Blessing took some time recently to talk to the CSBJ.
How did Griffis/Blessing get its start?
Ian Griffis and I started the company in 1985 during our senior year at Colorado College. We scraped money together from fellow students and bought a small house near the campus, renovated it, and leased it to some friends. After that first purchase, we bought several more houses and small apartment buildings over the following couple years, and our investor base expanded from students to their parents. Additionally we expanded into providing property management services for third party owners not associated with our own investments. That business has grown tremendously over the years to where we are now the largest management company in southern Colorado and one of the largest in the state. While Ian left the company in 1997, we remain very good friends, and he now has a similar, very successful business based in Denver.
In recent years, the business has been focused on partnering with high net worth individuals and family offices to acquire apartment buildings, office, industrial and retail properties. Our current focus is on acquiring large apartment communities, and we like that asset class because it provides a stable cash flow stream, with much less risk than distressed office and retail investments.
Griffis/Blessing is one of the region’s largest employers. What things have been key to its success?
I think the number one thing that I have done well is identifying top talent, and managing to keep them around. Our seven senior executives average over 18 years with the company. I don’t think a company can grow effectively to our size if the guy at the top is a micro-manager. Hiring the best people, and people who are passionate about what they do, and giving them the autonomy and authority to do what they do best is a huge part of our success.
And that philosophy runs all the way through the company. Take our receptionist, Shari Waddell. Shari has been the face of Griffis/Blessing for almost 22 years, and you won’t find anyone better at that position. Nor will you find anyone more concerned with assisting each and every person she talks to. And I think that brings us to a second key to our success: Everyone here really does live by the golden rule: we try to make decisions based on what is fair and how we would like to be treated. Integrity is forefront at Griffis/Blessing, and I think we do a good job of melding the best of being a big company (systems, software, etc.) with the caring, high touch, service oriented approach of a small company.
How has Griffis/Blessing been effected by the economic downturn? How has the company weathered the storm?
We’ve been affected like everyone else in that our revenue is down substantially. Our business has two sides to it: property management and investments. While management revenue has been negatively impacted by falling rents and increasing vacancies on the commercial side, we have been able to offset that loss by diversifying our business lines to include handling property tax appeals and receivership work
On the investment side, while our investments have suffered like everyone else’s. We have weathered the storm extremely well because conservative underwriting solid due diligence, and low leverage have been hallmarks of our investing style since the beginning. One of the strong features of our investment company is that we work hard to ensure that our partner’s interests and our interests are aligned as we make investments. For example, our senior executives invest substantially in every asset we acquire on the same terms as our partners. I think that that alignment of interests, has positioned us well as we look at new opportunities today.
What are your goals for Griffis/Blessing in the next 12 months?
To grow our third party property management business by taking on a few high quality assignments, and to identify 2 — 3 quality investments to acquire. We continue to look at dozens of investments each month, but have simply not found anything recently which we are excited about moving forward on.
What are some of the biggest changes you’d like to see in Colorado Springs in the next few years?
I think Colorado Springs is currently going through an identity crisis. I think it is important for our political, business, and community leadership to all be on the same page as to the messaging regarding what is great about Colorado Springs. A lack of leadership the last few years has left a void that has allowed individuals with negative messages to garner media attention that inaccurately portrays our community in a negative light. I am excited about our future with Steve Bach at the helm, and I believe under his leadership we will return to attracting innovative companies and individuals to Colorado Springs. It is important that we continue working to build a vibrant and diverse economy through growth of primary employers.
Additionally, I think it is critical that we continue efforts to grow jobs and living opportunities downtown. The strength and vitality of the core of the city is a key indicator of the health of the entire community, and it is a simple truth that there is no great city that doesn’t have a great downtown.