Daddy’s Girl After working beside her father for decades, Michelle Styron has moved on from oil to real estate, with great success By Daniel Mutter
As a little girl, she could be found in the back warehouse of Tate Oil headquarters, surrounded by oil drums. Michelle Styron and her sister would pretend they were running the office, using the drums as imaginary desks and old calculator tapes to keep track of the company’s "finances." Certainly it was no surprise to many that Styron would grow up to help her father run Tate Oil.
After graduating from Choctawhatchee High School in 1983, Styron, now 44, went straight to the company’s front reception desk.
"Dad gave me the weekend off for graduation, and I was at work 7 o’clock Monday morning," she laughingly remembers. At the reception desk, Styron took on many responsibilities, including greeting and working with in-house accounts that would come through to use the company’s gas pumps. "We had diesel pumps out front, so a lot of truckers, loggers, individuals and small companies would come through daily."
Working at Tate Oil was not always in Styron’s plans for her future. During her first year, she worked towards an Associate of Arts degree in accounting by taking night classes.
"I was about 12 hours shy of my degree, but I wound up getting married and having a baby," she says. But that didn’t stop her progress at work, as she eventually moved from front reception up to the company’s accounting division. "Along with accounting, I also did human resources and managed all of the health insurance and all the employee issues. So I kind of had my hands in a little bit of everything."
The many skills Styron acquired were soon applied to her father’s new bulk oil business.
"I was secretary, treasurer and owner of Quality Lubricants," Styron says. Unlike Tate Oil, Quality Lubricants was involved in oil products other than fuel, with locations in Florida and Alabama. She ran the business until it was sold in 2003. By then, she had moved up to vice president of Tate Oil. "Actually I was executive vice president. I think in place of a pay raise they gave me the name instead," Styron jokes.
She helped her father run Tate Oil up until 2005, when the company was sold.
"We had a family atmosphere. There was a lot of loyalty. That’s what I liked the most about it," she says. "Those were my friends and my acquaintances; that is what I knew and what I enjoyed doing."
After the sale, Styron wasted no time moving into real estate studies. After completing her classes, she began working for ERA American Realty because "we had bought some rental properties through a Realtor there, and so I thought of them when I got my license."
Nowadays, you can find Styron selling properties across Northwest Florida while working for Pelican Real Estate, a locally owned company with properties from Panama City all the way to Mexico Beach.
"Making the transition into real estate was good for me because (at Tate Oil) I was in an office without any windows, and now you put me in a world where I can talk with everyone and be out with the people, and it’s just great."
Styron’s second husband, a home and commercial builder, helped her transition to the new job, and the two work well together. Mark Styron owns JW Homes Inc.
"It’s kind of a good fit. I mean, he builds, I sell," she says.
Despite the economic downturn, the Styrons foresee a bright future in the real estate business.
"The last few appraisals we’ve had said stable market, and then this week we’ve had three appraisals that have come in, and they say increasing market," she says, "So that is a great sign that we’ve hit bottom and we’re coming back up."
Crestview’s population has now surpassed Fort Walton Beach, and the area looks forward to continued growth with new troops coming to the region. Included are 2,500 Special Forces military personnel who are expected to relocate from Fort Bragg to Crestview’s Duke Field.
"I’ve actually sold three houses to people coming in, and we are already starting to see e-mails come in on a daily basis," Styron says, adding that she looks forward to helping the newcomers find great homes for their families in Northwest Florida.
Was Tate Oil your first job? Dad always encouraged us to work. His second wife had a shop called the Corner Boutique in Crestview, and my first job was working there when I was 15. Over the summers I would work at the boutique for my school clothes for the next year.
You are selling homes to the military and you have a son in the Army. What is that like? I have such admiration because there is such an adjustment and we have no idea what they go through. I remember going in the kitchen once, and my son was heating up some food in the microwave and he was lying there asleep on the kitchen floor with the dog he grew up with. He said, "Hey, I’ve slept on a bed of dirty diapers. That floor was clean and that dog was warm." It’s a different life.
Is it hard seeing other military personnel in town? No, not at all. I enjoy listening to their stories. I understand their stories. My favorite properties are those properties that military personnel want to sell, because you can almost eat off those floors. They are very orderly, and they keep a good house. It’s unbelievable, whether it be single owned or a family, their definition of a messy house is that you can’t bounce a quarter off the bed. I like dealing with the military. They are very good customers.
What was one thing your father taught you at Tate Oil? One thing my dad insisted on was a good work ethic. To be in real estate and to be successful, that’s one thing you’ve got to do — you’ve got to have a good work ethic. Dad has always had an open-door policy, and everyone respected him, and everyone knew that if we said we were going to do something then that’s what we were going to do. They didn’t need it in writing.
What is your favorite part about being in real estate? I was out at a home the other day, and it was hot and sticky and muggy and it had been raining, but it was fun because I enjoy getting out and meeting people. That and, whether you’re building a house or selling a house, the satisfaction at the end of the day that you did something good for somebody.