Charles L. Fulton (retired)
As published in Business North Carolina, Legal Elite, 2002
Raleigh real-estate developer Steve Stroud can't imagine doing a deal without Charlie Fulton. "He probably knows more about real estate and real-estate transactions than anyone alive," says Stroud, chairman of Carolantic Realty, a commercial broker and developer.
Nearly 40 years of experience and a feel for the dynamics of deal making give Fulton, 74, his edge. His clients are the big boys in Triangle development, including Carolantic, Craig Davis Properties and Highwoods Properties, a Raleigh-based real-estate investment trust that he helped organize.
Stroud points to the White Oak Crossing shopping center in Garner as an example of Fulton's technique. "The complexity of that deal was almost beyond my comprehension. So many issues had to be resolved at one time, and so many people had to land at the same place at the same time. The bank won't close on a $55 million construction project without that." The 525,000square-foot shopping center, which is under construction, will have more than 30 tenants, including several bigbox retailers.
Stroud likens White Oak to carrying a bucket of frogs with no lid on it. "Charlie is the only attorney I know who can carry that bucket and keep all the frogs from jumping out."
Fulton's style matters as much as his knowledge of the law, says Ron Gibson, Highwoods president and CEO. "He's very direct. You always know where he stands. To me, that's a virtue. He's taught me how not to mince words." Fulton helped start Highwoods in 1978. "He navigated us through the deals to help us move from an idea to a multimillion-dollar company. He wasn't a partner, but you'd think he was."
Fulton's journey to the Legal Elite started in the humblest corner of North Carolina. His father left the family when he was 3, and he moved with his mother and two brothers to his grandparents' farm in the "heart of poor Appalachia" in Macon County. A bad case of pneumonia kept him out of school for a year, but he still graduated from high school at 15.
Manning, Fulton & Skinner, LLP
Born: Dec. 11, 1927, Highlands
Education: bachelor's, 1947, law, 1950, UNC Chapel Hill
Family: wife, Marilyn; five children; eight grandchildren
Fulton's rule: "Your mistakes come back to haunt you."
Legal hero: Judge Benjamin Cardozo
Favorite authors: John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Nicholas Evans
Passions: reading (sometimes three books a weekend)
Obsession: duplicate bridge (plays online with players all over the world)
He would be happy if he never: did another residential closing.
"Getting out of the mountains was my main objective," he says. An aunt who was a teacher instilled in him a value of education, and John Henry Fulton, his grandfather, taught him to love reading and writing. "In the field, he would quote poetry."
An undergraduate scholarship to UNC Chapel Hill was Fulton's ticket out of the hills. After graduating from law school in 1950, he joined the Navy, followed by a stint at the law firm of Howard Manning. He and Manning joined with a third partner to form Manning, Fulton & Skinner in 1955. In 1957, he married the widow of a close friend who had been killed in a plane crash. She came with four children, and they had one of their own in 1962.
Early on, he decided litigation wasn't for him. "I worried constantly that I'd forgotten something. I couldn't leave it at the office. I tried cases in my head all night long." In real estate, he got more time to think about the nuances of each transaction. That suited his perfectionist streak: "I'm fairly intense. I expect people to get things right."
Something that hasn't changed from his days in Chapel Hill is his love of reading. At his custom-built Raleigh house, he spends much of his spare time on his 1,600-square-foot wraparound deck with a book and classical music playing in the background. Even inside, he's outside: The house has 96 windows, many floor-to-ceiling, overlooking a tree-lined lot.
He now works only three days a week, spending as much time as he can with his eight grandchildren. He's also a lay minister at Grace Lutheran Church. And he plays duplicate bridge online with players all over the world. Even so, he can't imagine ever fully retiring.
Stroud hopes he won't: "The day I can't pick up the phone and talk to Charlie, that may be the day I quit, too."