“It is not enough to aim; you must hit.” Italian proverb

Ronnie Bergeron grew up dirt-poor in the 1940s in Florida’s Everglades. Today, he is one of the state’s biggest landowners, one of its biggest road builders, and the owner of the biggest mining company in the U.S. He’s played a leading role in turning hundreds of square miles of wetlands into homes, schools, shopping centers, and warehouses throughout the bottom half of Florida.

He is also an accomplished rodeo rider and sports silver belt buckles from competitions all over the country. He wears a $100,000 Rolex and diamond rings the size of flashbulbs.

He won’t tell you how much he’s worth, and since all 25 of his companies are privately owned, it’s not easy to figure out. But people who know him say it’s well into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

His latest project: saving animals in the Everglades

Bergeron’s parents owned a grocery store — a little business that barely paid their bills. His first job was mowing his neighbors’ pastures with a $200 tractor. “I quickly realized,” he told a local paper, “that all the people who were hiring me, all the successful farmers, owned land. That became my goal.”

Bergeron grew into manhood drinking straight whiskey from the bottle, getting into fistfights, and riding his horse into bars, his friends say. During the ’50s and ’60s, when comedians were making fun of people who bought Florida swampland, Bergeron was buying it up. One deal — negotiated on an airboat — involved 340 acres of wetlands. The seller wanted $1,000 an acre, but the young land baron didn’t have it. He offered $5,000 an acre instead but paid out over 20 years. He paid his debt — $1.7 million — in less than 10 years. He then turned the land into a rock pit and dug 40 million tons of limestone out of it, which he sold for several times his cost. The rock also enabled him to win tens of millions of dollars worth of construction projects for the road-building business he launched.

And then, 10 years ago, he used his local clout to get the land zoned for development and sold it for more than $24 million. The former rock pit is now Keystone Lake, a 561-home gated community.

“I came out of Davie, a little country boy, a hick and a redneck,” says Bergeron, “and I ended up making more than 100 times the $5,000 an acre I paid.

What are his secrets? Some of the same things you’ve been learning in ETR.

  • He wakes up early — at the crack of dawn every day — and works his ass off.
  • He scrimped and saved, pouring money back into his businesses. (He lived in a trailer well into his 40s, long after he became a millionaire.) Now he has three homes — all in his beloved wetlands. One is on an 80-acre ranch in Weston, another is on a huge, 5,000-acre ranch next to the Big Cypress Preserve, and his favorite is a remodeled home in the Everglades that was originally built by his game-warden grandfather in 1946.