It’s not the first time we’ve heard this part of the story. In fact, it’s becoming quite the theme.
Someone visits the Tampa Bay area, falls in love and, down the road, decides to plant roots and start a business here.
Moises Agami is another chief executive officer to have such a story.
Born in Mexico City, Agami is currently CEO of Valor Capital. His company is the development force of Serena by the Sea, in Clearwater, which is still under construction but completely sold out. And now, he’s setting his sights on expanding his vision to St. Petersburg.
His company had revenue of $70 million in 2022, but is expected to more than double, in 2023, to $150 million. With Serena nearing completion and the unnamed St. Petersburg project nearing the point of announcement, Agami is eager for what’s coming next.
Agami was born in Mexico City in 1979. He has an older brother and three younger brothers.
“I had the most incredible childhood that I could have dreamed of,” Agami says.
He describes his childhood as a tremendous amount of fun, playing with his brothers and attending a Montessori school, which he says he loved.
He played a lot of sports like tennis, karate, basketball and swimming. Moving into high school, he admits, he mostly focused on soccer.
He attended the Delphian School in Sheridan, Oregon, a boarding school. It was the kind of school that had students studying at their own pace.
“It’s where I learned to learn on my own,” Agami says. “I think that’s the biggest thing, where I learned to figure things out on my own and find out about new subjects. To take something out of the blue and learn all about it and then learn to do it. I was very happy there.”
He was there for four years and graduated at the age of 17. But college wasn’t something that interested him. He wanted to see the world.
He spent about a year backpacking around the world and doing odd jobs like waiting tables, working in a hotel and even some construction work.
“I eventually came home and became an adult,” he says, with a laugh.
Becoming an adult meant he moved back home to Mexico City to be close to his family. This was in 1998, and the Mexico that Agami left was drastically different than the one he returned to.
He had an idyllic memory of growing up there but, by 1993, it had experienced a major recession.
Agami began working in the family business, a cosmetics factory located about an hour and a half away from his home.
“It was a great adventure and a lot of learning,” Agami says. “I did a lot of growing up and finding out about the world … and about paying taxes.”
Eventually, Agami was ready to go off on his own. He had built up mom and dad’s business, which is still in operation in Mexico today, yet it was time for him to find his own passion.
“I found this company that had this amazing technology that could track vehicles,” Agami says.
At the time, Mexico was experiencing a rise in theft of automobiles, but there was no way to track it, he says.
He ended up working, and investing, in a business called Road-Track, which went on to become the OnStar of Latin America. Agami put together a group of investors and bought the majority stake of Road-Track, in 2004. They grew the company from 80 team members to 3,000 team members, over the span of 17 years, with operations in 11 countries.
He admits there were unique challenges he faced in this industry.
“If you put a device in a car, that device has to be perfect and has to operate under every weather condition, under every vibration, all types of humidity, every temperature, all kinds of movements, all kinds of everything. It can’t fail or our devices would, literally, stop vehicles. One of the functions of our devices is to immobilize stolen vehicles,” he says. “So, if our device doesn’t work, the whole car will not work.”
Failure, he admits, is inevitable and to be expected.
“There are failures in every part of the process,” Agami says. “It’s not whether or not there could be a failure, it’s that there will be failures.”
One of the tools he used in his young, entrepreneurial journey was the secular business teachings of L. Ron Hubbard, an author and founder of the Scientology religion.
“He talked a lot about there being one missing thing in most companies in the world and that was quality control,” Agami says. “He said every product that is produced has to be corrected. So, it’s not just that it has to be quality checked, it actually has to be corrected. And then after it’s corrected, then it can really be a product and exchanged with society.”
In 2018, Agami sold that company, while maintaining a leadership role up until February of 2022. Meanwhile, even before his departure, he was slowly dipping his feet into the world of real estate.
Real estate had been in Agami’s extended family for years. He began investing in real estate, in a passive role, more than 20 years ago.
Growing up, he visited the Tampa Bay area often. He says he has many fond memories of those trips and the area. When he returned, as an adult, with his wife in 2009, amid the great recession, it felt like it could be home. They rented a home near Sunset Point Road in Clearwater.
“I was traveling two or three weeks out of the month,” he says. When robberies and other criminal activity began occurring near their home, he was eager to move his wife to a more secure location.
“I found out that Water’s Edge had gone broke and it was up for auction,” Agami recalls. “I made a bid for it on my own and I lost.”
He ended up joining forces with the individual who won the bid and, working together, they turned the property around. The 26-story condominium community still stands today.
A few blocks away, a property that was a former bank building was being foreclosed on. Agami snapped that one up too. It became Skyview.
“The units in Water’s Edge were flying off the shelf like pancakes. And so I said, let’s buy the property that became Skyview from the bank. Let’s do something with it. And that’s how it kind of started,” Agami says. “We bought everything back from the bank and I, originally, was supposed to just be a passive investor in the real estate. That was my role, not an active investor. But things weren’t going the way that they should be. So, I really took an active role.”
By 2012, Agami was the CEO of Valor Capital’s U.S. operations, the company that had purchased Water’s Edge and Skyview.
Valor Capital’s latest luxury living property, Serena by the Sea, also in Clearwater, is currently nearing its completion and is completely sold out.
Agami’s personal life is focused on family, as he now has four small children and a puppy.
He has been married for 15 years. He met his wife in Acapulco when he was 23 years old.
“We had both been going to the same place, to vacation, for years but had never met,” he says. “We knew we wanted to get married the day after we met, certainly at least the week after.”
He notes that around this time, he had started his business and didn’t really have any money. But he did purchase his future wife a necklace for $860, all the money he had at the time. She was wearing the same necklace the day Tampa Bay Business & Wealth visited Agami for this interview. She always wears it.
He enjoys traveling. Private is always nice, he adds, but he also genuinely appreciates the low-key Clearwater lifestyle with his family.
“I don’t have as much downtime as you’d think that I that I might have, I work a lot,” Agami says. “My pleasure in life is to spend time with my kids and with my family. Time off with them, that’s what I collect. Good memories and good experiences.”
With more projects coming that will keep his attention close to home, he seems to be excited to focus on work in, and around, his current “home base.”
His next big project will take him to the other end of Pinellas County, where he is planning a multi-use project, in downtown St. Petersburg, near The Dali Museum.
The project will have homes for the younger, single professional, he says, as well as restaurant, retail and office space.
“St. Pete has this authenticity of still being this small American town but yet it’s also very sophisticated, very colorful and very booming,” he says. “I’m excited to be able to join that community … it will be a new, fresh angle for St. Pete.”
As someone who doesn’t seem to do “small” well, Agami is sure to succeed on that promise. ♦
“I actually support a lot of charities, but I think the most important part of my community giving is in the work that I do,” Agami says. “Now that we’re developing, we include a significant amount of art into our projects. We’re going to go to Art Basel this weekend and find a beautiful piece of art for the front of Serena by the Sea. We’re putting in these incredible green walls that are going to be on the face of the building. The building itself is a beautiful piece of art.”
Agami also has a passion for helping charities that deal with addiction, including Foundation for a Drug Free World and also causes that support literacy and human rights.
“There are two ways to give back to the community. One is fixing the problems and another one is improving the good things,” he says. “Now that I’m in St. Pete, I am extremely excited about meeting the associations that have to do with art and artistic movements. I think that we can contribute to this artistic movement that, while it doesn’t fix a bad thing, really enhances a good thing.”
Photos by Michael McCoy