Brad Schoenfelder has been named vice president of development for Ryan Cos. US Inc. in 2008, in the midst of a severe economic downturn.
Businesses halted new development and expansion projects during the Great Recession which lasted roughly from December 2007 to June 2009. Housing starts fell and unemployment rates rose slightly.
Instead of wringing his hand, Schoenfelder viewed the break in construction activity as an opportunity to share Minneapolis-based Ryan Cos. story as well as listening to the needs of current and potential customers.
“We would spend three or four weeks thinking, ‘What are they trying to accomplish in their business?’ and “How do we put together a presentation that’s there to solve what they’re trying to accomplish?” said Schoenfelder, the 2022 CRE Professional of the Year from the Ivy College of Business in Iowa. State University.
Schoenfelder, now president of Ryan’s Midwest region, said the lessons he learned during the recession helped him navigate the pandemic. A big lesson applied in both crises is the importance of transparency, he said.
“You have to be brutally transparent, with the good guys and the bad guys,” said Schoenfelder, who has worked in the construction and commercial real estate industry for more than 30 years. “You have to make sure that you prepare people for change all the time, but also empathize with people’s individual situations.”
During the recession, Ryan Cos. and its customers and partners were looking to address significant revenue declines, Schoenfelder said. During the pandemic, “people were going to the safety and the strength to be able to deliver even during difficult times.”
Listening to the needs of current and potential customers remains important, he said. “You really have to understand what the reasons are for them building a project.”
Schoenfelder joined Ryan Cos. Cedar Rapids office in 1999 as project manager. He moved to Des Moines in 2008 after being promoted to vice president of development. He became president of the company’s Midwest region in 2017.
Schoenfelder has “played an integral role in many high-profile projects that have contributed to the growth and success of Des Moines Metro and showcase Ryan’s national model of development and construction throughout the region,” Andy Moffitt , vice president of real estate development for Ryan’s Midwest region, wrote in nominating Schoenfelder for CRE Professional of the Year.
We recently met Schoenfelder.
What did you learn during the recession that you applied during the pandemic?
They are different crises, but they have common themes. Foremost, [during a crisis is] when your values and culture become most important, then lean on them first every day. Be nimble. Your community, customers and partners are looking for people who are ready to lead. We are so lucky to have a team that wants to lead and serve others, the result has been significant team and customer growth over the two [the recession and pandemic]. … To see [a crisis] as an opportunity that will make you stronger, but you won’t know how or why until you get through it.
Talk about your strategic plan for RyanCos.
One of the things that was really important to me when I took over as president was figuring out where and how we want to grow as a region and how do we fit into the strategic plan and the growth plan of the business. One of the things that was really important to me was that we really developed and focused on Ryan’s portfolio and development platform. You’ve seen it in our opportunities with Amazon. We were proactively seeking land positions, land partnerships to grow Ryan’s development platform.
We were also looking to develop our own internal staff and seek out people with development expertise so that we could strengthen our partnerships with other members of this community.
When I was transitioning to this [role] I had a three-year plan that said we were going to continue to grow our development portfolio; we will hire staff to continue to develop our property management portfolio; [and we were] was going to expand geographically: we were going to open an office in Kansas City.
It took us from a 250 million dollar company to a 750 million company. million business.
I did this for several reasons. First, it has helped strengthen our business model. More importantly, it allowed us to continue to grow our team and gave our team further opportunities to grow professionally.
There has been a lot of development in Des Moines over the past two at three years old. Will this continue?
No doubt this will continue. There is something quite unique and quite special about Des Moines. The owners of our company have seen this for a long time. I think you keep seeing it when you see people who want to invest in professional football and football stadiums. These kinds of things continue to enrich and strengthen the culture of Des Moines. It attracts some of the best talent. … People are looking for communities where they want to grow their businesses, and that’s why I think Des Moines is going to continue to see the strength of development and the strength of development opportunities.
What keeps you up at night?
The things I think about are first and foremost: How do you find new networks? Everyone is competing for the best talent. So for me, it’s about finding new networks that really help us find diversity of thought and diversity of origin. We have this customer-centric approach. But we also have this multi-faceted business that really requires people who want to manage this complexity. I think a lot about finding these new networks that really bring some of the best people here.
