When Mark Cothran was 6 years old, his father Al, a former Air Force and commercial airline pilot, was killed in a training crash at an Army helicopter school in Texas.
Years later, Al’s younger brother, John, gave Mark what he calls a “what-am-I-doing-with-my-life speech.”
At the time — this is the late 1970s — Cothran was studying finance and banking at the University of South Carolina, where he recalls a conversation over lunch with his Uncle John:
“I said, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m going to be a stockbroker.’ He said, ‘A stockbroker? Why?’”
Cothran’s answer was simple. One of his friend’s uncle was a stockbroker, he explained, and Cothran had heard that this man earned more than $100,000 a year — and drove a Porsche.
But Cothran’s Uncle John told him he didn’t know any brokers making that much money and so encouraged his young nephew to try real estate instead. After all, John had developed such Greenville properties as Sugar Creek, a residential community, and the Foxcroft neighborhood, and he helped launch Greenville Builders Supply in the early 1970s.
“I didn’t know anything about careers, right?” Cothran says now. “You’re a high school guy. Doctors clearly — according to everybody — make a lot of money, and attorneys make a lot of money. You didn’t have like a whole list of things. It wasn’t like there was a career day back in the day.”
Now Cothran, a self-proclaimed entrepreneur-developer, is CEO of commercial real estate firm Cothran Properties and residential company Cothran Homes.
But it was after college that he tried real estate sales in Columbia.
“I did not like that,” the Greenville native says flatly.
As for a Porsche, he now owns one of those too — among his collection of high-end sports cars. Those include a 2005 Ferrari F430 Spider; a 1974 Triumph TR6; a 1980 Corvette; and a 1962 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Speciale (“actually the most aerodynamic production car until the 1980 Corvette,” he says).
His background in finance continues to drive his thriving businesses.
“Well, I figured that was the purpose of business. You find something to do, what you like doing,” he says. “Especially when you’re a finance guy, you come up with something and it has to be a viable business.”
He opened Cothran Properties in 1986. Before that, he started working for U.S. Shelter Corp. in 1983, acquiring apartment complexes west of the Mississippi, though not the West Coast.
When the financial crisis hit in 2008, he says, “Like everybody else, we were scrambling, trying to figure out what the new frontier was going to look like.”
So he started buying up property, a lot of it — from industrial sites to failed subdivisions.
“If you could take out all the stress of being involved in it, which was pretty stressful, I probably learned more in that four-, five-year period than I did in the previous 12 or 13 years,” he says.
At one time, Cothran Properties was Greenville’s third-largest operator of office space with 450,000 square feet. Today, Cothran Properties and Cothran Residential own or develop $75 million in assets.
And it all goes back to Uncle John, who mentions that while his nephew was in school, Mark worked in construction at Cothran & Darby Builders. Later, they partnered in developing Caledon Wood, a mixed-use development with 350 apartments and 71,816 square feet of office space off Haywood Road.
“I don’t have anything but admiration for how he’s taken things and has created his own path in life and taken his early learnings and education,” says John Cothran, 90, a member of the S.C. Builders Hall of Fame and onetime president of the Home Builders Association of Greenville.
“I’ve been delighted he’s that he’s done so well. He’s very good at shooting for the target and hitting it.”
Cothran Properties and Cothran Homes by the numbers
- Portfolio includes about 40 properties
- Cothran Homes’ sales last year totaled around $25 million
- Annual revenues for both companies are between $30 million and $35 million
- Both companies combined have approximately $75 million in assets owned or under development
- Employ 20 people, most of them in residential
Source: Cothran Properties
A few high-profile Greenville projects include:
- One21, townhome development on Stone Avenue
- The historic fire station on Augusta Road
- The 67-acre Global Commerce Park, a 600,000-square-foot collection of Class-A industrial buildings across Interstate 85 from BMW, which Cothran sold for $20 million 13 months ago.
Other developments include, among others:
River Walk, a 450-site residential community
Pelham Ridge Business Center, a 240,000-square-foot showroom/office
Greenville First Bank headquarters, 14,000-square-foot office building
Acquisitions and rehabs include, among many:
- Le Chateau Apartments, 136 units
- 105 Spring St., 29,016-square-foot multitenant office building
- 100 Coffee St., 41,000-square-foot multitenant office building
Select other projects:
Acquired and marketing the Cove at Butler Springs — 80 lots and remaining inventory of homes
Acquired and completed The Reserve at Plantation Greene — 13 townhouses and 24 lots
Acquired and completing the Townes at Brookwood — six townhouses and 89 lots
Redeveloping Rainbow Market, Charleston, South Carolina
Sources: Cothran Properties and Cothran Homes and LinkedIn