Perpetual motion. That’s Steve Ozonian in two words. He’s always moving, and with rare exception, he’s always moving forward. Except for when he’s turning left at 194 miles per hour, of course.
In his career, Ozonian has always moved forward. Onward and upward, as they say.
The son of a Chicago-area high-rise developer, Ozonian learned early on about what it means to have a vision and see it through to completion. He learned what it means to build something. He learned to tinker, to see the big picture and he learned a work ethic that would take him all the way to the top of the real estate business.
Ozonian’s father made sure that Steve learned these lessons early. His father was an executive vice president and developer of high-rise buildings in Chicago, including Edgewater Plaza, Lakeshore Towers and 1 Magnificent Mile, and he wasted no time putting Steve to work.
As a young man, Ozonian spent his summers working for his father’s company in various capacities, but never directly for his father.
“He always paired me with workers in the field,” Ozonian says today. “I was always working in the building with a foreman. So I spent my summers working with the carpenters, electricians, window crews, etc. It was very enlightening to be able to work on these skyscraper projects in Chicago.”
Perhaps seeing those buildings rise and learning that all the puzzle pieces have to fit together perfectly to build a 60-story building instilled an interest in learning the inner workings of everything in his life.
But did the urge to follow in his father’s footsteps ever strike Steve?
“I took some architectural classes in college but I didn’t like it,” he said. “I didn’t like standing over a piece of paper.”
He wanted to get in and get his hands dirty, and he couldn’t do that staring at a blueprint.
That led him from the summers spent working on skyscrapers to his first job out of graduate school at Chicago Title & Trust, where he was bitten by the technology bug.
You might not think that working for a title company in the early ‘80s would lead to a career spent in and around technology, but a fateful assignment led Ozonian down the path that would become his career.
When he began at Chicago Title & Trust, he was assigned to work with an investment chief who Ozonian describes as a “computer geek.”
“We would literally build computers from scratch,” Ozonian said. “We would put together memory cards. We built floppy drives. We wrote code. We were just playing around at the time, trying to figure out how to use this data for analytics in the research department.”
Ozonian remembers working with 16k memory cards, which were all the rage in the early stages of computer development, back in the 80s. “It was fun to see how you could use computer tools in the business workplace,” he said. “During my entire career, I’ve been involved with a lot of technology implementation.”
Ozonian says that to this day, he still can’t stand not having the latest gadget or technology. He’s always trying to figure out how to make things better or more efficient.
It’s certainly a trait that runs in his family. Ozonion’s wife Lynn works in robotics and has built a STEM lab. His son Collin has a degree in cognitive neuroscience and does advanced medical technology implementations for operating rooms.
The Ozonian’s other son Ryan graduated from the University of Southern California and started an app company called Mention Mobile. Steve helped him launch the company and “remains a big fan of his work.” But these days, one of the company’s main investors is Mark Cuban.
When Cuban was under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for insider trading, he went to Ryan with an idea. After a period of development, they launched CyberDust, which is based on “a zero footprint” lifestyle. “You shouldn’t have a to lead a life where every spoken word can be used against you,” Steve said.
Needless to say, when the four Ozonians get together, the conversations are interesting. “I happen to be around a lot of cool stuff because of my family,” Steve said. “And it keeps me young and on top of where things are headed. Clearly, being around them helps me learn. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t learn something new.”
Ozonian describes his family as “tightknit.” His sons followed in his footsteps as hockey players, which led the Ozonian family on some far-flung adventures.
Growing up in Chicago, Steve was a huge Blackhawks fan and he always wanted to play hockey, but his high school didn’t have a hockey team. That didn’t stop him from playing though.
Instead of just playing rec league or with his friends, Ozonion started the high school team himself. “I went to the board and asked them to form an ice hockey team,” he said. “At first, they said they couldn’t support it. And I said, ‘Why? You support football.’”
The board couldn’t exactly argue with him on that point, so they allowed him to form a hockey team but only as a club sport. “We’ll allow you to become a club sport, but we won’t give you any money,” the board told him.
Using some connections from his father, Ozonian got his funding and formed a team. And they won the club championship in their first season. He went on to play in college at Loyola University of Chicago.
He says that he learned invaluable life lessons during his time on the ice.
