Charles S. Steffel


Charles S. (Steve) Steffel, S.E.C.

Steve Steffel was born in 1943 in Defiance, Ohio, a small town in northwest Ohio. His parents lived in a smaller rural village of 75 homes near Defiance called Brunersburg, where he grew up among farmers and factory workers.  His playground was the nearby river, where he kept his rowboat and enjoyed fishing.  The banks of the river provided good hills for racing homemade carts.  Backyard baseball was a way of life.

Steve’s grandparents traveled via a wind-powered sailing vessel from Bohemia to the United States in the mid 1800s.  Steve recalls the small storage trunk that was stored in the garage that he was told had contained all of their possessions when they settled in Brunersburg.  Steve’s father was born in 1881 and his mother in 1914.  They were married only two years before his birth (when his father was 62 years old), so he says he thinks he is “lucky to be alive.”  With the age difference of his parents, much of his training and encouragement came from his loving mother.  Steve’s father worked as a section hand on the B&O Railroad, repairing the tracks by hand.  His mother was the housekeeper and took odd jobs to supplement their modest family income.  Having lived through the Great Depression, Steve’s father taught him to be thrifty and to save rather than discard.  To this day he finds it difficult to discard anything.

Steve’s education began in a two-room schoolhouse that contained 8 grades and no indoor plumbing.  There he had teachers who saw his potential and had a profound effect on him, helping him recognize his ability to be successful.  In fourth grade, the school was expanded and modernized into four classrooms and a gym . . . along with indoor plumbing.

With his parents guiding him—and a need to supplement the family income—Steve learned organizational skills and showed an entrepreneurial spirit at an early age.  He recognized that his “village” did not have newspaper delivery, so he set up and ran a paper route.  He sold Christmas cards door-to-door, and when his father purchased their first power lawnmower, he began a lawn mowing service for neighbors.

Steve was a leader in his Boy Scout troop and obtained the rank of Eagle Scout.  He enjoyed the outdoors, and summer camp was an annual highlight.  In 1958 and 1959 he served on the camp staff as a trading post manager and as a dining room steward.

In high school Steve was interested in taking all of the business courses that were offered.  There he met another teacher who encouraged him to develop his sales and marketing skills.  He became active in the Distributive Education program, which contained classroom training in retailing and a program for on-the-job training after school.  The teacher recommended Steve for employment at a local men’s clothing store, where he worked 17 hours per week for the going rate of 65 cents per hour.  Steve was given a lot of responsibility in the store, and he worked there beyond high school and into his first two years of college.  For the second two years of college, Steve accepted a position on the local newspaper staff, where he did layout and sales of display advertising.

The Distributive Education program was part of a national club known as the Distributive Educations Clubs of America (DECA).  Students were organized into local, state, and national chapters.  With the encouragement of his teacher, Steve ran for office at conferences in Ohio and nationally, and he was elected to vice president in Ohio and vice president nationally.

This demonstration of leadership qualities had a significant impact on Steve’s career path.  First, Steve became one of the first recipients of the DECA Scholarship/Loan Program, making it financially possible for him to work his way through college.  Second, a recruiter for Marathon Oil Company attended the DECA functions and eventually offered him a position upon graduation from college.

Steve lived at home and worked at the clothing store and newspaper while attending Defiance College, where he obtained a B.S. in Business and Economics degree in 1965.  Upon graduation, he enlisted in the United States Army Reserve and entered six months of basic training and active duty at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, followed by 5½ years of reserve duty on weekends and annual summer camps.

Steve’s employment at Marathon Oil Company began in January 1966. He started as a sales representative, calling on retail service stations and distributorships in northwest Ohio.  In less than 3 years Steve was transferred to the home office in Findlay, Ohio, as one of 4 members of the Investor Relations Division.  There he became a student of the company’s finances and accompanied security analysts on interviews with the officers of the company.  While at Marathon, Steve attended Bowling Green State University and obtained a MBA degree in 1975.  He was privileged to attend Marathon’s Advanced Management Training Program and held 9 positions in his 11½ years with the company.  In his final two years, he served as vice president of a wholly owned subsidiary that initiated the private-brand Speedway gas stations/convenience stores in Michigan and Wisconsin.  There he managed 120 Michigan locations.

Steve’s entrepreneurial spirit surfaced, and he decided he wanted more than a corporate career.  So, he gave his resignation notice, not knowing what was next.  He searched for a business to acquire in Florida and in Georgia but did not feel comfortable with any of the opportunities that surfaced.  Then he visited an old friend in Indianapolis, Indiana, and decided to slow down and search in that area.

