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Published May 03 2013

Leslie family of developers/builders has had broad impact on Fargo-Moorhead

FARGO - From the Ramada Plaza and Suites and the Multiband Tower to hundreds of homes and a “Giveaway of a Lifetime,” the Leslie family is leaving quite an imprint on the Fargo-Moorhead area.

Leslie family members have been busy. Keeping track of which Leslie is involved in which business can be challenging.

Bob Leslie, the family patriarch, is president and CEO of Lexstar Development and Construction. Son Norm is chief operating officer of Lexstar and president of two other entities. Son Tyrone is president of Heritage Homes. Son Robert heads up Designer Homes of Fargo-Moorhead and Luxe Custom Homes.

The Leslie story in Fargo-Moorhead starts with the Ramada Plaza and Suites near West Acres, a project spearheaded by Bob in the 1990s. He and Norm commuted from their native Winnipeg to Fargo weekly for 2½ years while developing the project.

Bob and Norm eventually made Fargo their home. Tyrone and Robert later followed suit. Stella, Bob’s daughter and Tyrone’s twin sister, also moved to Fargo and is married to Tyrone’s business partner, Daryl Braham.

Bob and his wife, Adele, also have another son, Kemal, who still lives in Winnipeg.

When you talk to Bob, Robert, Tyrone and Norm about their family, you’ll hear about affection, humor and their dad’s farm-grown values. You’ll hear phrases like “close knit” and “work ethic.”

“There were zero silver spoons in our family,” Norm said. “You worked at a young age. I couldn’t wait to start working.”

But it’s not all work.

“When we get together, it is nonstop hilarity,” Norm said of his brothers. “They’re passionate about what they do. They love the people around them. They love their clientele. There’s nothing disingenuous about my brothers.”

Norm, Tyrone and Robert speak about their parents with tenderness and reverence. Robert called his mother an “angel.” Tyrone said she’s a “saint,” and about “as close to that godly person you’ll ever meet.”

And the sons recall the philosophies their dad has passed on through the years.

The affection between Bob and Adele and their children goes both ways.

“By the grace of God, I was fortunate. Every one of my kids demonstrates love, affection, honesty, integrity and they don’t waiver,” Bob said. “My kids will come in here … and you and I will be talking. The first thing, they’ll come in and kiss me, ‘Hi, Dad.’ And when they leave, ‘Love you, Dad’ and kiss me and leave. And this is not imitation. This is right to the soul.”

Bob, Robert, Tyrone and Norm recently spoke about their work in the business community, how they got to where they are and their values.

Bob Leslie

Over the years, Leslie has worked on projects in multiple states. He said he’s interviewed more than 2,000 people in his career. Despite all that, he’s still part farmer in his heart.

Bob, the son of Lebanese immigrants, grew up on a farm near Winnipeg. The Leslie name comes from the family that adopted his father.

Bob ran the family farm for years beginning when he was 16. He said he was “probably 30” when he opened his real estate and insurance endeavors in Winnipeg.

He built the King’s Motor Inn in Winnipeg, eventually converting that hotel into the only Ramada in Canada at the time. He also said he brought Pacific Petroleum to Canada, selling them 15 locations.

Among the projects he worked on was an area called Leslie Park, named for his father. Bob had scores of agents who worked for his real estate company.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Bob in Winnipeg. He was forced into bankruptcy when a condominium development he was part of was taken over by its mortgage lenders, according to a 1989 Winnipeg Free Press article. Bob said he had sold a majority of the units, but the builder on the project didn’t have them ready. He lost buyers, and he got hit with a double whammy as interest rates rose.

The experience took a tremendous financial and personal toll. Bob was brought to his knees. But he maintained his belief that “the one above” has a reason for what he does.

“I always used to teach my kids, it’s not a shame to fall. It’s a shame if you don’t get up,” Bob said.

And that’s just what he did.

“I think my drive was even more persistent,” he said.

