Alumnus heads Lifestyle Communities development expansion
Leaving a position as a partner in a major law firm is often a risky proposition. For Brent Miller ’86, making that move seemed like the natural next step.
“I was always attracted to the business side of the law and building a business. When I originally went to law school, I didn’t think I would come out and practice at a big law firm. But, I did. I had about a 15-year career at Bricker & Eckler, was a partner in the real estate group, and thought I would never leave. Then, the opportunity came to build a business and that’s what I really wanted to do. That’s how I ended up here,” he said.
Miller is the president of Lifestyle Communities, a development company that prides itself on creating inclusive home and apartment communities that cater to young, emerging professionals by giving them a space to connect in a modern, urban setting.
The company has developments in Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee with plans to grow into new areas in the future.
“We want to be a company with a purpose bigger than making a profit. We’ve really talked about how we want to grow this thing in a way that connects people. We take a demographic of young professionals and emerging professionals and create an environment in which they can connect and meet people and feel like they belong. And we think that’s a pretty great recipe that we can take to other cities,” he said. “Right now we’re looking for ground in Raleigh, Austin, Denver, and Kansas City. We won’t do them all, but we’ve done the market research, we’ve done the demographic research, and we think our product will work there.”
Comparing where the company started to what it has become today, Miller said he and the founders, Michael DeAscentis Sr. and Michael DeAscentis Jr., couldn’t have imagined the growth they’ve seen over the last 15 years.
Miller first met the DeAscentis family in the late 1990s when he was working at Bricker & Eckler.
“Around 1998, 1999 my practice had been to represent financial institutions in construction and permanent financing. I decided I wanted to branch out and begin representing some developers and Michael DeAscentis and his father, who founded Lifestyle Communities, were just starting to work on their first project. I actually represented the lender in that project, but met them and they asked me if I would start representing them,” he said. “By 2001 the company was growing, and I was in an awkward position of making business decisions that as a lawyer in a law firm weren’t fair to the other partners in the firm because that’s not what we’re supposed to do. So, I really needed to make a decision about what I wanted to do.”
Miller had been with Bricker & Eckler for 15 years when he decided to change career paths. He started as a clerk there in law school before accepting a full-time position after graduation. Miller said he hadn’t ever thought about leaving the firm until this particular opportunity arose.
“I had a really tremendous career at Bricker & Eckler, I had two really, really great mentors that taught me the real estate business and I had a lot of really great friends there as well. I didn’t ever see myself leaving,” he said. “But, I thought I was at the right age where I could go out and give it a five-year run and see what I thought, and if I liked it that would be great, otherwise I could come back into firm practice. At that point in time, Lifestyle Communities had eight or nine employees and was pretty small. Now, we have over 500 employees and we’re regional based. It turned out to be a very, very good decision.”
Miller noted that he couldn’t have done it without the gracious support of his wife and children. His wife and one of his daughters are also alumni of the Moritz College of Law, and having their understanding and backing made the transition from firm practice to a new business venture possible.
The Lifestyle Communities president said he has thoroughly enjoyed growing the business over the years, which is now really several different businesses under the same umbrella. The company is comprised of an energy business that serves more than 30,000 people, a successful bar and restaurant chain called The Goat, a construction and development arm, and a property management group.
The best part about his job, however, he said, is working with a great group of people dedicated to making the company the best that it can possibly be.
“The most rewarding part is really getting to work and develop people. Our industry went through a real downturn in 2008, 2009, and a lot of real estate companies didn’t survive. That was somewhat of an awakening as a business person as to what we were going to be about. So, we committed to a core group of people and said we’re going to make this together and fight our way through it. It’s been really rewarding to see that growth,” he said.