By Tina Irgang
Dan Naor, a former captain in the Israeli Navy, came to Baltimore in 1991. At the time, Canton’s waterfront was a gritty, industrial landscape that had seen little development in recent years. But Naor saw potential for pleasure boating in the area and convinced several acquaintances to help him build a small marina operation, which soon grew to include offices, apartments and restaurants at Lighthouse Point. Today, Naor owns five marinas in the city. In 2004, he launched GrandView Aviation, which offers helicopter and private-jet charters. Here, Naor shares what attracted him to Baltimore, and what drives him to keep jumping into new ventures.
(Disclosure: SmartCEO’s headquarters are located at Lighthouse Point.)
You were born in Israel and served in the Navy there. What did your time in the Navy teach you about leadership?
Naor: When I was 18, I went to Naval Officer School. That was a few years, and then I served on a submarine for a few years, and then on a gun ship for a few years, and that’s probably one of the most important experiences that I got in my life. Naval school was outstanding. It taught me that you can do everything. It doesn’t make a difference what you’re doing — building a house or flying an airplane, or sailing a ship, as long as you want to do it, you can do it. It builds a high level of confidence in your ability to do a thing you put your heart into. When I finished, I was transformed from a kid into a man.
How did you end up in Baltimore?
Naor: Just by mistake. … In Israel, after we finish the military, or between jobs in the military, we take a few months off and travel around the world, and that’s how I ended up in Baltimore one day. That’s the short version.
How did you decide to build up the Baltimore waterfront?
Naor: It was 1991, and Canton was not really developed. … American Can Company was all empty, Lighthouse Point … was about 12 acres of land that contained a building with no roof on it. The roof fell down. There was a small marina operation that went down in the late ‘80s, and the place went for auction. I knew some people, and together, we decided to buy the property. … The people that I got involved with had a belief and will to see it, just a small marina operation — that was really my intention. Together, we started developing it.
What made you believe the area had potential?
Naor: It’s waterfront, it’s in a major city. People always need to have a place to put their boats. When we started, the idea was just to run a marina operation, and I thought it would be a pretty fun thing to do for a few years, and then we started to develop restaurants, office buildings, condominiums, and things just started to go up fast.
Obviously water quality is an important factor in attracting boaters to your marinas, and it’s an area where Baltimore is still struggling. Is there a role that you and other business leaders in Baltimore can play in facilitating the cleanup?
Naor: It’s huge. It’s indeed the most important thing that affects the marine operation. Baltimore has everything you need already, so it’s not really hard to convince people to bring their boat to Baltimore. … Baltimore has the things that someone who brings their boat will need, from a supermarket to restaurants, bars a few hundred yards away, games, everything is here. It’s a great city and we can compete with any other city. The thing that is hard is the quality of the water. It’s hard to explain to a customer, why is the water filthy? Why is there stuff floating all over? So we tried and a lot of people tried, to fix the problem, but it’s not a problem we can fix overnight. As long as everybody recognizes that it needs to be fixed, I think it will be. We try to do the best we can. But there’s no question that resources need to be applied to fix this problem.
Do you ever go out on a boat when you’re not working, or do you just get tired of them?
Naor: Unfortunately, I don’t have too much time, so it hasn’t happened too often. Every once in a while, it will happen. In my free time, I usually go fly.
Other than boats, what are the things you’re most passionate about?
Naor: I like to create stuff. So getting involved in a new business, that’s where the excitement starts to kick in. During the years, I’ve developed a few businesses, and every time we go into this phase of a new business, it feels good. It’s very exciting. Then when we get to a certain level, management can take over and you move to another thing.
About Human Element:
Human Element is a regular, web-exclusive column that aims to get to know the leaders behind great companies. Rather than talking about business models and growth strategies, CEOs open up about what motivates and guides them in their professional and personal lives. To be considered for The Human Element, email firstname.lastname@example.org.