In 1991, he proposed a $16 million to $18 million hotel project near the West Acres Shopping Center in Fargo. That proposal became the Ramada Plaza and Suites.

Bob came to the project through the Schlossman family. He remembers talking with Bill Schlossman, the man who spearheaded the development of West Acres. Schlossman was looking for a hotel project for the West Acres area. Bob said Schlossman asked him what kind of hotel he would build if he built in Fargo.

Bob replied, “ ‘Bill, if I was to build a hotel, there’s only one way I would go: first class or nothing.’ And that’s been my motto: I always like it right or nothing.”

Bob recalled that the words out of Schlossman’s mouth were, ‘You’re the man after my heart.”

It was a long road to making it a reality, however. Construction on the project didn’t begin until 1994, and the hotel opened in 1996.

It was the first of many Fargo projects for Bob. Others include the 42nd Street Plaza, Woodbury Park, Capital Square, the Multiband Tower, Lakewood Estates, the Pepsi Americas Call Center and Gates of Madison Square.

Bob’s résumé isn’t limited to Fargo, or even to North Dakota. For example, Lexstar is now working on a multiple-building development in Bismarck and a building for the state of North Dakota, also in Bismarck.

Like Tyrone, Norm and Robert, Bob believes in the family’s farm roots.

“When you grow up on a farm, you get to know what determination, persistence, honesty, integrity and loyalty is all about,” Bob said.

He takes a great deal of pride in what he and his sons have accomplished. He’s also careful to express his affection for the community and credit lenders and partners, saying they’ve “supported our projects and contributed greatly to making them a reality.”

Bob turns 80 this year but has no plans to retire.

“I’ll retire when God is ready to take me,” he said. “I’m from the old school. Work doesn’t kill anybody. Lack of it does.”

Tyrone Leslie

Tyrone is president and co-owner of Heritage Homes, and he said the Prudential Real Estate business he co-owns did more than $100 million in gross sales last year. Despite the success he’s had, it wasn’t instant.

He got his Realtor license as he turned 18.

“I grew my mustache to make me look a little bit older,” he said.

It took three months for Tyrone to sell his first property. It was “like an eternity” to the teen. But his dad saw good in the struggle, telling him, “That was the best thing that could ever happen to you,” Tyrone recalls.

“He said by taking that much time, it actually was better for me because I didn’t take it for granted.”

It must have been good training. For three of the past five years before he moved Fargo, he said he was the No. 1 real estate salesperson in Winnipeg.

Tyrone, now 43, began working for Heritage Homes in Fargo in 1998. Tyrone’s father and Norm started the business with three others. Heritage Homes has built more than 650 homes in its history. The company is now owned by Tyrone and partner Braham.

Tyrone and his wife, Alesha, have two daughters, Rania and Mira.

Tyrone said his father taught him about giving back to the community. One way Tyrone’s done that is by getting his company’s involved with the television program “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”

Heritage Homes built a home for the show in 2006, when the “Extreme Makeover” visited Minot, N.D. Heritage Homes travelled to New Orleans for a home and church build in 2008. And it was back on the small screen in 2010 when “Extreme Makeover” came to Moorhead.

Tyrone traces his love for home development to his childhood.

“When I was young and (my dad) used to take me out on the job sites ... I just absolutely loved it,” he said. “I was always so intrigued by it.”

Bob taught him that your occupation “can’t be work.”

“It has to be a hobby,” Tyrone said. “You spend half your life working, make it a hobby, make it something you love, make it something you’re passionate about, because you live once. Enjoy it.”

Bob also taught him something about facing one’s mistakes.

“It’s going to happen. Celebrate it,” Tyrone said. “Because when you’re making mistakes, it means you’re growing. And when you’re growing, look what you can become.”

Robert Leslie

Robert’s brother, Tyrone, signed him up for real estate classes without him knowing it. Robert was still in high school, and he was writing real estate and high school final exams at the same time.

