Gator100 David Heekin: ‘Every day I draw on what I learned in law school’
David Heekin (JD 01) knows firsthand that 2008 was a rough year to own a title company. His real estate closing business, Landmark Title, lost half of its customers overnight.
“It was brutal,” he said. “There was a couple of times where the lights would go out and I’d be like, “oh man, I’ve got to pay the [utilities] bill.”
He said the title business was “feast or famine” and the famine had arrived, with many title companies going under. Though others said it would be a quick six-month recession, Heekin was dubious.
“I was reading articles and I didn’t agree with that. I knew that what we were up against was something that was going to be around for years,” he said.
But Heekin was determined to not let the recession bury the company, so he used his savings to keep it going. He went without a salary for almost a year, and his employees took pay cuts.
“I have a very good core group employees that have been with me for years,” Heekin said.
“They stuck with me. They saw the vision. They saw that I had a plan to come out of this thing stronger than we went in.”
Landmark Title, LLC recently ranked 31st on the inaugural Gator100, a list of the 100 fastest-growing, Gator-owned or Gator-led businesses in the world, according to growth rates calculated by the accounting firm Ernst and Young. The firm had a compounded annual growth rate of 56.38 percent.
The company, which he started in 2005 as an offshoot of the law firm he began straight out of law school, was the largest locally-owned title company in North Florida by market share in 2013 and 2014, Heekin said.
But getting to that point took Heekin many late nights of strategizing at the office. He shifted Landmark’s focus to helping clients “weather the storm” through loss-mitigation tactics like loan modification, short sale or foreclosure defense.
“We were early adapters to the changing real estate environment,” he said.
He also decided Landmark needed to distinguish itself from its competitors for it to succeed.
“We all sell the same gallon of milk,” Heekin said. “The only way you can differentiate yourself from your competitors is through customer service.”
Landmark strives to add value to otherwise standard transactions, aiming to stay in constant communication with its customers. Additionally, Heekin said that he looks for people with customer service experience when hiring.
The attitudes of employees are key, Heekin said.
“People can really tell that not only are our employees very highly trained but they can tell they really love what they do, and that makes a difference,” he said.
The company’s customer service extends to consulting with clients and referring them to the attorney that can best help them. With the solid understanding of general law that Heekin gained at UF Law, he is able to consult with clients on most issues.
“Every day I draw back on what I learned in law school when a client has a question, even if it’s something unrelated to what I do,” he said. “I’m able to talk to them about the issue and then help them find an attorney that can help them.”
Heekin said because competition for jobs is high, he often receives unsolicited resumes from students. So he advises UF Law students to work at law firms or somewhere in the legal field while still in law school to get practical experience.
“Other than that, just don’t give up. Don’t get discouraged. Keep fighting and if it’s something you really want to do it’ll happen,” Heekin said.