He is a modern-day cowboy, this man who is an iconic name in Broward County for the empire he has created in real estate.
Ron Bergeron — or “Alligator Ron,” as he is aptly known — has swagger, dressed in his cowboy hats and button-down shirts. He’s got horses — 20 of them — as well as a handful of ranches, and a self-confidence that spurs his hard work and old-fashioned grit.
He is CEO of Bergeron Family of Cos., an umbrella group for 60 privately owned companies. He is owner of a trash disposal company and a former commissioner with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The philanthropist, who owns vast swaths of land, also had a hand in growth of the area’s highways and housing developments. “You may have noticed 595,” he quips of the interstate highway.
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For his business leadership, Bergeron has received the Sun Sentinel Co.’s Excalibur Large Business Leader award for Broward.
Although he said he was born accidentally — as a preemie — while on a family vacation to Louisiana, Bergeron considers himself a diehard Floridian from his mother’s side of the family. They moved to Florida from Georgia in the 1800s, settling in Plant City.
About Ron Bergeron
In 1910, his mother’s father moved to Lake Okeechobee, where the family lived by fishing and trapping along the shores of the lake. The family moved to West Palm Beach in the 1920s and to Davie after World War II.
His grandfather was a game warden of the Everglades who took him on his first airboat ride when he was just a small child.
His father, Percy Bergeron, grew, cut and sold hay in Davie. He later opened one of the town’s first grocery stores, which closed in the 1950s.
Ron Bergeron, 74, said he grew up poor, especially compared with friends whose families owned citrus groves and cattle and dairy farms.
“My mother always said, ‘Thank God for the day and what you got, and don’t worry about what you ain’t got cause you ain’t got it anyway,’” he said.
Before he became a millionaire, Bergeron was an accomplished rodeo competitor. He started his career in 1962 as a bronc rider and won several championships. Among his rodeo highlights: qualifying among the top 15 cowboys in the world at the 1984 International Rodeo Association finals in Tulsa, Okla.
He got his first developer job with some moxie. He was 22 and owned just a bulldozer and a dump truck. He asked developer Mort Kalin to hire him to lay the infrastructure for 3,000 acres that became the Pembroke Lakes and Pembroke malls.
“I’m not building a driveway, I’m building a city,” Kalin first told him, before bonding over a love of horses and then the job offer.
About Bergeron Family of Cos.
Bergeron went on to become the founder and CEO of the Bergeron Family of Cos., which comprises 60 businesses that employ hundreds of people in highway construction, rock pits and quarries, agriculture, real estate development, waste development and disaster recovery services.
When he became a success, Bergeron asked his parents to join him in the business venture. They “worked with me, not for me,” he said.
His father, who died in 1988, was named vice president of Bergeron Land Development, which eventually built the $119 million State Road 84 interchange to connect Interstate 595, Interstate 95 and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. He was also president of Bergeron Sand & Rock Mining Inc., which produces the material used in road projects.
His mother, Dorothy Bergeron, worked in about a half-dozen Bergeron businesses, dealing with everything from mining to land development. She died in 1991.
Today, Ron Bergeron’s four daughters — Diamond Rose, Sierra Starr, Lisa and Debbie — have gone their own way, with careers as a country music singer, registered nurse, missionary-turned-ranch operator and real estate agent, respectively.
But his sons, Ronnie Jr. and Lonnie, have taken up the family business, and their titles depend on the company. Ronnie Jr. deals with highway construction and quarries, and he expanded the business to create Bergeron Emergency Services, a national disaster clean-up company. Lonnie oversees the 75 commercial, residential and industrial real estate properties across the country that the family has been buying since 1968.
Ron Bergeron has famously never publicly revealed his net worth. Asked whether he’ll finally share that number now, he replies with a smile: “Probably not.”
But he has ranches in Parkland, Weston and Ocala and an 8,000-acre preserve in Hendry County. He said he bought 2,500 acres of land in 1972 at $2,000 an acre — it’s worth hundreds of times more now — in southwest Broward, and he won’t let it go.
“I don’t sell a lot of land. I create annuities for the future. Land values are still going up,” he said.
And he shares his wealth with one of his favorite charities, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Broward County, by lending his Weston ranch as the site of a flow of fundraisers.
Five questions for Ron Bergeron
Matt Organ, executive vice president of the Boys and Girls Club, said in the past 22 years the organization has raised about $10 million from donors who want to spend a full day on a working ranch surrounded by nature.
“First of all, he’s awesome,” said Organ. “He’s simply an awesome human being, he’s one of the good people on this earth. He’s very humble and gracious.”
Bergeron is modest about his accomplishments. At the end of the day, he says he’s just a cowboy who still puts his “pants on one leg at a time.”
“My culture, roots and heritage are still the same,” he said.
And he approaches his business with the same attitude he does as a cowboy.
“I go to a rodeo to kick your ass,” he said.