 32-million-dollar project he initiated in Falls City, Neb., where he owns a historic hotel. After proposing the renovation of the city’s bridge to a banquet of 1,000 people, he prompted residents to submit a letter each (which led to 1,600 letters to the governor’s office). His efforts are noted in the top 10 letter-writing campaigns in U.S. history.
“There’s very few challenges I don’t think are achievable within a realistic realm,” Glaeser said. “That probably has a lot to do with the successes I’ve had.”
He plans to bring that same attitude with him as the incoming chair of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce. With the launch of Silver Airways, the Prioria Robotics expansion into the power district and Mindtree’s promise of 400 to 1,000 jobs in the next five years, Glaeser said there are only more businesses and advancements to look forward to.
“We’re doing ribbon cuttings and helping people navigate the process for them to be able to open business in and around Gainesville,” he said. “I will continue to welcome and energize companies to expand or locate here in the Gainesville region. We’re ready to roll out the red carpet for companies.”
Gainesville, according to Glaeser, is at the beginning phase of a new era of innovation.
“Mitch has the passion, experience and vision for the Chamber to help lead our economy forward,” said Tim Giuliani, President and CEO of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce and Council for Economic Outreach. “As we usher in a new era of the Gainesville region, we will usher in a new era of the Chamber as well, by providing economic leadership, innovative programs and services designed to help members compete in the global economy.”
“My job at the chamber,” Glaeser added, “is to continue to communicate the successes of innovation square and the vision of Alachua County and the small outlying community initiatives. Any time we can support those businesses being successful, it’s for the greater good—no matter where they’re located in the region.”
With the arrival of new companies and organizations, it’s important, he said, to keep in mind that even though it might not seem like a direct benefit or correlation, his job is to make sure the community understands that everyone benefits all the way around. He is excited to continue to market the Gainesville region as “a place for opportunity.”
“I’m thrilled about the incoming year at the Chamber,” Glaeser said.
“Staff is working really hard putting together a plan with targeted goals and objections for the next year. I could not be more enthused about the role the Chamber is playing in Gainesville’s growth and expansion. I think the community is going to be thrilled when they see the initiatives roll out in the next 12 to 24 months. It’s a very exciting time to live in the Gainesville area.”