July 18, 2016

Babcock Ranch president sees himself as orchestra conductor

By: Vicki Parsons - IT



Rick Severance, 48, grew up in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, the oldest of three brothers, all athletic. Mr. Severance competed on the swimming and diving team at Florida State University. A marathon runner and triathlete, he puts in about 40 miles a week these days to stay in shape.

“It ebbs and flows based on the work volume, my travel and my priorities, which is my family,” he said. “I’ll choose the family time over running any day.”

Mr. Severance lives in Fort Myers with his wife of 20 years and their three daughters.

Before being recruited by Kitson & Partners, he was the CEO of Seaside. A master-planned community on the Florida panhandle, though much smaller than Babcock Ranch, Seaside is also known for its progressive design.

Q: As the president of Babcock Ranch, what does your job entail?

A: “I think it’s somewhat of a conductor of an orchestra. We have so many different disciplines … I’m responsible for the complement of all of those, kind of connecting all of those elements to create a great place.”

Q: What’s an average day on the job if there is such a thing?

A: “The average day is trying to communicate effectively, identify challenges in a proactive way and then creating solutions to overcome them while never losing sight that the place has to be fun, and has to be real. You can’t imagine how many decisions have to be made every day when building a town from a green space. The good part is I’m blessed to have this extremely qualified, talented, energetic team.”

Q: How did you first get into the business?

A: “I started in the hospitality side of the business. I was in the hotel school at Florida State with a focus on real estate, so I ended up just combining the disciplines of real estate and hospitality, which has served me well. My career started back with Hyatt Hotels and Resorts and then I started opening resorts. And that has thus progressed me to where I am now …

“I feel like God has uniquely qualified me for this position. I felt like my skills and everything I’ve learned would be value added here but more importantly the company itself stood for things that were important to me in terms of values. I really feel like this opportunity and position gives me this great canvas to layer in all these skills while also continuing to learn and grow professionally.”

Q: In many ways, Babcock Ranch will be unique among communities in Florida and the United States. What are some of the challenges you face in designing it?

A: “I think what’s new is that we have this amazing commitment to environmental stewardship. Our accessibility to nature as well as our commitment to technology and whether that is autonomous vehicles or gig fiber, Babcock Ranch is being very forward-thinking. We still have to create the town while being forward thinking. We have to be looking at the horizon while still creating a town that serves our guests and visitors and homeowners today.”

Q: What are your thoughts on driverless cars at Babcock?

A: “I think it’s a great laboratory for a number of partners to get a chance to further test and refine how these autonomous vehicles can make an impact, that reduces our need for cars and emissions and trips and all of those things. It’s amazing that we have the opportunity and have the land to help others refine what might shape our future.”

Q: What are your thoughts on solar energy, which will power Babcock Ranch?

A: “Having the cleanest form of energy of any town in the U.S. is a pretty tall order. I think that transcends age and it transcends economics. Whether you’re a millennial or a baby boomer, being able to live in a community with the cleanest form of energy it makes sense. Why wouldn’t you?”

Q: What’s your vision for the future of Babcock and your role in it?

A: “My vision for the future is this becomes a vibrant place that continues to grow and evolve as the residents choose to grow and evolve. Stakeholders who are part of the community, whether they’re civic, governmental, residents, events and retail, all those people have a place in building a town, so continuing to ensure you’re navigating that growth and being mindful of that growth. At the end of the day, I’m running a company and we need to be profitable. I never lose sight of that.”

Q: What would people be surprised to know about you?

A: “When I’m not at work I’m actually fairly introverted … Which my wife thinks is hilarious. Because you have this persona at work, and then at home I’m much more reserved and kind of quiet.”