Tennis has played a huge role in Realtor Ken Oliver’s life — on the court, in business and in love.
Thanks to one of the best men’s tennis players of the 20th century, you might say Ken and Susie Oliver’s courtship began on the court.
Ken, 65, didn’t even started playing tennis until he was 16, but was good enough to play on the varsity team at the University of South Florida for four years. After graduating, he went to work for All American Sports, a New York-based company that held tennis clinics across the country.
Fate intervened when Australian tennis star Rod Laver — ranked No. 1 in the world from 1964 to 1970 — invited Ken to come to Hilton Head Island’s Palmetto Dunes Resort as a touring pro for Laver’s company.
Susie, who grew up and graduated from college in Canada, had already been working in marketing for the company for several years. But Ken traveled for work, and it would take several years before they connected.
On Hilton Head, top officials from the Dunes Marketing Group encouraged Ken to get his real estate license, which would enable him to refer tennis clients to the company for a small kickback fee.
“At that point, I was non-threatening. I was just a tennis pro,” Ken says with a laugh.
Nearly four decades later, Ken remains with Dunes as lead agent of his own group, Ken Oliver and Associates. Specializing in high-end oceanfront properties, he’s been the company’s top seller for 34 of the past 40 years.
Ken and Susie say their partnership has thrived in part because they recognized the importance of family early on. Real estate is a notoriously on-call business, but by the time the couple had their third child, Ken decided to stop working on weekends unless there were no alternative.
“We’ve always been very involved with our kids,” Ken said. “People would say, ‘Ken and Susie, you want to go out Friday night?’ and we’d say, ‘No, we’re going to a football game.’ Or an art exhibit or cheerleading competition.”
Today their four grown children have found success in a variety of pursuits. Lauren, 29, works in outdoor education and currently lives in Australia; Heather, 26, is a pediatric medical surgery nurse in Charleston; Clay, 24, recently joined his father’s real estate sales team; and Craig, 20, is a sophomore at Clemson University.
The island has always been a great place to raise a family, the couple says.
“Our children grew up ‘shoes off.’ … It’s a very easy place to live,” Susie says. “People talk about Southern hospitality. Well, it truly exists here. That hasn’t changed.”
As the population on the island has soared toward past 40,000, the real estate business has fundamentally shifted, Ken says. Long gone are the days when agents had to wait a month between phone book-sized publications that published listings and most clients just showed up at the office. The product itself has shifted significantly, as well.
“Years ago, there was a lot of new product and new development, and tremendous advertising to bring people in to see the product,” Ken says. “Today, there isn’t anything new. It’s a resale market.”
Ken said that he’s somewhat unusual, having spent his entire career with Dunes at a time when agents frequently bounce from company to company. The rewards of his steadfastness have been palpable, he says.
“I’ve helped thousands of families over generations,” he says. “I’ve had people who bought from me, and now their grandkids are buying.”