“So it was sort of a hectic week,” he said.

But Robert’s introduction into the world of business started much earlier with his dad.

“He let me go to meetings with him and just sit and watch him,” Robert remembered. “Anything I wanted to go with him to, he’d let me be right alongside. He’d have board meetings and I’d be sitting in a chair right next to my dad just listening in.”

Robert started his career in Winnipeg, then moved to Fargo in 1996 after Bob called asking him to come work with him.

“And I said, ‘Well, when do you want me there?’ And he said, ‘Tomorrow,’ ” Robert recalled, laughing. “I said, ‘Give me three months.’ ”

He worked with Heritage Homes before leaving in 2008 and purchasing Designer Homes. In 2012, he started Luxe Custom homes.

He and his wife, Melissa, married in 2009 and have a 19-month-old son, Jude.

Robert learned a lot about business from his dad.

“It’s all about relationships, again treating people the way you want to be treated, integrity, following your dreams and you don’t start something you don’t want to finish,” Robert said.

Last year, Designer Homes worked with various partners for the “Giveaway of a Lifetime,” in which a $500,000 home was given to a family. The Gilbertson family of Kindred, N.D., won the house, and eventually decided to sell it. The Gilbertsons gave some of the money they got from the sale of the home to relatives for college. They also discounted the price of the home to benefit the buyer.

Robert says Designer Homes plans to do the giveaway again.

Robert and his wife dreamed about seeing the face of the person who won the house.

“It was amazing,” Robert said. “God, guaranteed, touched that situation for that family to win. Because (my wife) and I just prayed and prayed and prayed that a deserving family would win that home. Couldn’t have been a better family.”

Robert learned something about the importance of family from his own parents.

“I’d come from school, I’d stop by one of the hotels, and he’d be in a meeting, and I’d be looking for my dad, I just wanted to say hi,” Robert remembered. “I’d knock on the door, open it. He’s in a meeting with 14 people. … And he’d say ‘Guys can you give me five minutes.’ Literally stop the meeting so that I could go in there and talk to him; not because I needed to but because he never wanted to not be a dad first.”

Norm Leslie

Norm Leslie is surprisingly soft-spoken for a man who is president of two entities and chief operating officer of a third.

Robert described Norm as “very shy,” but said, “Once you get to know him, he’ll make you laugh until your stitches come out.”

Norm first became connected with Fargo when he worked with his father on the Ramada project. Today, Norm is president of Lodging Opportunity Fund, a private real estate fund that purchases hotel properties. The company currently has eight hotels.

He is also president of National Hospitality Services, which manages hotels in several states, including the Ramada Plaza and Suites in Fargo. And he is chief operating officer and part-owner of Lexstar.

At 46, Norman is the eldest of the four Leslie sons. He’s married to Josee, and they have two sons, ages 10 and 11.

He had planned to go into medicine but changed his mind, setting his sights on law. Instead of those options, he decided to get a commerce degree. He joined his father in the family business, and, as was the case with Tyrone and Robert, he was in the business long before that.

“I remember sitting in his office when I was 8 years old and just listening to him dictate letters,” Norman said. He remembers his seventh-grade English teacher telling him, “You know, Norman, you write like you want to be quoted 20 years from now.’”

Norm believes one reason the family’s been successful in the Fargo-Moorhead area is because of the community. He also believes that farm work ethic is part of it and the fact that they don’t take anything for granted.

“There’s no sense of entitlement,” Norman said. “Really, it’s the other way around. You owe it to everybody, you owe it to your community, to your partners, to your staff and to your guests to always try to be better.”

True to his personality, he doesn’t like to dwell on his own successes, but he does tip his hat to the team he’s part of and others who support him.

“I’m uncomfortable with the idea that we are something that’s more important or special than really this group of people that have come together to make these things happen,” Norman said. “Because that’s all we are is just part of it.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734