POWER 100.

 
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Welcome to BUSINESS NORTH CAROLINA'S third Power 100 list of the state's most influential business leaders. This year's report features stories and interviews with 27 people including the state's most powerful pork producer, the owner of the nation's biggest furniture store, and the banker charged with reversing Wells Fargo's deteriorating customer-service reputation.

North Carolina's rapid growth as a major business center makes selecting the list more interesting--and difficult--each year. There are more powerful people than ever before. After taking suggestions from all corners and quiiring dozens of people for ideas, the editorial team settles on the names. We look for leaders who are representative of some broad categories of power:

* Institutional powerhouses, such as university presidents Vincent Price and Jose Sartarelli and hospital bosses Michael Waldrum and Judith Freischlag.

* Middle-of-the-action folks, creating a lot of activity and, sometimes, making a lot of money. Drug-discover, investor Fred Esheiman and venture capitalist David Gardner are examples.

* Outstanding entrepreneurs, including lending genius Doug Lebda and video-game superstar Tim Sweenev.

* Networking powerhouses, such as lawyer Rob Harrington and banker Jim Hansen.

* Pillars of commerce, such as softw are icon Jim Goodnight, auto dealer Don Flow and bank investor Chip Mahan.

* Public company CEOs including Susan DeVore, Lvnn Good and Kelly King.

* Real estate kingpins including Andy Andrews and Roy Carroll.

* Singular talents who make major waves in their spheres. Examples this year include restaurateur Ashley Christensen and hip-hop star J. Cole.

* Thought leaders, including marketing experts such as Peggy Brookhouse and David Mullen.

We also look for geographic diversity without making it a major factor. As a statewide publication, we love telling stories of businesses and people outside the large metropolitan areas. But rapid growth in the Charlotte and Triangle regions and widespread industry consolidation are making those areas more dominant. It's also an apparent contrast with North Carolina's political environment in which lawmakers hailing from more rural areas remain in dominant positions. This list doesn't include political leaders.

We also have a strong bias for those showing a shared concern for the broader community. Most on the list spend much time supporting efforts to improve North Carolina. Much of that work occurs out of the public limelight.

Nearly a third of this year's list is made up of newcomers. Those entrants include Honeywell CEO Darius Adamczyk, who runs one of the nation's 100 largest public companies; Andy Andrews, whose company is developing office towers in Charlotte and Raleigh; UNC System board chairman Randy Ramsey, who owns a small-town boat-building company; and Advance Auto Parts CEO Tom Greco, who heads Raleigh's only Fortune 500 company.

As we note annually, it's a subjective list. No doubt some of those who should be named are disappointed--while others are glad to be under the radar.

We look forward to hearing your thoughts.

KING OF THE HILLS

John Kane's stunning success in north Raleigh real estate followed a topsy-turvy career that got off to a rocky start

BY MICHAEL MACMILLAN

PHOTOS BY CHRISTER BERG

Outside the window of Raleigh-based Kane Realty's second-floor office in North Hills, a 12-piece band called Sleeping Booty is setting up in an open pavilion adjacent to a Starbucks, a Ben & Jerry's and other retailers. It's Thursday, time for the weekly fix of beach music. Beyond the musicians stands the 17-story Captrust Tower, 18-story Bank of America Tower and a construction crane that's assembling Advance Auto Parts' 18-story headquarters.

In the boardroom, the third of three architectural and design firms is making its presentation on Kane's proposed soccer stadium and mixed-use project, which would transform Raleigh's Downtown South neighborhood. The talk is of population density, traffic flow and creating an "urban edge." John Kane, CEO of his namesake real estate development company, sits near the head of the table watching intently and saying little, his right leg bouncing throughout the presentation. Next to him is his project partner, Steve Malik, owner and chairman of the N.C. Football Club, which has men's and women's professional soccer teams and oversees a massive youth soccer organization. Kane, 67, is casually but crisply dressed. He's not particularly chatty beyond polite small talk, but he's clear when it comes to what he wants.

As the formal presentation concludes, everyone crowds around the models on the conference table. Kane jumps up, gesturing at the models, having determined which buildings need to be moved and where to maximize traffic flow and improve the street-level environment. Heads nod in agreement. Towers are reshuffled. It's a microcosm of the last few decades of Kane's life, reshaping his hometown.