How do you find talented people, which in today’s environment can be difficult?
It is necessary that the leaders of the organizations, including myself, are the recruiters. Leaders and our employees are the bulletin board. They are the ones who can describe our culture. They are the ones who describe the personal passion they feel when interacting with customers and truly trying to accomplish something for them that they otherwise couldn’t.
You can’t convey that in a post; you cannot pass this through a recruiter. It must be our people doing this.
You need to go beyond the typical job fairs. At Ryan Cos., we’ve launched a one-hour credit course at [Iowa State University] this is called collective ideas. … It’s a different way of recruiting because we’re trying to build our industry and let people know what we do and how we do it.
You have to be innovative, you have to be creative.
What do you do in your free time?
I like to do a variety of different things that take me down different paths. I started sea kayaking when I was in North Carolina and had killer whales 10 feet from my kayak. I met people when I first moved in [Des Moines] which started to get me into rock climbing. Whether it was Mount Rainier or the Grand Tetons, I had the opportunity to experience an adventure like this with a few friends from here.
Boating and jet skiing, which started when our children, Blake and Anna, became teenagers. It was good family time, no television, no cell phone, unless it was the latest hip-hop song or John Mayer. This activity allowed us to spend time with our children and we spend time with their friends.
I grew up fishing with my dad. This passion has taken me from fly fishing browns in Patagonia, to annual trips to Montana to fish in the mountains, or catching Blue Marlin this spring in Costa Rica. But you can’t beat a summer day with my family and my dad catching a walleye on the Missouri River.
My last pleasures were getting back into snowmobiling with our children and my wife’s family, as well as big game hunting to feed my passion for the mountains.
I keep saying I want to play more golf, but I never do.
Schoenfelder talks about his mentors
We asked Brad Shoenfelder who his mentors were and what he learned from them. Here is his response:
“My father. He taught me to be passionate about your faith, your professional journey and then your pleasure. Be grateful for what you have. Growing up in a family of five siblings, two working parents, and a small farming community in the 80s, you couldn’t escape high inflation rates, commodity price bears and bulls and , fortunately, to a strong sense of community and your faith. This is what set me on the path from an early age to understand the importance that giving was more important than receiving.
“My mother. I learned from her, courage, that’s what we call it today. Growing up, it was, “Do your best, do your best, and if you do, it will come back to you beyond your wildest dreams.” My mother grew up on the generational dairy farm. Milking the cows twice a day, seven days a week was the minimum for success. She also had school, sports, college, cheerleading, and the fun of fitting in. She lived her courage by giving back to her family, her community and the hospital where she worked as a nurse for 40 years. When she retired, she volunteered to care for the elderly, because she was so generous.
“Marc Gullickson [a vice president at Ryan Cos. US Inc.]. I learned from Marc to put others before myself. Marc hired me at Ryan 23 years ago. He never stopped guiding and teaching me all the time, which he did for so many others. He really did it because he wanted the best for our clients and the team. He always asked the toughest questions in the room because he wanted to bring out the best in you, which in turn benefited the client and the project.
“Pat Ryan [chairman of Ryan Cos.’ board of directors]. Pat said, “Always do what’s right” and you’ll be defined by how you handle the toughest situations. This philosophy permeates our culture and challenges our team to always think and execute what is right for our customers, project partners, team and communities. It’s not easy, but it makes projects and accomplishments even more rewarding, whether it’s working with Renzo Piano on the Krause Gateway, supplying a robotic distribution facility for Amazon, or partnering with the Iowa Food Bank to fulfill their mission.
Former CRE Professionals of the Year
Brad Schoenfelder is the eighth person to be honored as CRE Professional of the Year by Business Record. Past recipients are Gerry Neugent of Knapp Properties, Rick Tollakson of Hubbell Realty Co., Richard Hurd of Hurd Real Estate Services, Jake Christensen of Christensen Development, Jennifer Cooper of Bankers Trust Co., Kevin Crowley of NAI Iowa Realty Commercial and Mark Rupprecht of R&R Real Estate Group.