Chief information officer and co-principal, Opp Zone Capital
Edmon Rakipi might have the most unusual early-life story of all the 40 Under 40 winners in 2020. Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, to parents who fled the part of the former Yugoslavia that’s now the nation of Macedonia, he moved to the U.S. at 8 years old, winding up in tiny Woodstock, Ill., where some of his mother’s family members had settled after leaving war-torn Yugoslavia.
“It’s a massive town,” Rakipi jokes. “I think there were, like, 2,000 people living there at the time.”
Rakipi and his parents eventually made their way south, winding up in Largo, where they opened a family restaurant called Aunt Maria’s Kitchen. “Roughly 70% of my family up north is still in the restaurant business or the bar industry,” he says.
Rakipi, however, found himself drawn to the world of finance and investment. He worked his way up to vice president of Core Investment Management in Belleair before stepping down to launch his own firm, Clearwater-based Opp Zone Capital, last year. The company specializes in real estate investments in newly designated opportunity zones.
“I probably spent 16 years working on personal development,” he says. “When we had the family restaurant, I remember a customer gave me the book ‘Think and Grow Rich’ by Napoleon Hill. That's probably one of the turning points in my life. It prepared my mind to stay motivated. And I think a lot of my work ethic comes from what I call the immigrant advantage: You come from overseas; you don't have much, so you put your head down, you work hard, and you figure it out.”
Rakipi says he’s also been working quite hard to adjust to the new realities of the COVID-19 era. “Our clients tend to skew a little bit older, and technology is not something they grew up with or are entirely comfortable with,” he says. “So God knows how many Zoom calls we've had where the first 30 minutes are spent teaching them how to turn their camera on.”
And that’s not even Rakipi’s No. 1 pet peeve when it comes to virtual meetings.
“The person who leans into their camera and microphone, when they have something to say, and then we're stuck looking at their chin and listening to them scream into the microphone," he says. "I'm like, ‘We can hear you — you don’t have to swallow it.’”
Employer: Opp Zone Capital
Title: CIO and co-principal
City of residence: Clearwater
Birthplace: Copenhagen, Denmark
Years on the Gulf Coast: 25
Marital status/children: Married with two children, ages 7 and 4
Alma mater/degree: University of South Florida/bachelor of science in finance
What community group or organization are you most involved with? Leukemia & Lymphoma Society — Young Professionals Council
What's the weirdest job you've ever had? Easter Bunny when I was 12 years old. Suit and all.
What's your top tip for being productive? I live and die by my calendar. "Deep Work" by Cal Newport taught me how to schedule in focus time to work on only tasks that are "productive," no checking emails, no "low-level" activities. That has been a game changer for me.
If you could have a side hustle, what would it be? College professor, part-time
What's your favorite off-hours activity? Stretching (I know, weird) and hitting the gym
What's your favorite board game, game show or video game? Counter Strike (classic, I know)
What’s your go-to delivery service (DoorDash, Uber Eats, GrubHub, Bite Squad, etc.)? Uber Eats for sure. It always comes through when I need a caffeine fix from SBUX.
What do you use most — Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams or Google Meetings? Zoom
What’s the best binge-worthy show you have enjoyed during the pandemic? "Brave New World" on Peacock
What’s the longest virtual meeting you’ve been on since mid-March? Three hours on a due diligence call with a client
How many times had you used video for a work meeting prior to the pandemic? Regular basis. Three to four meetings a week.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned during the pandemic? Gratitude. I think most of us truly took for granted the freedoms that we have been afforded prior to the pandemic. I've learned to practice gratitude on a daily basis every night before I go to sleep.
What do you miss most about the world pre-pandemic? "Normal" human interaction. I respect and appreciate social distancing to keep everyone safe, but I truly miss the interaction of friends, colleagues and others.
What have you been spending more time doing during the pandemic? I have been reading a lot more during the pandemic. Hopefully, I can get through my stack of books that I order on Amazon and watch build up in my office.
Do you prefer working from home or working from an office? Office; it keeps me focused.
How have you kept up camaraderie with colleagues during the pandemic? We have weekly team calls; we've had a couple golf outings, and, of course, memes.
What’s the first thing you’ll do after the pandemic? Take my boys to Legoland on a day that is autism-friendly.