His company owns about 1.5 million square feet of retail space, 1.6 million square feet of office space and 1,700 apartments, with another 1,230 under construction. As part of his downtown Peace Street project, he has zoning rights to build a 40-story tower, which would be the city's tallest structure.

"Look at what's happened to Raleigh because of what he's done," says Tom Darden, a veteran Raleigh investor who played a key role in Kane's emergence as one of the state's most influential business leaders.

Kane's grandfather, George W. Kane, moved to North Carolina from Maine in 1920 to supervise the construction of a Roxboro cotton mill. Shortly thereafter, the elder Kane struck out on his own. Starting with houses, he expanded into commercial construction and became one of the state's largest contractors. Among the company's projects was the relocation of Wake Forest University from Wake County to Winston-Salem, where it subsequently built much of the new campus.

In 1956, George Kane bought a construction company in Henderson, prompting his son's family to move. When the elder Kane died in 1966, John's father, George W. Kane Jr., took over the company, continuing its focus on commercial projects, including the Four Seasons mall in Greensboro and Duke University buildings in Durham. In his teenage years, John Kane did manual labor for the company.

The youngest Kane attended Wake Forest, graduating in 1974 with a business degree. He was on the golf team that won an NCAA championship during his senior year, though he didn't play much on the squad that featured future PGA stars Curtis Strange and Jay Haas. Following graduation, he joined the family business, arriving just in time for the harsh 1974-75 recession.

"The Four Seasons mall defaulted," he recalls. "The developer of a condo project we were working on in Myrtle Beach defaulted. It was a difficult period." Going into the recession, Kane Construction ranked among the state's three largest contractors, he says. But developer defaults destroyed cash flow, prompting George W. Kane Inc. to file for bankruptcy protection in September 1974, three months after Kane joined it.

For the next four years, he pitched in as the company sought to reorganize and pay off debts. One project involved a small Greenville shopping center whose developer had defaulted. "No one wanted to run it, so I got the job. And I liked it."

In 1978, he left the family enterprise and started his own company to buy the Greenville project, converting it from an open-air strip to an enclosed mall. Three years later, he added his first development, a Greenville fitness club that opened on Nov. 4, 1981, the same day his first child, Bryan, was born. "Willa, my wife, had to drive herself to the hospital," he says. "But I made it back in time to be there when my son was born."

Kane spent the next two decades mostly buying and repositioning small properties in eastern North Carolina, ultimately moving into the Raleigh market with the 1985 purchase of what's now Celebration at Six Forks shopping center. He financed the business without his father's participation. Kane Realty acquired significant holdings and assembled a staff of 75 to 80 people. Kane then decided to bundle the properties into a real estate investment trust, an investment vehicle then gaining popularity. It enabled individual investors to own a piece of commercial property portfolios.

Unfortunately, his timing was less than perfect. The economy was slowing, and demand for real estate was slumping. "The market went away from us, and we weren't able to do the deal." Shut out of the equity market and with substantial debt, he instead sold to a REIT, Konover Property Trust, in 1995. The transaction netted him about $5 million. "It was kind of a disaster," he says.

With his operation shriveled to a handful of loyalists, Kane kept plugging on a few small retail projects in eastern North Carolina. His big break in the Raleigh market came with what looked like, at the time, the dubious opportunity to buy North Hills Mall and a nearby convenience center.

Opened in 1960 and converted to an indoor, two-story mall in 1967, North Hills was owned for many years by the pension fund of Royal Dutch Airlines' parent company, KLM NV. The once-stellar center, anchored by J.C. Penney and Dillard's department stores, suffered from neglect in the 1990s and was no longer competitive with shopping elsewhere in north Raleigh.

Turning around a shopping mall is a tough slog. "Retail leases are complicated, and everyone has different terms," Kane says. "That makes shopping centers hard to reposition. I told the sellers that we would be willing to buy it if they could deliver it where I could tear everything down, and they terminated most of the leases."

KLM eventually agreed to those sale terms, but then inspectors discovered the water table beneath the land had about a foot of gasoline floating on it. The fuel came from a neighboring gas station, whose underground storage tank was leaking. With...

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