He couldn’t find a business to buy, so he started his own.  He formed Metropolitan Petroleum Corporation, leased 3 vacant service stations, and opened them as self-serve gas and pop shops that he called Metro Petro.  He was undercapitalized, and his suppliers did not come through with the promised promotions.  Within a year all 3 stations were closed, and Steve was left with a credit line he could not then repay.  Steve says the fundamental lesson he learned is, “you cannot substitute expertise for capital.”

What he did realize was the benefits of owning real estate, and he decided to find a way to invest in it.  Steve quickly studied for and obtained his real estate broker’s license and started out as an agent with a small firm doing both residential and commercial real estate.  He began, like many of us, by getting as many listings as possible.  After a year Steve opened his own, small, one-man real estate firm and became a maverick in town by applying creative solutions and formulas to his clients’ transactions.

Steve started attending the Indiana Real Estate Exchangors meetings, where he met Larry Browning and Harry Kennerk.  Larry invited Steve to his first Society of Exchange Counselors meeting in Clearwater, Florida, in December 1985.  Steve became a Candidate in September of 1997 and a Counselor in November 1999.

Over the years Steve has been actively involved in his local market, serving as both president of the Indiana Real Estate Exchangors and chairman of the Commercial Division of the Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors.

In 1989 Larry Browning and Steve partnered to form Evergreen Investment Corporation, a real estate brokerage and investment company.  Steve enjoyed the shared office environment and the ability to brainstorm with Larry and work on creative transactions.  Together they did land assemblage near the airport, formed a partnership to acquire a shopping center, and acquired other income-producing properties.  Larry made the decision in 2001 to stop making the daily commute to Indianapolis and moved the Evergreen Investment office to his hometown of Shelbyville, Indiana.  Steve then moved his office into Levi Investment Realty in Carmel, Indiana.

In addition to traditional brokerage, Steve has been involved in a wide range of creative real estate transactions over the years: land acquisitions, apartments, industrial, retail, and almost everything in between.  Like so many S.E.C. members, Steve has transitioned from brokerage to being a principal/partner in multiple properties.  One property class Steve wishes he would have done more investing in over the years is mini-storage.  Steve prefers working within smaller partnerships; he likes being hands-on and putting his organizational skills to good use.  Steve’s fundamental belief is in sharing the benefits of a transaction according to the contribution of each participant.

One of Steve’s first creative transactions as a principal was a land assemblage where he put his creativity to work by using options and seller carryback financing to acquire interstate frontage land.  He took a partner to help carry the note and eventually sold off part of the property to return the investor partner’s capital.  Now, 25 years later, they still own and farm some of the land and have retained the billboard rights, providing a nice cash flow on a free and clear property that will have a large upside when it is developed.

Steve feels very strongly that God’s hands have always been there, guiding him along the way.  He has had many spiritual life-changing experiences, though he didn’t always see them at the time.  Steve is an active member of Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis where he is a deacon and an elder.  Steve has been the community lay director of the Indianapolis Great Banquet for over 10 years, having organized and supervised 5 weekends per year. The Great Banquet is a Presbyterian form of a 72-hour retreat that was created by the Roman Catholic renewal movement in the 1940s. He attended this retreat with Larry Browning in 1989, never thinking that one day he would be leading a similar program that needed his strong organizational skills.

Steve married his lovely wife Carole in 1992 and is blessed with 2 stepdaughters and 3 granddaughters.  All are residents in the Indianapolis area, providing for a wonderful family environment.

Steve considers membership in The Society of Exchange Counselors a major blessing in his life.  He has built lifelong relationships and friendships because of his active participation in the Society.  He enjoys attending meetings to keep the “creative real estate juices flowing” and to spend time with his extended family.

Talking to Steve, it won’t take anyone long to figure out how important family, relationships, and religion are to him; how compassionate he is; and how willing he is to help others.  Steve is truly a quality individual and exemplifies what it means to be a member of the Society of Exchange Counselors.

No matter what Steve has done, he has always felt blessed, that he has always had the most important job in the world, and that he has always had a guardian angel looking after him.  He believes everyone is here on earth for a purpose and that we all need to be good stewards of our time, talent, and treasure.

Steve feels with stewardship comes responsibility that never ends.  Contemplating estate and succession planning, Steve is looking forward to using his gifts as he moves on to new challenges that will write the next chapter of his amazing journey.

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