Business Profile Column
The Orlando Sentinel
December 30, 2002
Dec. 30--Igor Teplitsky isn't sure if it's a dream or a memory, but he can
recall hearing bombs explode as his family fled east from the Ukraine during
Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union in World War II.
"I guess I was maybe 4, 5," the Winter Park resident recalled recently.
His memories of World War II are sketchy, but those of subsequent years in
the land of his birth are quite clear, including the idolization of Joseph
Stalin and, later, the unmasking of the Communist dictator's atrocities and
widespread state spying on citizens.
Teplitsky, now 65, didn't leave the Soviet Union until his late 30s to start
a new life in this country. But in that time he has made a quantum leap,
from a worker in Ukraine's state-controlled economy to successful capitalist
in the dog-eat-dog world of home construction.
He is one of the few Central Florida-based home builders who, while starting
out small, have grown big enough to challenge the big, national builders who
have rushed to cash in on the region's growth.
Only a handful of the region's privately held home builders -- Teplitsky's
Engineered Homes along with Cambridge Homes and Greater Construction
Corp. -- have been able to muscle a good-sized piece of the market.
When Teplitsky first arrived in the United States, in 1975, the Orlando area
had nothing but relatively small, privately held builders putting up homes.
The first national builder didn't appear in Orlando until the late 1970s,
when U.S. Home entered the market.
But by the time Teplitsky started his company six years ago, the local
market was dominated by large, publicly held corporations. An investment
partner has made his company's growth possible, but Teplitsky is the sole
Engineered Homes of Winter Park, which Teplitsky launched in 1996,
sold 270 houses in 2001 for a combined $52 million. For 2002, 350 sales
are projected, with the dollar volume reaching $70 million. Those are
respectable numbers, considering the top corporate builders in this market
manage between 700 and 1,000 sales a year.
Teplitsky started building houses in 1989, just as the nation was beginning
to slip into the 1990-91 recession. "It was a rough time," Teplitsky
recalled, especially because he had taken a second mortgage on his house to
launch the business. "We were lucky to survive."
But he did survive, by working for several years as a contract builder for
other companies. For much of that time, he also served as his own field
superintendent, monitoring the construction.
In 1996, Teplitsky started Engineered Homes with the backing of
Hearthstone Advisors, a San Francisco-based investment group.
Hearthstone and Teplitsky have been partners ever since.
Teplitsky was born in a village near Kiev, the Ukraine, then part of the
Soviet Union. His father was a factory manager, and Igor followed in his
footsteps, getting an education as an engineer. After serving in the Soviet
Army, he became manager of a plant that made food-industry equipment.
He married in 1963 and he and his wife, Lilian, had one daughter. But by
the early 1970s, the family was worried about their future in the Soviet
"To be a Jew in Russia was not very popular," he said. "The future was not
Teplitsky also had an outspoken friend who at one point staged an
anti-government protest in Moscow's Red Square. The protest lasted just
long enough for police to hustle him off for questioning. After that,
Teplitsky noticed that, any time he was with his friend, they were shadowed
by government agents.
He applied to leave the country in 1972. It took three years, but it was at
a time when the Soviet government was trying to improve relations with the
United States, so the family's departure was eventually approved.
They moved to Baltimore, where Teplitsky had a friend who had been able
to leave earlier. The only work he could find there was as a welder. He left
that job and moved to Orlando in 1976 when his wife, an accomplished
violinist, auditioned with the Florida Symphony Orchestra and won a seat.
She played with the symphony from 1976 to 1992. Their daughter, Marina,
is now grown and a physician in Palm Beach County.
Igor worked several different jobs when he arrived in Orlando, including a
stint at Correct Craft, a south Orlando boat manufacturer. He eventually
found work as an engineer at Dayron Co., a grenade-fuse manufacturer,
and Stone Container Co.
But because of a longtime interest in construction, he took a job in 1982
with Cardinal Industries in Sanford, in quality control. He was with the
modular-housing manufacturer until 1989, when he took that first leap into
Jim Mehta, president of A.J. Mehta Corp., a land broker, has helped
Teplitsky find developable land for several years.
"He's a tough negotiator," Mehta said. "But he's up front with you. He tells
you like it is. And very important in my business, if he says he'll do
something, he does it."
In 1996, Teplitsky was building homes priced generally around $150,000
to $160,000. Today, the company builds higher-priced houses that can
cost as much as $500,000.
Part of that price shift has been driven by the cost of land, which worries
Teplitsky. "We'll run out of buyers" if homes get too expensive, he said.
The company is currently building in five area subdivisions. The newest is
Buckingham Estates, off Markham Road in Seminole County, where the
average home price is more than $300,000.
When Teplitsky wants to let off steam and mull business strategies, he runs,
logging as much as 10 to 12 miles each time.
"I know every street in Winter Park," he said.
His business strategy at the moment is to minimize the company's risks.
He worries about the economy and whether rising home prices will push
many people out of the market; as a result, he recently sold lots in two
subdivisions to another builder and plans to purchase lots in the future in
As the company develops new communities, he said, it will build on some
lots but sell some to other builders. That will speed the company's return
on its land investment.
That's the plan for the moment.
But as Teplitsky learned at an early age, life can change one's plans
"You have to adapt," he said.
Personal: Born near Kiev, in the Ukraine, on May 3, 1937. Married Lilian
Widerman on March 8, 1963. One child -- a daughter, Marina. Immigrated to
the United States in 1975; moved from Baltimore to Orlando a year later. His
wife was a violinist with the Florida Symphony Orchestra for 16 years.
Business: Was a factory engineer in the Soviet Union. Worked several jobs in
this country, from welder to engineer, before joining modular-housing
manufacturer Cardinal Industries of Sanford in 1982. Left Cardinal in 1989
to go into the home-building business. Started Engineered Homes, based in
Winter Park, in 1996.; Hobbies: Running, reading.
Source: Engineered Homes Inc.
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