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Published: Monday, 11/16/2009

24-year-old Texan builds multimillion-dollar empire

FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM

FORT WORTH - Adam Blake made one of his first life-changing decisions when he was an eighth-grader in Kansas City. He made another only recently.

Mr. Blake, 24, who has built a residential real estate business he started as a college sophomore into a multimillion-dollar venture, closed in September on the purchase of a downtown Fort Worth building from billionaire Robert Bass.

The deal catapulted him into a market dominated by local deep pockets, institutional investors, and older developers.

"He definitely doesn't look at his age as any sort of liability," said Terry Montesi, founding partner of the Fort Worth-based commercial real estate firm Trademark Cos. "He has a lot of confidence and is generally fearless."

Mr. Blake's company, Atlas Properties, was on the latest Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing private U.S. companies, reporting 2008 revenues of $5.8 million, up from $382,778 in 2005.

And that's just one of the nearly a dozen companies and investment funds he owns.

In some cases, Mr. Blake said, people think he's inexperienced because of his age. "People ask, 'Who do you work for?'•"

Or, he said, they assume he has a rich parent backing his venture.

His father, Richard, lost his job as a vice president of a telecommunications company that failed in the dot-com bust about nine years ago.

"Everything he worked for pretty much got wiped out," Adam Blake said. "That's what inspired me to be an entrepreneur and not go into corporate America."

At Texas Christian University, he supported himself and paid for college by starting a company that helped fellow students find places to rent. In 2004, using financial aid and a $100,000 loan from a fraternity brother who became a business partner, Mr. Blake started buying rental property.

At one time, his companies owned more than 100 rental houses.

He graduated in 2007 with a business administration degree, majoring in finance, accounting, and entrepreneurial management.

In 2005, he won the Global Student Entrepreneur Award, given annually by the Virginia-based Entrepreneurs' Organization to one student who owns and runs a business while attending a college or university.

Mr. Blake said that despite the credit crunch, he has not had trouble getting money for deals, although he did have to find another bank for a line of credit after a Dallas bank he was using stopped real estate lending.

This year, he bought a home near Fort Worth's Rivercrest Country Club. He also drives a $60,000 Audi S5.

But that's it, Mr. Blake said.

"I don't flaunt money, buy stupid things, or take it for granted," he said.

"I am working really hard, and I'm not afraid to take risks," Mr. Blake said.



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