Community Leader Spotlight
Featuring Brad Toothaker, Bradley Company President & CEO and Great Lakes Capital Managing Partner
In this interview, Brad shares some past insights and future revelations with Diane Doyne, Villing+Company Vice President of Marketing Communications.
Q: What key attributes have led to your success with Bradley and Great Lakes?
You know, I think it’s growing up as an athlete and being competitive, and believing “you can.” It’s all about getting to the next level. And it's competition, growth as a person, growth as a business and knowing that there’s capacity to somehow work a little harder or do a little more to get to the next place or the next project. Also, from the standpoint of both businesses, having the inherent understanding that diversification is a good thing. In the investment world, we all know the saying “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” right? So, in terms of the businesses, we have two primary product types—mixed use multifamily and industrial, and both span multiple geographies.
In the beginning, we added people and things that fit with what we were doing—we didn’t get too far outside the lines of what we did well. Just like when I was swimming, I focused on that—it was all swimming. I wasn’t trying to be a topnotch track athlete at the same time. So, stick to your knitting and focus on what you’re good at—that’s what we did. Focus on quality and do the best for the client. Do the right thing in the right way, and be a winner. At the end of the day, if you’re not grabbing the medal, then what are you doing? (Editor’s note: Toothaker was a five-time South Bend Riley High School All-American swimmer, and he went on to become a four-year letterman at UCLA. He participated in the 1988 Olympic Trials and the NCAA Championships and is an Indiana High School Swimming and Diving Hall of Fame inductee.)
Q: What role has marketing played in your business?
We’re in the service business, and most importantly, the sales of our services. Like many businesses, be it copy machines or real estate, you have to have a solid brand presence. It needs to be crisp, clean and visible as much as possible in the right places. We’ve been very focused on that. And just like our business growth, I know we can always do better. I’m always striving to build brand equity. Not just being seen in the right places, but doing the right thing and having your service and business quality stand behind the brand. Frankly, I don’t pay much attention to competition, I just know that our business and our people need to do the right thing with the right partners and clients in the right places. Internally, we’ve always been big on our core values, which we stand behind. Being entrepreneurial, collaborative, and operating with integrity. It’s about being champions for our clients, for each other, and striving to win.
Q: What about your growth beyond South Bend? What does that look like?
It’s really back to growth, diversification and understanding that as we grow our business platform and our brand, that geographic diversification is important. Part of that is access to new markets and business opportunities. And equally important is access to new talent that can positively impact the business not just in South Bend, but everywhere it is. There’s talent in Grand Rapids, Indianapolis and Fort Wayne that can positively affect the whole business, not just in that market. That’s been my core focus for about 15 years: understanding that the collective organization benefits overall from diverse talent. And within that, there’s more value to the client, and there’s more value to the business with growth into new markets.
In terms of new markets, I say that we’re a Midwest midcap business. We’re not necessarily looking to compete with global businesses (although we can, in many cases). Larger companies can be more transactional and deal with larger clients. We’re more relationship-driven than transactional, and we can deliver service to Midwest midcap businesses better than most large companies can. We’re more of a big local business in each of our markets. Sort of a large regional boutique, with boots on the ground. We can often execute with more resources than the smaller local shops. Even as a small-to-medium sized local shop in our markets, our collective talent gives us more resources than most of our local competition.
We’re currently operating in Indiana and Michigan, and are doing work in most border states and generally around the Midwest.
Q: What was your first job?
Landscaping and mowing lawns in junior high school. I did more of that in high school, working for the company I work for now. So, for the most part, I’ve been in the real estate business my whole life!
Q: How do you see South Bend five years from now?
We’ve got a great community, and the Midwest culture of South Bend is phenomenal. Notre Dame has done so much for the community, and they’re not going anywhere … they will continue to create quality and growth around them. And think about some of the new projects, like Beacon’s $250 million investment in Memorial Hospital downtown, which will create a regional hub and will likely generate another four-to-five times that investment in economic growth in the next decade. (Editor’s note: Toothaker currently serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors for Memorial Hospital.)
In the next five years, I see our skyline changing in several places, and our economics and growth trending upward. And I expect the quality of demographics, the average wage and average household income will improve dramatically over the next decade.
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