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“This will be the hardest thing you have ever done.”
Jason Holwerda: The wise words of Foundry CEO Paul Ellis spoken to a young, brash, naive broker from Nashville who showed up for an interview in 2014. CNL Commercial Real Estate had just announced the acquisition of the service platform of Crescent Communities, my employer. As I sat in the warm conference room in Orlando, FL, surrounded by my future colleagues, trying to fight off sleep following my 4:00 AM wakeup call, my head began spinning with the possibilities of opening up a new market. I had been looking for something in my professional life worth building, something worth fighting for, something new that I could have my fingerprints all over. Better said, I was looking to help build a company I would be proud to see my sons work for one day…and I knew this was it. I left that day with two things: the first was a renewed passion for real estate being part of a truly unique platform, and the second was the sobering reality that this would live up to Mr. Ellis’ description as the hardest thing I have ever done.
After accepting the job and effectively being marooned on a lonely island called Nashville—more specifically the lonely Suite 201 at 9045 Carothers Parkway—I began mapping out a plan of how I would grow this market. I had grand plans of recruiting, acquiring, winning, growing, culture building, office designing and profitability. White boards filled with diagrams, dots connected by strings leading to thoughts and people and products. Properties to lease, sell, develop, build and buy. Partners, clients, staff and infrastructure to figure out. The office looked like a never-ending web of ideas and connections that John Nash (look him up) would’ve been proud of. And then came Tuesday…and Wednesday…and weeks and months that followed. Nothing progressed; everyone said “no.” I had been meeting with people and telling the good story, pitching business and recruiting with a business card no one had ever seen. I was selling a dream but everyone I was talking to was already awake.
So, back to the drawing board…back to basics. Rather than trying to build a market, I started building a business. It started with small wins: small tenant representation assignments, subleases, property management assignments, leasing assignments and then recruiting. In July of 2015 we made our first official hire, a young property manager (now turned broker) named Shelby Hall. After Shelby, we started focusing on areas to grow the business via office agency leasing and property management. Joined by another young broker almost a year later, we were able to win some bigger listings. A veteran real estate savant named Don Albright, with a 40-year history in Nashville, entrusted us with the next step in his long and illustrious career and Tara Hasenour, a talented and creative graphic designer, followed suit. Another win with veteran asset manager, broker, developer and all-around-swiss-army-knife, Rick Frazier, then Willis, Les, Ben, Melissa, Hannah, Sarah, Matt and the snowball keeps rolling. We could now field a team that could compete and win business.
Just as important was growing the brand. In 2016 Foundry lifted its business out from its parent CNL and recapitalized the company with a private equity firm called HQ Capital. We had a new name, new logo, and new colors. From a company no one had heard of (at least in Nashville), to an upstart with potential, to a service provider that capital groups were asking to come and see, we were making progress. We moved from our humble 1,500-square-foot office space in what we refer to as our “animal house fraternity days” to the Pinnacle Building in downtown Nashville. Making that move elevated our brand as we moved into our cool, open office space with some reclaimed bleacher board (from my high school gym) for a conference room table, a killer view and a bluetooth speaker with a pretty sweet playlist depending on the day/meeting.
In late 2017, we began a casual conversation with a brokerage firm that we had admired and respected as a competitor named OakPoint Advisors. A casual conversation among friends turned into a meeting of the minds, and that meeting of the minds turned into a path forward. After months of discussion and back-and-forth, we had found both a company that shared our culture and passion for real estate and an opportunity to join forces as an alternative service provider in the greater Nashville region. Rather than tell you about it from my perspective, let me introduce Rick Helton, who along with his partner John Keller, made the decision that would ultimately double the size of our office.
Rick Helton: Hello, Foundry Family! While I’ve only been a member of the family for less than two months, it seems like I’ve known many of you for much longer. This is because our admiration for Foundry Commercial, for Jason and for the broader leadership team has been growing for some time now. In fact, once we gained an understanding over a year ago of what Foundry Commercial stood for as an organization, we immediately began to feel a kinship with those who were growing the company.
First, let me give you a little back story. This story involves my long-time business partner, John Keller. John and I have worked together at four different companies in the past 17 years—from Trammell Crow to ProVenture to OakPoint and now to Foundry. We co-founded OakPoint Advisors in early 2013, wanting to create a boutique services company where we’d care greatly for the success of our clients and for our fellow team members. A company where we’d enjoy working together, where that sense of enjoyment would translate to a higher level of service for our clients. We wanted to create a company where the ultimate goal would be providing our clients with outstanding advice as they navigated complex real estate decisions, not simply brokering transactions. We wanted them to succeed because if they did, we knew our success would follow. That’s why we emphasized our role as advisors to our clients, and not merely as brokers. (Do these aspirational values sound familiar?)
So, when Nick McKinney and Charles Jonas came to town in late 2017 and we started a casual conversation along with Jason and Don Albright, it didn’t take long for everyone to recognize the cultural compatibility of our
As Jason mentioned, those conversations soon picked up momentum as we began to contemplate how we could unlock greater value as a combined firm in Nashville than what we could accomplish by ourselves. Combined, we felt we could serve more clients with more services better than anyone else.
Despite the compatibility, I’ve learned that mergers aren’t easy and require thoughtful planning and execution to achieve integration. It will take focus and effort to unlock the value we know is there. We’re still early in this process, but I have a strong sense we’re on the right path. I get a sense of affirmation every time I interact with fellow members of the Foundry team. You guys care about each other and about your clients in a personal way that’s evident and authentic. Even though I share these same beliefs, your obvious passion for the business inspires and motivates me each day.
I’m writing this as we approach Thanksgiving and I’d be remiss if I didn’t express some gratitude on these pages. First, I’m very grateful to John Keller for being a great partner and for being “all-in” to make this happen. We could not have done this without his conscientious diligence as we worked out all the details of the transition with Paul, Scott, Gregg, Nick, Jason, Brandy and many others. I’m also grateful to every member of our OakPoint team who took a leap of faith with us to sign up for this next chapter together. Andrew, Dianne, Scott, Ally, John and Kayla: you are all rising stars. I really love being on this career adventure with you guys. I look forward to seeing the kind of impact you will make at Foundry, and how your careers will flourish under the new banner. Lastly, I want to thank everyone at Foundry for being so supportive and welcoming to all of us, and to the local Nashville team who are already starting to feel like family. We’re proud to lock arms with you to tackle the opportunities and challenges of meaningfully growing our business together in such a dynamic market. Back to you, Jason!
JH: Despite the relative success and progress made over almost five years now, we still have a long way to go and we are just getting started. We believe in Nashville. We believe that there is a seam in the market for a regional brokerage firm, like Foundry, to emerge. We believe in a high touch, institutional level of service, overlaid with a development and investment arm that’s able to execute on transactions. We believe there is runway in Nashville that is as good or better than any real estate story in America. Most importantly, we believe in our people and in this team.
So Paul, I would like to revisit and maybe amend your statement from 2014 to this. “This is, in fact, the hardest thing I have ever done, but it is also the most rewarding” and I can’t wait for Tuesday.