Entrepreneur of the Year: S.R. Mills

2017 Ovation Awards

Grand opening for Willis Avenue Apartments in Perry, Iowa.

S.R. Mills

Bear Real Estate Goup
4011 80th St., Kenosha
Industry: Commercial Real Estate
Employees: 135

Stephen Mills
S.R. Mills

Growing up, S.R. Mills was surrounded by the real estate business.

His father, Stephen Mills senior, was hired in the 1970s as a real estate broker for I.J. Bear and Son; then a small residential brokerage firm based in Kenosha. He would later purchase the company from Manford Bear.

S.R. even graduated with a degree in real estate, finance and investment from St. Cloud University, but after college went to work in the technology space at several companies in northern California. 

For S.R., being an entrepreneur was, in a way, all he knew.

“I’ve always been doing it to some degree,” he said. “I never really saw anything different. I always kind of understood that running your own business usually means wearing multiple hats, working considerably more hours, and while there was usually more risk there was always more reward too.”

Mills joined his father, and the Bear family of companies in 2002.

He has earned a masters degree in real estate, and also holds the Certified Commercial Investment Member “CCIM” designation.  He also sits on the Wisconsin CCIM Board of Directors.

“I enjoyed the tech space, but (coming back) was a great opportunity for me to learn from my family and other leaders in the business,” Mills said.

Bear Real Estate got its start in the Kenosha community in 1924.

What started as a small, residential brokerage shop has quickly grown into a sizeable, real estate operation with six separate entities.

S.R. Mills serves as president and a principal of the company.

Under the Bear Real Estate Group umbrella is Bear Commercial, Bear Homes, Bear Capital, Bear Development, Bear Property Management, and CMA-Construction Management Associates.

Each company plays a pivotal role in the growth of the company which is focused on acquisition, development and construction of residential communities, retail, office, industrial, multi-family residential and hotels, said Mills.

The company has holdings in 17 states and is active and developing in six states at the moment.

“Our focus has shifted from small commercial and residential single family to more multi-family and high end market areas,” Mills said.

Nearly 60 percent of the company’s development work centers on multi-family development. The company specializes in workforce housing, senior housing and high-end market rate buildings.
Additionally, the company has expanded into the hospitality market, just finishing up a new hotel in downtown Milwaukee, and the health care market developing a new campus in Pleasant Prairie for Froedtert.

In addition, the company just received approval for a new subdivision in Pleasant Prairie as well.

“We’re going to continue to focus on what we think we do well,” Mills said. “We’re working with great partners and we’re positioned to continue to take advantage of Kenosha’s growth,” he said.

With the addition of Foxconn to the region, Haribo, IKEA and Amazon, Mills expects to continue to see growth in several markets.

The company plans to continue to grow and is currently looking at options to expand beyond its current 25,000-square-foot space, and also plans to hire additional employees.

Realistically, the company could add an additional 50-100 employees over the next three to five years, Mills said.

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