Speiser shares optimism from GE Johnson’s view

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DSC_4376Born and raised in Colorado Springs, Peter Speiser planned to be a physical therapist and work in sports medicine — but as is often the case, life took him in a different direction. After competing on the wrestling team at St. Mary’s High School and playing some hockey and football on the side, he enrolled at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, earning a bachelor’s in psychology to pursue his pre-medical interests.

Speiser earned a master’s in business administration from Regis University, and when he won a certified public accountant preparatory class at a fundraising auction, he pursued that as well, becoming a CPA in 2003. Pre-med long forgotten, Speiser also became a chief financial officer.

Speiser and his wife Kristi have a son and two daughters. During spare time, he enjoys pheasant hunting, fly fishing and a little skiing. Recently, Speiser spoke with the Business Journal about his career, his time as executive director of finance for GE Johnson Construction Co. since 2006, and where the company is headed.

 

How has your career prepared you for your current position?

After graduating college, I painted houses for two years. Then in ’93, I started at Memorial Hospital in the film room, in the clerical side of radiology, and took over some supervision responsibilities there.

It was also in that time frame I began working on my MBA and used my course work and relationships at the hospital as leverage to gain a position in the finance department. So my first role in finance was as a managed care contract specialist. We reviewed contracts from HMOs, suggested alternate language and modeled out the proposed rates. Then we teamed up with someone from business development to negotiate contracts.

When a position opened as financial analyst, I was lucky enough to take that on. A financial analyst essentially acts as a consultant to the clinical departments. And during that time frame I met Mike Smith at Colorado Casino Resorts, when we were both working on our MBAs. Then I accepted a position as CFO with that company in 2001. I never thought I’d end up in gaming … but working with Mike was a huge boost to my career. He’s an attorney and a great strategist. I picked up a tremendous amount of knowledge working with him. We oversaw a variety of subsidiary companies, and I gained a breadth of experience.

In July of 2006, I became CFO of GE Johnson. GE Johnson enjoys a tremendous reputation. It’s a quality company. And I’d known Jim [Johnson, the company president] for a while. We had worked on an expansion of a casino in Cripple Creek that GE Johnson had originally built. I saw it as an opportunity to progress to a larger, more sophisticated company.

 

What’s been the most challenging project?

The bankruptcy process for Colorado Crossing. It takes an incredible amount of time, and it happened during the recession, when property values dropped. Property values don’t support liens on the property, and the administrative process is incredibly expensive, from the attorney viewpoint and the time the contractors have had to spend with little result to date. And the creditor has not helped in any way to move the process forward.

 

How did GE Johnson fare during the recession, and what are your expansion plans in the next year?

Nearly all contractors saw tremendous shrinkage during the recession. We are back to our pre-recession levels in employees, revenue and profitability. We range from 400 to 500 employees and craftsmen.

We’ve been in Vail four years. During the recession, other companies left, but we stayed. We felt it was a good time to solidify our position there, and one of our niches is mountain resorts.

From a growth and expansion standpoint, last year we opened our fourth office. We have offices in Colorado Springs, Vail, Denver and Jackson, Wyo. And in early spring, we’ll open our fifth office in Oklahoma City. Our expansion in Oklahoma City is part of our expansion strategy to grow both geographically and in niches.

 

What is GE Johnson’s involvement in the community?

Obviously, we’ve had a long history of philanthropy. But one of the things we’re most proud of is we recently began the GE Johnson Construction Company Community Foundation — primarily to promote public, educational, scientific, arts and sports charities.

We typically give away nearly $1 million to 250 to 500 charities per year. The board of the foundation is made up of GE Johnson employees who have a history of giving back to the community. We wanted to solidify our philanthropic approach for years going forward.

 

Where does GE Johnson stand with the City for Champions project?

We’re in Colorado Springs for a reason. We support the community — and we look forward to learning more about how City for Champions may benefit the community.

 

What are some of your current local projects?

Certainly we take a tremendous amount of pride in the fact that we’re located in Colorado Springs, and that pride can be illustrated through projects like the Lane Center [for Academic Health Sciences at UCCS]. We’re happy it’s a highly visible project and this project was a great fit for us since it includes two of our core niches — health care and education. We’re excited about the growth at UCCS and proud to be a part of it.

Our other high-profile project right now is The Broadmoor. We built the original [Broadmoor West] structure in 1976, and we’re [doing] a complete renovation in 28 weeks. It’s a tremendous amount of work in a very short time — because the owner wants it ready for summer.

This project includes over 200,000 square feet, and there are 175 guest rooms being completely renovated as well as the common areas and restaurants, new exterior skin and “wedding cake” top to complement the main hotel. This project also illustrates the ingenuity of GE Johnson. For example, the bathrooms [for each guest room] were built in modular form and then inserted into the building.

 

What are you involved with in the community?

I’m on the board of Catholic Charities as treasurer. And I work in particular with Corpus Christi Catholic School (where my youngest daughter attends), and I’m president of the school advisory board. Originally, I just signed up and didn’t realize how involved I would become. It’s somewhat contagious once you get started — I’m developing a passion for preserving and promoting Catholic education in Colorado Springs.