Introducing “Stories of JMWilliams,” a new blog series that focuses on the people behind the plans. In this first interview, we speak with Adam Mikkelson, owner of Liberty Investment Properties in Orlando, Florida. JMWilliams’ current jobs with Liberty are St. Pete Urban Storage (St. Petersburg, FL), Cypress Storage (Tampa, FL), and Humble Storage (Humble, TX). Adam is on the board of the Self Storage Association Foundation, an avid outdoorsman, and devoted husband and father of three.
Can you give us a brief bio? Where did you grow up?
I was born in Oregon but have lived in Orlando since age three. I went to college at Miami University in Ohio for ice hockey, but transferred to Rollins where I began working in the storage industry upon graduation.
Did you have an interest in the business early in your working career? How did you get into the business?
Liberty Investment Properties is a family business; my dad started it in 1991 with the help of my grandfather. I like to tell people I was born in a self-storage facility. Growing up, I always knew I wanted to be in the business. Some guys wanted to be firefighters or policemen, but I always wanted to be a real estate guy.
Did you do any other type of work before starting with Liberty? How long have you been in the business?
I worked for a general contractor that was building some of our self-storage facilities in the summers, so that was my on-the-job training. Part of the reason I came back from Miami University in Ohio was that I realized that my ice hockey career was on the downslope, so I had to decide to spend three more years in Ohio or come back and start working with my dad. So I came back, enrolled in Rollins College, and started working as a manager at the Shurgard storage facility in Winter Park. When I graduated in 2005, I went straight to work for Liberty.
Did you have any mentors along the way that helped you break into the business?
For me, a lot of my mentors were people that my dad worked with. Storage is a family-oriented business to some extent, so I was going to conferences with my dad when I was a teenager. He would introduce me to lots of different people. Through dinner-table conversations with many people in the industry, I was able to absorb a lot of knowledge through affiliation. Today, I have a vast network of people in the industry who are twenty to forty years older than me that I feel totally comfortable calling for advice. My personality is that if I want to go out and learn something new, I’ll do it, without feeling pigeon-holed to conform to a specific mold. I’ve seen a lot – the good and the bad – and it’s not all easy. Nothing has been handed to me, and I don’t want it to be. My dad is a unique entrepreneur, and our relationship is very unique where there is not much tension, for which I’m grateful. It’s kind of a “sink or swim, with guardrails” situation. For me, the benefit is that I step into a history, relationship, and reputation.
What are your hobbies and interests outside of the self-storage business?
Golfing, and we do lots of snow skiing as a family. I’m a pilot as well; aviation has been part of my family for a long time, and I started flying when I was 16. I am also very involved at my church in Lake Baldwin, and have three young children ages 2, 5, and 7 (a very big hobby!). I’ve recently started to get into hunting as well, at a property in Melbourne, Florida.
What do you feel has been a cornerstone of your success? What advice would you give to someone starting off in your business?
The key piece is probably relationships. The relationships we have in this business are something unique and special. We have this thing going where we are competitive but also cooperative in nature, which is cool. I think that our valuing those relationships and having a long history in the business is what keeps us on the straight and narrow. I also think that how we deal with customers and handle our business has been a cornerstone of our success. As to advice for people wanting to get into the industry, I would say “don’t!” Ha ha. No, I would just say to remember that you don’t know it all, and it’s more complicated than it looks, but there are people who are willing to come alongside you and help.
Is there anything you would want people to know about the back story of the current projects we are working on? Why are they important to you?
With St. Pete Urban Storage, we are working with a legacy partner with whom we have done work in the past. We did three hotels there as well in the past and are just overall excited to be back in the Tampa and St. Pete markets. The project in [Humble] Texas is another story – we are partnering with a group there that is in the hotel business. They wanted to get into self-storage, and we are partnering with them on that site. This is their first storage project, and the hope is that we continue in that relationship.