The will to win

Olympic downhill skier turned real estate entrepreneur Cary Mullen knows how to win whether it's on the slopes or in the real estate business. Now he's taking his portfolio to the next level by building a beautiful beachfront resort. Shane Buckingham explains

Cary Mullen has never been afraid of what the masses are scared to do. Putting life and limb on the line, this two-time Olympian rigorously competed as a downhill skier for more than 10 years on the national team, bringing home a gold medal from the World Cup downhill competition in Aspen, Colorado in 1994 and setting a world downhill speed record of 156 kilometres per hour in Kitzbuhel, Austria.

Mullen's fast-paced, risky career as a professional skier has only added to his intensity and independence in the business world and has provided him with a near-instinctive ability to "pull the trigger" when he sees the right opportunity. near the city of Puerto Escondido, a location he meticulously researched and believes is the country's next development hotspot.

From humble beginnings

Mullen's dream of competing in the Olympics for a third time in Nagano, Japan was cut short by a severe concussion he suffered after a devastating crash at the season-opening World Cup downhill race in Beaver Creek, Colorado, in December 1997.

Wiping tears, Mullen told a crowd of more than 70 people in November 2000 that he was giving up professional skiing after sustaining his third concussion in his decade-long career.

"Those concussions were pretty severe. I couldn't remember the alphabet or do my times table," the 41-year-old recalls. "So it was pretty scary for a while wondering if I was Today, this successful investor and owner of more than 50 Canadian income properties is building a more than 250- unit resort on the Pacific coast of Mexico ever going be able to support myself financially."

Mullen's double vision and harsh headaches, symptoms from his 1997 accident, finally subsided in August 1998. After some serious soul-searching, Mullen recognized health was No. 1 and "that family and relationships were even more important than trophies," he says.

"I also came to realize when I was recovering from some of my injuries that you can really reach a dark place, which can either damage your soul or inspire your soul. And I am fortunate to be inspired by some of the tough recoveries I had," he says. "And I wanted to share my story with others so that it might inspire them to achieve their dreams as well."

Life's a stage

After his retirement at age 31, Mullen went on to work as a sales and general manager for Dale Carnegie Training, where he perfected his public speaking skills so he could tell his story to others.

During this time, he also consulted with many international corporations to help them improve their business operations. Mullen flourished in his newfound career so in 2006 he decided to put his five winning strategies down on paper in a book called How to Win (See Mullen's 5 winning secrets).

"The process of How to Win starts with knowing what you want professionally, knowing what you want personally and knowing what you want financially, then achieving those results."

For Mullen, starting in 2002 for instance, he envisioned the result he wanted to achieve was finding the perfect beachfront location to build a world-class resort.

"Real estate investing is in my blood, and I wanted to find the best value beachfront property in a burgeoning area," he adds. He says he learned early in his investing career, which he started at 21, to "bet on recreation towns." At first, Mullen went chasing after deals based on price, leading him to invest in a number of properties in Strathmore, Alta., instead of the more-desired location of Canmore, Alta., a ski-town nestled in the Rocky Mountains.

"I should have paid more and bet on the recreational town. I've seen recreation properties in key areas boom much faster than plain Jane destinations," he admits. Mullen's newly formed goal, in addition to the lessons he learned early in his career, would put him on a path to Mexico.

Finding Mexico

Never one to follow a crowd, Mullen set out to find a real estate investment opportunity others were either overlooking or were too frightened to take.

He compiled a list of 44 factors he believed would make a superior investment, which includes good weather, direct or convenient transportation and, of course, a developing market currently unnoticed, but that's ready to deliver increasing cash flow and appreciation.

In 2002, he hit the books, researching more than 30 countries and soon after set out on a trip that would take him all over the globe and to more than a dozen countries. In 2007, after an exhaustive search, Mullen settled on what he believed to be the most ideal location: Puerto Escondido.

First of all, the city, which is about an eight-hour drive from the Guatemala border, has a very low risk of hurricanes - a finding that was Mullen's No. 1 priority. Puerto Escondido is also a main tourist destination for Mexicans, offering scenic beaches, mildly warm ocean water and beautiful weather. In fact, the temperature typically doesn't fluctuate more than 3 C, varying between 26 C and 29 C year-round, while the humidity usually doesn't exceed 70%. The rainy season takes place during the summer, leaving light to no precipitation in winter months.

"It's phenomenal for snowbirds or Canadians just looking to get away, whether it be for living away from the country or just escaping the winter," Mullen says, adding that travellers can take direct flight to Huatulc, which is less than an hour-and-a-half bus ride away. Ranked as one of the top 10 surfing spots in the world, Puerto Escondido also offers plenty of recreational activities for vacationers. "It has that recreational side, which drives up the prices of real estate more when it's got that youthful, energetic component to it," he says.

VIVO Resorts

Why did Mullen start his company, VIVO Resorts, in 2007, having already developed a smaller luxury rental property in Mexico near Oaxaca called Casa Rubia? "Three reasons: lifestyle, investment, passion," he says. "I wanted to live on the beach in a great weather area. This vision was for me, my wife, my kids and my parents.

My bet is that great value beachfront property is going to boom in the next 15 years due to the baby boomers starting to retire."

VIVO Resorts, which is in the first phase of construction, will include 154 beachfront condominiums, 104 villa lots and the central clubhouse building hosting the resort amenities. Mullen's resort will offer a rental management program, which can be quite profitable for those only looking to spend the winter away since the city is a hotspot for Mexican tourists who go on vacation during the summer months.

In fact, Mullen says some rentals in the area can go for as much as $3,000 a month depending on the location.

"That's pretty high, which is fantastic if you're looking at it as an investor," he says. The city, though just four-and-a-half hours south of Acapulco, is not a centre of gang violence or the drug trade, he says. Too often people Mullen talks to believe that because there's crime in Acapulco or on the U.S.-Mexico border that other areas are also dangerous.

"That'd be like me saying, 'There were some gang shootings in New York, so don't go to Oregon,' " he says. "The challenge is that people are often painting all of Mexico with one brush when there are some places that are dangerous and there are other areas that are not."

Overall, Mullen is confident in the research he's done for his biggest real estate undertaking and is now on his way to accomplishing the results he set out to achieve five years ago.

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