“Hockey is absolutely a team sport,” he said. “It teaches you a lot about cooperation, playmaking, supporting others, defending your business, so to speak. It just helps you to understand how to work with people and get along and make good things happen.
“I think I’ve had some success in business in large part due to sports as much as education.”
Both of Ozonian’s sons would follow in his skate-steps onto the ice. “My wife was an ice hockey girlfriend, an ice hockey wife and an ice hockey mom,” Steve said. “And probably will end up being an ice hockey grandmother at some point.”
But it wasn’t all about toting around hockey bags full of sweaty equipment. Collin played on a traveling team sponsored by Anatoli Semenov, who spent eight years in the NHL. Semenov’s son was on the team and was often Collin’s line mate.
Semenov took the team back to his home country of Russia and throughout Eastern Europe to play in tournaments. And Steve and Lynn traveled with the team as well. “We spent a tremendous amount of time with our kids,” he said. “They played all over the world in places like Russia and Sweden.”
But hockey and computers weren’t Steve’s only interests. In his high school auto shop class he found a passion that would stay with him throughout his life — working on cars. “Back then, you could actually work on cars,” he said. “I got hooked on working on cars. Today everything under the hood is all computer.”
Cars were more than just a passing fancy for Steve. In fact, he’s gone to racing and speed schools all over the country. Asked the fastest he’s ever been in a car, he says he hit 194 mph in a Formula 1 car at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
He even owns a house in the California desert at a private racing club called The Thermal Club. Ownership at the Thermal Club grants one access to the club’s four miles of “world-class” driving track where drivers can get their cars up to 200 miles per hour if the mood strikes.
These days, Steve and his wife make it out to Thermal once a month so he can scratch that racing itch. He takes his favorite car ever, a Ferrari 458, out on the track and races against the clock and other Thermal members.
But there’s no trading paint at the track. “It’s meant to be courteous racing,” he said.
With a price tag somewhere in the neighborhood of $250,000, you’d certainly hope it’s courteous racing.
“Some people think I’m crazy, but I actually take that car out on the track,” he said. “It devalues it if it’s been on the track, but that’s ok. It’s too much fun.”
In between his trips out to Thermal, Ozonian is the chief real estate officer for Carrington Mortgage Holdings, but his career has spanned just about every corner of the real estate business.
One of the notable lines on his resume is his time as CEO of Realtor.com. Ozonian says that it required a “leap of faith” for him to leave the traditional corporate environment behind and jump into the tech world.
Up until that point, Ozonian had spent eight years at Chicago Title before Coldwell Banker recruited him to help take the company from operating only in Southern California to operating nationally.
After spending eight years at Coldwell Banker, working in the national services group and leading the acquisition of new business, Ozonian transitioned to Prudential and became chief operating officer of the real estate company.
He describes the next stage of his career as the “big trigger point.” It was 1999 and the Internet was becoming a more universal presence. “I had always been stumping for technology,” Steve said.
“When the Internet became more pervasive as a tool to be used to provide transparency to the consumer, a lot of pundits were saying that Realtors would be disintermediated from the residential transaction. I didn’t believe that was true, but I knew that things had to change.”
Eventually, he took the leap and joined the team that would launch Realtor.com in late 1999. “We were trying to figure out how to keep Yahoo!, Microsoft and IBM from keeping Realtors out of the process,” he said. “And we built it into the No. 1 real estate portal in the world.”
His prominent position with Realtor.com meant that Ozonian was a man in high demand, with invitations to join many companies’ boards.
That led him to Bank of America, then LendingTree’s public board, and that eventually led to a call from Carrington, which was building a portfolio of real estate companies and expanding beyond servicing and originations.
“In my career, I’ve learned about title and closing, I’ve learned about residential transactions, about the corporate relocation business, about the mortgage business and then I learned about the internet business in real estate,” Ozonian said.
And at Carrington, which now offers services in insurance, escrow, real estate brokerage, single-family asset management, national property management, field services, valuation, and title, Ozonian can utilize his years of experience to help the company grow.
“I was fortunate throughout my career to have high-level positions in different parts of the industry, which today gives me a lot of confidence and credibility,” he said. “Because now I can go into any meeting in any part of the industry and feel very comfortable.”
These days, Ozonian doesn’t get much downtime. “The emails start at 6 a.m. and don’t stop until around midnight,” he said.
He wouldn’t have it any other way.