Michael Garvey was born on third base, and is trying to learn how to hit triples.
The grandson of Willard Garvey, Michael Garvey returned home five years ago after a brief career in the entertainment industry to take over as president of Builders Inc., a portfolio of real estate in Wichita and the region.
Garvey, 35, admits he’s had to grow into his job and that the process has been rough on him and his employees.
But now, he said, he’s at home running the company, although he might not come off that way, at first.
He’s comes across as one of those nice guys – boyish, bright, a bit awkward and, at times, painfully honest.
But the competence is there, said Dave Lovett, who has owned Book-A-Holic in Builders Inc.’s Parklane Shopping Center for years and now has several commercial properties managed by the company.
“When he first came in as Builders president, I watched to see how he’d do,” Lovett said. “I just can’t believe how far he’s come.”
Michael Garvey graduated from Wichita Collegiate School in 1995 and started college at Trinity University in San Antonio. A Christian Scientist, he finished his college at church-oriented Principia College in St. Louis, where his parents had gone.
He wanted to be an actor, so he moved to Los Angeles. Trying to get a foothold in the industry, he began as an assistant to a casting director for commercials.
He shelved that career after he witnessed the wife of a director veto an actress for a part because she looked like one of her husband’s old girlfriends.
The arbitrariness of the profession was a revelation. After that, he said, business made more sense.
So he started renting studio space for commercial auditions and posting the videos online for casting directors to view remotely. The business did well, he said, but the work was long and the price of living in Los Angeles during the property bubble was extraordinary. And he just grew tired of Los Angeles.
In 2006, his father, Jim, had asked if he wanted to be part of the family business.
At the time, the answer was no. A year later, it was yes.
His father was excited to turn the company over to his son.
“I was happy about him running his own business,” the elder Garvey said. “He made his own decisions, put his own money in it, knew what it was like to run his own business. That to me was good training. That helped my comfort level.”
Jim Garvey for years had taken a more hands-off approach at Builders Inc., allowing veterans on his staff to run the business.
In 2007, when Mike Garvey arrived at Builders Inc., headquartered in the company’s Parklane Shopping Center at Lincoln and Oliver, he discovered an established company with longtime employees who had developed certain ways of doing things.
“I didn’t want to be the guy who came back and rested on his laurels, you know?” Garvey said. “I knew what it was like to start a business at that point, and I felt that I could take something that had been here for a long time and make it better, change it.”
Anxious about taking over a large, established company, he compensated by trying to learn everything . He got an MBA at Wichita State University. He got high-level certifications in commercial real estate and property management. He dug through the company’s files, getting his hands deep into the nitty-gritty of the company’s many properties.
Then, he started telling his staff what to do, in detail.
“When I first came on board, I thought that business should be run top down,” he said. “And so, I had 11 different people running different divisions for Builders that I held accountable for the bottom line. So I would go into every line item in every budget. I really put the pressure on everyone to perform to these levels. I changed a lot of things, but I wasn’t very happy at all. I had never had to manage people before.”
He was, he concedes, a terrible micromanager. And it aggravated employees so much that some quit.
Carolyn Emery, who ran Builders Inc.’s apartment division for years, left after Garvey came on as president.
Garvey certainly changed the culture, she said, and that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“It’s gone from a more family-oriented, caring-about-its-employees place to a more modern, bottom-line-focused organization,” she said. “We were very focused on managing what we have, and he is very focused on making the company grow.”
But he didn’t seem to be getting all the results he wanted by pushing so hard.
About a year and a half ago, he said he concluded that changing the culture didn’t necessarily mean telling everybody how to do their jobs.
“I realized I didn’t need to be such a stick in the mud, such a heckler for details and for micromanaging people,” he said, still sounding chastened by the experience. “If I let people do what they know how to do, I don’t have to tell them. What I mistook as my desire to know everything was the thought that I had to actually do everything. … Once I figured it out, I backed way out and said, ‘You run it,’ and I’ll hold them accountable to the bottom line. It’s gone a lot easier and simpler since then. I’m a lot happier. … And the less involved I got, the more productive people seemed to be.”
The next level
Garvey said he’s basically decided to allow the operations staff to handle the existing portfolio while he focuses on company strategy, including how to grow the company.
The good news, he said, is that the staff operates the company extremely well. Cash flow for Builders Inc. has grown 10 percent a year over the last five years.
The company, which had to offer steep discounts to keep its retail properties filled during the recession, is now able to charge its listed rates, he said.
It’s also started selling some of its older properties and adding newer space.
Apartment properties are overpriced these days, he said, but retail and office properties are still attractively valued. The company recently bought an office building on Central, just east of Rock Road, and retail centers on Maize Road across from New Market Square, and along West 21st Street. He’s also bought in Kansas City and Oklahoma City.
There’s not a lot of glitz and glamour in the company’s properties – he dubbed them “meat and potatoes.”
But that may change, at least a little. A big backer of downtown redevelopment, Garvey recently announced plans for a 36-unit apartment building, called Corner 365, at Waco and First streets near the Garvey Center.
But Garvey doesn’t let his interests get in the way of his business sense, said John Walker, chief financial officer for Key Construction, who went through the MBA program with Garvey and now considers him a friend.
“You can make the mistake with him, that ‘Oh, he’s this nice guy,’ but he knows the numbers, and he’ll tell you if it’s not going to work.”
Garvey said he’s cautious about building new, but he wants to make his mark.
“I want to move to the next level,” he said, “but it’s a big step.”