By Carole Hawkins, [email protected]
Chet Skinner learned to respect his name even before he knew what it meant to Jacksonville.
During his middle school years — when he was old enough to face peer pressure and sometimes make stupid decisions — his mother would tell him, “Remember when you go out, you carry your family’s name with you.”
It meant be confident in who you are and in how we’ve raised you. And know your actions affect others beyond you.
He was a member of a team. It wouldn’t be his only team.
Skinner became president of the Northeast Florida Builders Association in 2016. It’s a place where the industry tackles issues like changing codes, zoning policies or market conditions as a group.
As a member of that team, Skinner holds a strong hand.
He heads the residential land acquisition and development arm of Skinner Bros. Realty Co., a company owned by his father, Chip Skinner.
His roots in Jacksonville real estate go even deeper.
Born A.C. Skinner IV, his great-great-grandfather in the late 1800s bought 40,000 acres on what is today Jacksonville’s Southside. Portions of that property remain in family hands today along the highly-valued Butler Boulevard corridor near St. Johns Town Center.
Skinner wasn’t aware of the legacy growing up.
His reality was he came from a large, tight-knit family. Thanksgivings were 147 relatives gathered at a cabin in the woods –– a dairy farm that was among the family’s holdings.
It was a place where a boy could shoot a gun, crack a bull whip or hunt doves on weekends with his father.
“I like to joke that we weren’t allowed to own a Nintendo,” he said.
Learning about his family’s values
Skinner learned from example what his family stood for.
His grandfather, A.C. Skinner Jr., the family patriarch, was a giant of a man.
Valedictorian at The Bolles School and the Georgia Institute of Technology’s mechanical engineering department, he played football, marched in the band, was a member of ROTC and ultimately was inducted into the school’s hall of fame.
But, conversations he had seldom revolved around him.
“I just remember that he always started the conversation asking somebody about themselves,” Skinner said of his grandfather. “It was, ‘tell me about you, tell me what’s going on.’”
The easiest way to get somebody to know you, Skinner told his grandson, is by asking about them. A newspaper article mentioning a friend would get clipped and a compliment would follow.
Skinner began learning about his father’s career when he was 10 or 11.
He’d go with his dad to look at properties while on vacation in North Carolina. The son would ask, “Why is this important? Why do you like it?”
Bits of family history filtered into his dad’s answers.
Skinner would leave Jacksonville to study economics at Sewanee - The University of the South, a campus with 22 miles of trails, three caves and four waterfalls.
It was a school where Skinner could play basketball and backpack with friends to an overlook for an afternoon of studying.
Career timing sent him back to Jacksonville after graduation.
It was just after the Sept. 11 attacks and an uncertain economy delayed companies from hiring.
So, Skinner’s dad brought him into the family business. Within eight months, he got hired away.
The Whataburger franchise announced its expansion into Florida. Skinner didn’t know if the company had a broker, but he hustled to find two sites in Jacksonville.
The company turned down both. But the director of development hired Skinner, at age 23, to be in charge of its real estate from Jacksonville to Tampa.
“It was crazy,” Skinner said. “I remember being on the phone with my dad every three or four days saying, ‘I’ve never seen this or that,’ and he’d tell me what to do. Dad was an incredible resource.”
A few years later Skinner was hired away again, this time by Pulte Homes. The team mentored him in residential land acquisition and development.
“It just clicked. This was fun,” Skinner said.
Years later during the recession, Pulte shut down its land acquisition department in Florida.
Returning to the family company
By that time Skinner had eight years of experience under his belt. He returned to his father’s company.
It was what he’d always wanted to do, ever since the father and son had looked at property together when Skinner was still a boy.
Skinner picked up where he’d left off doing commercial development for his father. But he soon found another niche. The recession had left bank-owned home lots at prime locations.
In 2010, Skinner Bros. bought its first residential properties, 12 REO lots in the St. Johns community of Murabella.
“I kind of had to convince my dad, but it was a small enough deal to take a chance. And we did well,” Skinner said.
It led to more REO deals. Then in 2013 the Skinners spearheaded their first residential development from raw land. Skinner Bros. now had a residential arm and the younger Skinner was in charge of it.
With a family business and a well-known name for a launch pad, Skinner hardly needed to raise his professional profile any more with a NEFBA presidency.
But that’s not why he signed on.
NEFBA was a place for Skinner to hone his craft. Where he grew his understanding of the industry by meeting builders, developers, tradesmen, bankers, lawyers and engineers.
“I never wanted somebody to say, ‘He got what he got because it was handed to him,’” Skinner said. “I want people to say, ‘He’s earned the right to be here.’”
And while Skinner may not be as gray around the ears as some other NEFBA board members and executives, he’s also not facing the challenge alone.
One member is gifted in codes and standards. Two others come from the trade side of the industry. Another is a custom builder with political ties. One has a law degree.
“It’s not a whole bunch of builders with all the same strengths. Everyone is able to bring something different to the table,” Skinner said.
“It makes it something I really want to be a part of.”