15 Years - A long thank you note.
Posted on March 28, 2022
When we first started the company in 2007, we were very focused on standing out in a crowded Commercial Real Estate industry. Maybe because there were only 12 of us, it was all we had! As we moved into social media, and LinkedIn in particular, we tried to carry that forward. Hopefully you won’t hear us saying we are a “Leading Commercial Real Estate platform”, because when we were setting up our profile, we realized there where about 4,000 leading commercial real estate platforms!
So, we decided to really try and present on LinkedIn who we are. Yes, we are going to talk about our deals, our growth and our Development and Investment business; that is part of who we are. But we also want to give you a look inside our culture, which we believe is the most important thing about Foundry. In that light, here is our short 2021 lookback we shared with our team. I get really encouraged by the people in the video, laughing and serving together. I hope that is a part of who we are:
2022 is our 15th anniversary, something that we intend to celebrate the entire year. However, as I thought about the best way to kick this off, I can think of no better way than to publicly start by saying ‘Thank You’ to many of you who made Foundry possible and got us to this point.
First and foremost, thank you the original twelve partners at Foundry. It was the desire to keep our relationships intact that kicked this whole journey off. I still remember Jimmy Johnson calling me and saying ‘we should stay together’ after the CBRE/Trammell Crow acquisition. I think of John McRae being the first one to say he was in. I think of my mentor and friend Chip Lilley almost every day since his passing. Some of those partners left and one retired when CNL Commercial Real Estate became Foundry; I thank them just as much as they were key to getting us off the ground. The Great Financial Crisis, 18 months after we started in 2007, cemented why we launched Foundry, knowing that relationships and how you treat people really are the most important things. I hope that continues to paint who we are.
Thank you to CNL Financial Group for sponsoring the start of our journey, it wasn’t easy. Andrew Hyltin, Deryck Harmer, and Mike Tetrick were the team to get us started. Tim Seneff was really our loudest cheerleader inside of CNL; I still miss his enthusiasm. Thank you to Thomas K. Sittema for being a partner in allowing us to lift out of CNL, and Holly (James) Greer for all of the 2015 negotiations, which was the hardest professional year of my career, the stress of doing a new thing often came through in my conversations and I wasn't always my best, my apologies and thank you for how you handled some of those tougher conversations. Thank you to Stephen Mauldin for serving on our board after lifting out of CNL, I know it was a volunteer effort, yet you were all in and your counsel as we started a new journey on our own was tremendous. It is all still not lost on us that CNL supported a start-up platform that was losing money during the financial crisis and allowed us to pivot our strategy when things didn’t go as planned. Jim Seneff has a tremendous track record of being a contrarian investor and really inspired us to grow during the Great Recession.
“the world doesn’t need another commercial real estate firm;” it was like a dagger… but they were right. The world doesn’t need another one, and we are not like the other ones.
A huge thank you to all those people that laughed at us when we started this thing. Maybe you smirked, perhaps you joked at us behind our back. I had former partners of mine, senior people in the industry that I really respect, and still do by the way, tell me the “world doesn’t need another commercial real estate firm;” it was like a dagger… but they were right, and their words are fuel for us. The world doesn’t need another one, and we are not like the other ones. We are built by people who can create their own shots, every year people join us and expand what we do and who we serve because they couldn’t do that at their previous firm. We are a place where you can create something, not just big new service lines, but our associates have changed our policies and how we look through their recommendations. The commercial real estate space is ultimately about building things - buildings, teams, organizations - and you can build something at Foundry.
Thank you to our first financial partner, HQ Real Estate, Jeremy Katz, Paul Doocy, Michael Fruchtman and Sylvia Gross. Foundry exists because you made a bet on us, and it is a huge blessing that we are still friends today. You trusted us, you let us run, and you were great counsel, as we have a tendency to go after everything! Thank you as well for letting us finalize our dream of owning the majority of the company. You really do need to re-calculate the IRR on our deal; I think it is better now. Because of you guys, CNL Commercial Real Estate became Foundry Commercial and tripled in size during our run.
Thank you to Oakwood Real Estate Partners, Bart Spaulding, Kevin Graff and Peter Cushman. We have doubled in size and tripled in investment volume since you joined us at the beginning of 2020. But most importantly, thank you for your friendship and for your counsel. We started our partnership at the beginning of COVID and you never flinched. We are just beginning our journey together, and we’re pretty excited about where we can take this.
