Steve Frey: Lessons in business and being a dad

Steve Frey launched Oasis Corporate Housing during the financial collapse of 2008. 

By 2018, the company had $62 million in revenue and, by 2022, revenue jumped to $120 million. He is projecting to grow that number to $145 million, in 2023. 

Bridgette Bello, chief executive officer and publisher of Tampa Bay Business and Wealth, interviewed Frey in front of a sold-out audience at The Floridan, in Tampa. This transcript has been edited for length and brevity. 

What has it been like being on the cover of TBBW?

My friends have made fun of me, a lot. We were doing the interview and she says, ‘We need a centerfold picture.’ I go, ‘Oh centerfold, I can do that.’ They take the shot and I go, ‘You can’t use that.’ [Laughing] 

People want to know who you really are, right?

Fair.

So other than the centerfold, anything fantastic happen to you since you were on the cover of the magazine?

I got a message through LinkedIn and it was somebody who had read the article and said, ‘We hire interim executives moving all over the world and we’ve never known this was a solution. We’ve been putting them in hotels. We didn’t know that this [type of] temporary housing industry existed.’ I contacted them and now we brought in a new client because of that. I didn’t expect that at all, but thank you. 

You and I were speaking earlier, and you said that you have taken 100 percent control of one of the companies you previously partially-owned and that a part of the reason was that he reached out and said, ‘Hey, you can do this better than me’ because he read your story. Is that correct?

It comes down to having self-awareness and understanding if you have the skills to get where you want to go. Even though you have the skills to get where you are, do you have the skills to get [you] where you want to go? It takes a certain level of self-awareness for us to say, ‘Do I?’ And, I admire that in somebody and I think it just hit a point where he said, ‘I’m not sure if I’m the best person to take it to the next step.’ And, it just so happens that the timing worked out perfectly. 

It has given me a new challenge. I think sometimes we all kind of hit some ups and downs, some lulls where you’re like, ‘Where does my source of motivation come from?’ In this case, taking over another company has reinvigorated me. It will be fun. 

Talk about the impact your dad had on your life, and your career, and how important that is to you as a dad.

When we had our son I called my dad and asked him, ‘Were you trying be hard on me or were you trying to teach me a lesson?’ And, of course, like a dad would, he said, ‘All of it was to teach you a lesson.’ There were a couple things, particularly, that he taught me that I think about as we’re raising our son and a lot of it is how you view hard work. 

When I was a kid, my job was to mow the lawn and, yes, I’m going to tell the ‘mow the lawn story.’ Sorry dad. [gestures to his dad in the audience] To give you a little background, he was a sergeant in the [United States] Air Force. And so, I would mow the lawn and he would come outside, get down on his hands and knees, and look at it on a level plane. If there was one blade of grass still sticking up, I had to mow the whole thing all over again. He didn’t tell me what the lesson was then. I just thought he was being mean. Turns out, the lesson was, if you’re going to do something, do it right the first time. Then you won’t have to do it twice. There were many lessons like that. Another lesson was, if I ask you to do something, do it with a smile on your face. Because if you do it with a smile on your face, you’re going to earn some goodwill. If you’re going to complain about it, you’re going to do it anyway and not earn the goodwill. 

What is a time you parented the same way that your father parented you and what impact did that have on your son?

In Tampa, baseball is a big sport. I grew up playing baseball. My son plays baseball and I don’t push him to do anything he doesn’t want to do. But he says he wants to be great at the sport and I told him, just like my dad told me, ‘There are about 10 million kids in this country who want to be great at baseball. What makes you different from any one of them?’ The one thing that’s in your control is work ethic and the amount of work you put in to becoming great at something. He, on his own, practices five days a week. I don’t push him, he pushes me. I don’t want to really go out there and do it anymore, but I told myself if he asks me to do it, I will never tell him no.

Yesterday, he was out there for about three hours hitting and I was out there with him. I sent him a text message later that said, ‘I’m really proud of you. Not because you’re really good at baseball. I’m proud of you because of how hard you’ve worked at achieving your goal that you set out for yourself.’ As a parent, I think instilling a good work ethic is one of the most important lessons we can instill in our children. Because of that, I asked him to Google, ‘Instilling a good work ethic’ because I did when I was thinking about it. I started reading about it, and what it meant, and I told him, ‘I’ve researched it and all the definitions that different places have out there – this is you. I just want you to know that I’m proud of how hard you work at this.’ So that was my turn to pass the torch on. 

You have this theory that everyone is the star of their own movie. What does that really mean?

It means that in any situation that you’re in, you have to recognize that you are the supporting cast of the story of whoever it is that you’re talking to. It doesn’t matter if it’s personal or business. I think it’s a part of being emotionally intelligent and understanding that the world that revolves around me is not the world that revolves around another person. As a leader, it’s my job to think about the world that revolves around others. 

When it comes to what’s next for Oasis, and Steve, what are the tough questions you ask yourself when making decisions for the future? 

I think when you’re sitting in a leadership role your job is not to think what’s going to make [your business] more successful tomorrow. It’s what’s going to make us more successful next year and the year after that. Our job is to look at the horizon. I don’t know if anybody else does this, but I open up a Word document and I start getting it out of my head, because all those thoughts get jumbled, and I work backward from there. 

What is one piece of advice you would give younger Steve?

I think coming out of college we all envision what we want to achieve. I thought that I needed to be all things to all people and so I would conform to the way that I thought people wanted me to be. I think now that I’m older, and wiser, I would look back on that and say, ‘Just be your authentic self.’ Be who you are and people will rally around you.

You’re passionate about baseball. How did team sports enhance your career? 

I think it can be anything that involves a group of people in their life. It’s about always being surrounded with people who pushed me to become better. I look back on my friends who I grew up with. They have all achieved really great things and we all pushed each other. Nobody wanted to be the underachiever, right? So, you surround yourself with a group of people who all achieve really great things and it’s that concept of ‘a rising tide lifts all ships.’ You surround yourself with groups like that and I think team sports is an example, but it’s not the only example. ♦

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