Laura W. Ratliff leads The Graham Companies' commercial division

Featured By Linda Trischitta, Editor Wednesday, September 15, 2021

     Laura Wyllie Ratliff, commercial portfolio manager of The Graham Companies, is continuing her family’s legacy of developing and strengthening the business community in Miami Lakes.

     Ratliff, 35, grew up in town and is a member of what’s known around the company as “the G4,” the fourth generation of family cousins who are young leaders in the firm.

     Her life and her family’s history are entwined with the story of the Town of Miami Lakes.

Generations of Builders

     In the 1930s, Ratliff’s great-grandfather Ernest Graham built a dairy farm.

     One of his sons, William A. Graham, is Ratliff’s maternal grandfather who in the 1960s developed the farm into a planned community. 

     Her parents are Carol Graham Wyllie, who recently retired as president of Graham Commercial and is a daughter of William A. Graham, and Stuart Wyllie, president and chief executive officer of The Graham Companies.

     “Being part of the business and Miami Lakes is ingrained from our childhood,” Ratliff said of the upbringing she shared with her brother Philip Wyllie, who is the company’s leasing manager of commercial properties. 

The Commercial Division

     Nineteen employees report to Ratliff, and they serve close to 400 tenants. 

     The division oversees 890,000 square feet of office space and twice as much industrial space; 1.6 million square feet of land that is leased; five shopping centers with 166,000 square feet and in the town center and Main Street, another 240,000 square feet of commercial, office and restaurant spaces.

     “We have a very good and experienced team in the commercial division, people who have been with us a long time,” Ratliff said. 

The Chill of the Virus

     The COVID-19 pandemic tested the division’s tenants as it tried to avoid losses, too.

     “These businesses are their livelihood and the pandemic brought such uncertainty,” Ratliff said of the commercial tenants. “We tried to empathize and be flexible, rather than adversarial.”

     The division connected tenants with education or financial assistance programs, she said. 

     “For those whose businesses were severely impacted, we worked with them to restructure their rent so they could recover from the pandemic,” Ratliff said. “It worked.”

     She said the company’s goal was to do what it could to help once-thriving businesses that were doing their best to survive the virus’ impact upon commerce.

     “It wasn’t anyone’s fault or something anyone could prepare for,” she said. “We gave tenants time to pivot and I think we’ve seen them pivot tremendously.”

     She pointed to restaurants like Dr. Limon Ceviche Bar and how fast it and other restaurants set up outdoor dining for guests.

     At the same time, “There are so many people in the company who are part of our family and watched Philip and I grow up,” she said. “We were concerned about keeping them and their families safe.”

     The commercial division didn’t have to lay off anyone, she said.

A Small Town Childhood

     Ratliff grew up on Glencairn Lane, attended the Enrichment Center (now Miami Lakes KinderCare); Miami Lakes Elementary (now Miami Lakes K-8 Center) and played T-ball, softball and soccer at Optimist Park.

     “We would ride bikes all over Miami Lakes, especially to the Park Centre Shops to have lunch,” she said. “We attended the Festival of Lights on Main Street … went to events at the hotels with our parents. We were pretty ingrained in all of that growing up.”

     After graduating from American Heritage High School in Plantation, Ratliff earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in accounting from the University of Florida.

     She joined the public accounting firm PwC as an auditor in North Carolina, then worked at the Lincoln Harris commercial real estate firm, where she was promoted to assistant corporate controller and vice president. 

Family Ties

     But the tug of family lured her and her husband, Mark Ratliff, business intelligence manager at Jazwares toy manufacturing and licensing company in Sunrise, back home.

     “The opportunity to work with your family and have a career in an area that you feel passionate about and to be able to be near family, a lot of our family lives here,” Ratliff said of South Florida. “And to have the work-life balance and be there as your kids grow up played into our decision to move back.”

     She also has Carol Graham Wyllie as a role model.

     “Mom served on the PTA during our years in elementary school,” Ratliff said.   “Watching her have a full-fledged career but also being so involved in our lives was important as I thought about us having a family.”

     The couple lives in Fort Lauderdale with their son, Brooks, 23 months, and their Sheba Inu dog, Chutley.

Life on Main Street

     Looking ahead, Ratliff said the division is focusing on Main Street and the office properties.

     “CMX (Cinemas Miami Lakes 17) is being renovated and demolition has begun to include reclining seats and a renovated lobby,” Ratliff said of the project The Graham Companies has partnered on. It is supposed to be finished by year’s end.

     “We’re really excited about what that will bring to the street,” Ratliff said.

     The neighborhood’s restaurant tenants are active, too.

     Chelas Beer Garden and Francisca Charcoal Chicken & Meats are open; La Strega Italian Steakhouse, Acai Express and Garrison 

Tap Room are making preparations.

     Salsa Fiesta will become a lounge called Korner 67, serving food from around the world.  And Vanilla Espresso Bakery Cafe has opened at the Windmill Gate Shopping Center.

      As for the office properties, the company recently renovated the third floor of the Arbor Place building as well as the Andrew Jackson Building at the Governors Square campus on the west side of town. 

     “Andrew Jackson turned out great and we’re planning to renovate more office buildings,” Ratliff said. 

     “We’re seeing the strongest demand in smaller office spaces right now but also have some larger deals in the pipeline,” she said. “Our industrial portfolio is as close to 100 percent leased as it’s ever been.

     “It’s the success story of 2020 - 2021, and there is a real shortage in the market,” she said. “It’s flying off the shelf and has been extremely strong.  We have very, very little vacancy.”

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