Gorman & Co. founder looks to future by naming new CEO

Written by Larry Avila of the Wisconsin State Journal

Gary_Gorman

OREGON — Gary Gorman recognized that for the development company bearing his name to continue without him someday, he needed a leadership transition plan to ensure its future.

In mid-March Gorman & Co., which he built from a one-man operation from a basement office in summer 1984 to a company with about 250 employees and operations in five states, announced that plan. Gorman will transition the daily management of the company to Brian Swanton, the Arizona market president who will take over as CEO on Jan. 1. Gorman will still be involved with the business as chairman of its board.

Gorman, who has not determined a retirement date, said announcing a leadership succession plan now was the responsible thing to do.

“I’ll still be very involved in the company, but I’ll be less involved in the day-to-day side of things starting Jan. 1,” said Gorman, 61. “I don’t consider this retiring at all, but when you grow a business to a certain level, and when (the owner) gets over 60 years old, people do start to ask, ‘What’s next?’

“I wanted to get ahead of that question. I wanted to have input on (the future of the business) as opposed to someone else making that decision somewhere down the line.”

In the beginning

Gorman & Co. specializes in housing developments from affordable housing to upscale condominiums, and does more than $100 million in business annually. It employs about 250 people and has operations in Milwaukee, Phoenix, Chicago, Miami and Denver.

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Gorman & Co. also has been very active in Madison.

The company’s recent projects include the Union Corners development continuing to rise at East Washington Avenue, Milwaukee and Winnebago streets. The company also was involved in converting space at the Bishop O’Connor Catholic Pastoral Center, a former seminary and home to the diocesan headquarters, to apartments now referred to as Holy Name Heights.

Before he got into housing development, Gorman practiced law for about four years.

“The basement office where I started my business was torn down long ago,” he said. “When I look back on it, I never expected the company to grow to the size it is today.”

Tom Capp, the current chief operating officer who will become vice chairman of the board on Jan. 1, joined Gorman about 22 years ago and led the company’s expansion outside Wisconsin, most recently to Illinois.

“We have deep roots in Wisconsin and we’ll always be a Wisconsin-based company,” Gorman said.

He said Swanton, who has grown Gorman & Co.’s business in Arizona for the past eight years, is ready for a larger role.

Gorman said establishing the future leader of the company well before his retirement also ensures to future investors the firm will be around to see projects through and it also helps in the recruitment of new employees as it looks to expand into new markets.

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“Yes, I want to ensure the company continues after I’m gone, but what it’s really about when a company actively is recruiting young people that have options and they see the CEO of our company is a guy in his 60s, they may not consider us,” Gorman said.

Gorman said moving the company forward will take new thinking.

“It took a certain skill set to grow the company from zero to $100 million,” he said. “To get to that next level, it will take someone who may be better at systems and monitoring metrics, and I think Brian has the skills to continue growing the business.”

The future

Implementing a transition plan while an owner still will be involved in the business is a sound strategy, said Sherry Herwig, director of the Family Business Center at UW-Madison.

“It lets employees know that during the transition there will be some consistency and continuity,” she said. “When the new leader takes over, the employees can take comfort knowing the person who had been leading the company all along, will be there and be part of the decision-making process.”

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Gorman said his company’s success has been built through recruiting good people who could develop markets familiar to them.

“What I hope to see is the company experience steady but not rapid growth because companies that are the highest risk are start-ups and those that grow too rapidly,” he said. “In terms of the transition and working with Brian, I plan to work with him so he understands what he’ll have to do to be the CEO versus just being a market president.”

Gorman said once the company’s daily management is transitioned to Swanton, he will focus on special projects including finding ways to approach building projects more cost-effectively.

“I’m feeling good and I’m healthy,” Gorman said. “I’m still really interested in this business and frankly, I don’t want to retire.”