The Carl M. Freeman Companies
Michelle Freeman, president and CEO of the Carl M. Freeman Companies, describes the family business as a bi-coastal enterprise: with offices in Delaware and Maryland split by the Chesapeake Bay.
Founded by her father-in-law Carl Freeman in 1946, the company first started as a venture to address a post-World War II housing shortage. The first venture in Takoma Park, Md., was said to be so popular that potential buyers came in droves and state police had to navigate traffic.
From there, the Carl M. Freeman Companies evolved from residential developments to offices, shopping centers, golf courses and beachfront communities.
For Delawareans, the Carl M. Freeman Companies might be best known for developing the 1,700-unit resort community Sea Colony at Bethany Beach. Later on, the development expanded to include walking paths, pools, tennis courts and a community shopping center.
“When I’m out there, I have some people walk up to me and say they spent some wonderful vacations at Sea Colony, birthdays where their families all came together. Really, that’s what this business is about,” Michelle Freeman said.
The Carl M. Freeman Companies has faced its share of adversity over the past seven decades. In 2006, the company’s then-President and CEO Joshua Freeman — Carl’s son and Michelle’s husband — died in a helicopter crash. Michelle was advised to sell the company, but instead she took over the business during one of the country’s worst economic downturns. Under her tenure, the business changed its model from homebuilding to land development.
In the next five years, Michelle Freeman sees a new way of community building on the horizon, one focused on environmentally-conscious communities.
“We continue to be fascinated by wellness, and that is going to play a key role in design, given our need for fresh air, for where we play sports, to walking paths to even include retail and restaurants in our design and cutting down trips in the car,“ she said.
For other family-owned businesses in Delaware, Michelle Freeman advises other entrepreneurs to be secure in what you know and what you don’t know.
“My father-in-law had a saying, ‘Gather around people who know more than you,’” she said. “Leadership is about bringing people with diverse backgrounds and thoughts, and being humble enough to listen and learn from your team.”