How did real-estate investor Andrew Kerr bypass the cost of a college education? By never enrolling in college in the first place.
Instead, Kerr spent the majority of his free time in his salad years eating lunch with old people.
Kerr, 35, who has just made good on his dream to move to New Orleans with his girlfriend, attributes much of his career success to time spent with those people, many of them more than twice his age, the Research Triangle Park Rotarians.
“How often does someone in their 20s get to have lunch on a regular basis with someone with thirty, forty, fifty years of business experience?” Kerr said. “I also wanted to learn from people who had already made mistakes.”
Since the age of 22, Kerr has been a member of the Research Triangle Park Rotary Club, one of dozens of Rotary Clubs in the Triangle area. There are more than 35,000 Rotary Clubs around the world, according to the parent organization Rotary International, founded in 1905.
Kerr, who was living in Chapel Hill, said goodbye to the RTP Rotary club in June, which also marked the end of his second term as the club’s president.
He left as the club was being recognized by its district as the best in its class the Triangle, a turnaround from just over a year ago, when membership had fallen close to single-digits.
“The club as a whole got comfortable where it was at,” Kerr said. “It didn’t innovate.”
Kerr said he and four other members told the club president at the time, “If you run the meetings, if you make sure the ship doesn’t sink, we will work on rebuilding the club.”
That club president at the time was attorney Joy Alford-Brand, who remembers Kerr as one of the club’s youngest faces.
“He’s a pretty go-get ’em kind of guy,” Alford-Brand said.
Rebuilding included finding a new meeting location, which is now The Frontier, a low-cost, mixed-use public meeting space in the heart of Research Triangle Park.
“They weren’t sold on us immediately,” said David Spisak, a Rotarian since 1994, of The Frontier. “We persisted.”
Kerr’s vision was to have the club reflect the 21st century culture of RTP, yet maintain Rotary’s 111 year-old tradition of “service over self.”
“We made tons of course-corrections along the way,” Kerr said.
Kerr grew up and attended high school in Cary, where he received As in the classes he enjoyed, like architectural design, and muddled through the classes he didn’t, like calculus. He considered majoring in architecture for college, then decided he didn’t want to go to college at all.
“I like very specific education that is applicable to my interests,” Kerr said. “I wanted that very specific knowledge.”
After graduating high school, Kerr made a deal with his parents that he would take one year off to work on commission for a small mortgage consulting company. If the job proved not to be lucrative, he would enroll in college. Kerr ended up buying a house at age 20.
“My mindset was that I didn’t want to spend four years figuring out what I wanted to do,” he explained. “I got lucky stumbling into a housing market where interest rates were dropping.”
Kerr’s next move was partnering with a peer to start their own consulting business. Kerr began networking by visiting civic organizations, a public service culture traditionally populated with people further along in their professional careers.
“My thought process was, if I network with people in their 20s, they’re not going to have any money,” Kerr said. “I could learn so much more from the investment adviser with a 30-year career.”
The RTP Rotary club was a lunch club, and Kerr was quick to recognize that lunch time meant face time with executives and managers from a wide range of fields. Kerr joined the club as one of its youngest members. There he found advice ranging from what kind of paperwork his business should file to where to find more office space.
When one of Kerr’s employee’s began showing up late and leaving early, Kerr had no human resources department to turn to. Kerr sat down for lunch with a fellow Rotarian with years of experience in HR management. She provided Kerr with advice on how to handle the situation legally and ethically.
“I wasn’t a stranger to this person,” Kerr said. “I had known them for several years. That relationship was developed through the Rotary Club.”
The day of Kerr’s hand-off of the club presidency to its new leader, David Spisak, Kerr stood at the entrance of a meeting room at The Frontier greeting Rotarians and visitors alike with a handshake. He will now be working as a major gift officer for Rotary International, and has transferred his membership to a Rotary club in downtown New Orleans.
“Education is invaluable,” Kerr said, “but not knowing how you are going to apply it could be a waste of time.”
A man pressed his business card into Kerr’s hand, the action as smooth as if it had taken place at the first Rotary Club meeting 111 years ago.
“Street smarts and book smarts – I think a blend between the two is what some of the most successful people have,” Kerr said.