Twenty years ago, if you would have asked Rex Jensen if he could envision himself heading up one of the most recognizable and sought-after land management, agricultural and development companies in the nation, he would have told you that he wasn’t the right man for the job.
Luckily for John Clarke, Mary Fran Carroll and the rest of the Schroeder-Manatee Ranch executive team, Jensen couldn’t bring himself to voice his initial hesitations when the company called in March 1990 and offered him a position as the vice president of planning.
At the time, Jensen hadn’t intended to leave his consulting business behind, but a case of laryngitis prevented him — quite literally — from asking any further questions — thus ending the conversation all but prematurely.
“Since I couldn’t talk … that’s probably why I ended up getting the job,” Jensen says. “Initially, I didn’t want to work for someone else. I didn’t feel like I fit in the organization.
“But then I came down here and saw this place and realized the flourishing opportunities here,” he says. “The way the company was run, the vision and the long range (perspective) — I thought this is really the kind of group I want to be a part of. It was an eye-opening experience to say the least.”
During his first trip to visit with SMR executives, Jensen saw a sign on the company’s tree farm: Clean Air Starts Here. Jensen didn’t know it at the time, but those words would become symbolic of his new employer.
“I thought who would think that way, but it’s representative of the company,” Jensen says.
Fulfilling a vision
Now, as SMR’s president and CEO, Jensen is responsible for making sure that the company’s 30 subsidiaries and nearly 400 employees have the necessary resources to do their jobs, the support and the information needed to better understand the company in which they work.
“I’m kind of the go-between between a lot of different constituencies,” Jensen says.
Over the past 20 years, Jensen has been instrumental in helping fulfill the vision of his predecessors for both Lakewood Ranch and SMR as a whole.
Since then, Jensen has watched SMR develop as a company, partner with the Manatee County School Board, help preserve the environment, improve its irrigation systems and create a number of jobs in both Manatee and Sarasota counties.
In the past year alone, SMR has seen a reduction in its residential inventory from 850 homes and condominiums to 214 homes as of late November.
In addition, SMR has been part of a number of grand openings and ribbon cuttings in what many have deemed a down economic year, which Jensen views as a sign of greater things to come.
“We’ve grown to a degree,” Jensen says. “We’ve added new families. People find this to be a great community. They’re realizing it’s a community where they can sink roots and find their own opportunities.”
Jensen on paper
A native of Michigan, Jensen graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in political science, history and economics. He then went on to earn his law degree from the University of Michigan in 1979.
Jensen spent the next three years practicing corporate tax law for a computer software company where he got to spend time interacting with a number of conglomerates, including General Motors, IBM, the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency, among numerous others.
“I got to spend time in some really neat places,” Jensen says. “I had quite a lot of fun.”
Following his stint in corporate tax law, Jensen entered the real estate market, working for a real estate development project. In 1983, a similar opportunity opened up in Tampa and soon Jensen was packed up and on his way down to Florida.
“I really fell in love with real estate,” Jensen says. “I realized it was a lot more fun to abuse the law than to practice it.”
Jensen spent seven years running his own consulting company in Tampa before joining the team at SMR.
In the coming year, Jensen will celebrate his 20th anniversary with SMR. It also will mark the 15th anniversary of when Lakewood Ranch sold its first home for $89,000.
“When I come to work on any given day, I never know what I’m going to face,” Jensen says. “It’s unpredictable — just the diversity, the issues and the challenges… all of that keeps me going. There’s no way you can be bored.”
In 2010, Jensen says he hopes to finish the entitlement with the 2050 plan for Sarasota County, as well as move forward with and hopefully complete a few new economic development deals.
Additionally, Jensen is looking for Lakewood Ranch to get back into the affordable housing market with the hopes of providing an economical place to live for the some 12,000 people who work in Lakewood Ranch.
“Primarily the entrance back into workforce housing will in a big way set the stage for next year, which is going to be a big year for SMR,” Jensen says.
Finally, Jensen says the company plans to continue its progress of adding new tenants to Main Street.
“We need to meet the daily needs of residential (entertainment),” Jensen says. “We’re making strides there, but hopefully more will happen over the course of the year.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].