Jeff Lange is just an ol’ country boy who tries real hard – at least the way he tells it.
But the serial entrepreneur based in Wichita did talk about some other reasons behind his success at this week’s Start Up Grind, a chance for some of Wichita’s most successful entrepreneurs to tell their life story and the lessons they have learned.
Lange is known as a rural real estate broker and investor with Lange Real Estate. He also is the maker of portable and blast-resistant buildings – first called A Box 4 U and now RedGuard – plus several other companies.
But he started out as a restless farm kid.
“It was fun and a lot of hard work,” he said. “I always had a tractor waiting for me when I got done with school, so I played a lot of sports.”
He went to college, but when he returned, he decided farming was too confining. He was asked by an auctioneer one day whether he wanted to get into the real estate business.
He did. Unfortunately, he didn’t make a penny his first year.
“I was a 25-year-old kid talking to 70-year-old farmers, and I had to earn their respect,” he said.
And those were his first two lessons: persistence and building trust.
“They needed to know they weren’t going to hear from their neighbor what they told you the day before,” he said.
He built Jeff Lange Real Estate into a sizable business. In 1998, he started a company to convert used steel shipping containers into portable storage units. That business shifted to portable offices.
Then, in March 2005, a refinery in Texas City, Texas, blew up, and he shifted again. By December, he was knocking on the doors of oil and chemical companies with a prototype of a blast-resistant building for refineries and chemical plants.
“Three simple words are important: Plan for opportunity. … Every person in this audience has had opportunities fall in your lap,” he said. “Did you act on them, were you a risk taker?”
To act entrepreneurially, he said, is to take risk. To take risk requires confidence.
You can either train yourself in self-confidence or, Lange said, you can be born with it.
“To some, I might appear cocky or arrogant,” he acknowledged. “I don’t know what it is, but you have to have a quiet confidence.”
But he also repeatedly praised his staff and colleagues as the ones doing the real work in driving the company.
Having vision is also key, he said. Lange is in the process of creating Cross Gate District, a still-developing plan to redevelop southwest Wichita.
“If you go driving down there today, you’re going, ‘Jeff, you are crazy, there are boarded-up doors, boarded-up windows. It’s just industrial, it’s railroads. Kmart’s still there,’ ” he said.
“We are going to redevelop existing facilities that have been ignored for 30 years and do new development,” he said.