Within those former and current partners, there are four men I feel must be called out and highlighted. Charlie Brindell, Jim Hendricks, Tuck Spaulding and Richard Coe. Our legacy comes from the Trammell Crow Company, and as a young partner at Crow, these men were legends. I looked up to them, and I still have the notes Charlie sent me when I was a rookie leasing agent. Each were known as the smartest guys in the room, but also, and more importantly, some of the nicest people you could be partners with, and I know that I am one among many at Foundry and throughout the broader industry who owe these men a great deal of gratitude. Charlie, Jim and Tuck could serve on any board in the country, and somehow, someway they each agreed to be on Foundry’s during our journey. They all are busy, uber-successful men in their own right, and they agreed to join us during really important seasons at just the right time, and Tuck and Jim are still with us. They all agreed for one reason, they cared about us and wanted to see us successful, and Charlie made me promise that one day I was required to pass it on. Rick Coe stepped into my career at a really crucial time at Crow and gave me advice that I am forever grateful for and will never forget. I will also never forget the time the crown on his tooth came flying out because he was laughing so hard, but that is another story. Thank you Rick for being part of our team at Foundry for a season, I miss seeing you every day! The Crow Partnership wasn’t perfect, there were too many humans involved for that, but it remains the greatest alumni network in our industry because there is something that was modeled there that was and is special. I want to continue to model it and carry it forward, and these men continue to exemplify that to me.
Our culture has never been one that was pressed down; it has always been shaped, refined, and made better by you. Keep pushing us; be courageous in what you do.
To our 400 associates, it is crazy just writing that number, their families and spouses, many of you have been here almost from the beginning, some of you have trusted us with the beginnings of your career, and still many of you are joining us at the end of your careers specifically to pass along what you have learned. How special is that? Thank you for how you care about Foundry and our culture. Our culture has never been one that was pressed down; it has always been shaped, refined, and made better by you. Keep pushing us; be courageous in what you do. As I have always stated, one of the unique things about a collaborative culture is that you will hear “No” more often because we can’t always do everything. But so many of you have your fingerprints on this company, and my hope is you will continue to do so over the years ahead.
Thank you to our 52 Foundry Partners. Some of you have joined us through acquisitions, some of you have grown into partnership. All of you have committed your talent, your personal capital, and your passion to Foundry. It is our charge to grow this group with the best and brightest of our industry. You get to vote on my role every day, and many of you do! And for that I am truly grateful. We have a special group of partners, and I hope you are as honored as I am to be a part of creating Foundry. There is still a lot to do by the way.
Thank you to our clients – too many to name. I think about those first ones in 2007, the amount of trust you had to place in a start-up firm to solve your needs was probably a little nerve-wracking. Today, I hope we still have that attitude serving your needs. We need to talk less about us and more about what we can do to solve your problems and create value. Many of you are still with us, and that is perhaps the greatest testament to who we are as a company. I hope our teams around the country still operate like this - focused on our clients’ needs like a start-up that has to be successful. To be clear…Foundry exists today because of you.
To our JV clients in our Development & Investment business. Today we are closing in on $4 billion in investments together, that is a crazy number to me and it started with an idea in 2014 when Pryse Elam joined us. We joke, but it is true, at a dinner in Denver we came up with the idea over one bottle of wine and finished the business plan over the second one! When we started, we didn’t imagine it would be this large this fast, but the more you affirmed us, the better our process became and the faster we grew. I think of Long Wharf Capital, Clarion, Intercontinental, Principal, and Prudential. You were among the first to stamp our card as an operator and your trust gave us credibility. Thank you for that trust. We have some large goals that are hard and fast that I believe in, and one of them is we truly want to be the best operator in the country you can partner with. Please let me know if we aren’t.
And finally, thank you to the communities we live in and serve. We have been given the privilege of building something special, it is not a right, and we are grateful for that privilege. The best way we can express that gratitude is to give back, and we look forward to seeing many of you during Serve Week in May.
25% of companies make it to 15 years and only 7% make it to 25. We are really focused on the next 10 years as this has been the honor of my career to be a part of this amazing team.
Nobody gets anywhere on their own and I hope at Foundry we don’t ever forget that or ever lose that gratitude, for real gratitude is the most powerful motivation on the planet.
And finally, finally, thank you to you, if you read this whole thing!
Paul Ellis, CEO Foundry Commercial
P.S. The thing about writing this is it made me realize how many more folks there are to thank! I missed so many people but hope you know that we are thankful for you even if you were not mentioned above. Here are just a few, Lisa Schultz , Woody Coley, Tracy G. Schmidt, Chirag Bhavsar, Jason Schrago, Dan Caligiuri, Lance Pokorny