Industry Watch

Weathering the cycles

For Welsh and Colliers International in Minnetonka, thriving has meant diversifying its services

By Erica Rivera

If the secret to buying real estate is location, location, location, the secret to selling it is diversify, diversify, diversify. 
Welsh and Colliers International | Minneapolis-St. Paul has been an example of just that. The Minnetonka-based commercial real estate firm has expanded substantially over its 37 years in business.
It began in 1977 in Minneapolis when Dennis Doyle worked construction for George Welsh, his neighbor. Welsh proposed starting a construction business together; Doyle, who had been working in that industry with his brothers since high school, didn’t hesitate because, he says, “I didn’t have any money!” 
That year, Welsh and Doyle co-founded Welsh Construction Corp. After realizing that the inconsistent nature of their revenue couldn’t support their respective families, the co-founders decided to diversify. The company added management and real estate services in 1981.
Meanwhile Jean Kane, then a recent graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College, had started in banking but felt herself attracted to the real estate industry because of its pace and breadth. “Commercial real estate affects every kind of business: where you work, where you play, where you shop,” she says.
After two years at Coldwell Banker in Edina, she was ready for a change. Kane interviewed at Welsh Companies and another, more corporate, firm for a new position. She received offers from both, but went with Welsh Companies because of the personable nature and open-door policy of the people there. 
In 1987, Kane started out as a property manager working closely with Welsh and Doyle on their portfolios. Doyle, whom Kane describes as a “get it done” kind of person, acted as her mentor. “My evolution here was organic,” Kane says. “As the company continued to grow and evolve, so did I.”
Kane consistently took on additional responsibilities as Welsh Companies added facility services in 1987, an architectural division in 1995, and a capital division in 1998. “By taking a more holistic approach, we can recommend multiple services to our customers that not only benefit them, but help us weather the cyclical nature of commercial real estate,” Kane explains.
“The real estate business goes up and goes down,” says Doyle, now executive chairman. “In the down market, our management and leasing do much better, and when we come out of it, our brokers start doing real well.”
In 2011, Welsh Companies expanded exponentially by partnering with Colliers International, a global commercial real estate services organization headquartered in Seattle. The decision was prompted by the desire to be more than a big company in Minneapolis; Welsh Companies wanted a global reach. 
“Colliers is the second-best branding name in commercial real estate,” Doyle says. “It’s not just making us better or changing names; it’s really allowed us to go after some very large clients. It was one of the best decisions we’ve made.” 
Since joining up with Colliers, Welsh Companies has represented the likes of Verizon Wireless and North Memorial Health Care in finding, and closing on, commercial properties. It’s also represented clients leasing buildings to such tenants as Vibrant Technologies and the MN Central School Bus Company.
Another ongoing strategy for success: Welsh and Colliers hires the right people. Kane, who moved into her current position of CEO and majority owner in 2012, now oversees 300 employees. “It’s always been one of my priorities to surround myself with exceptional people,” she says. “They’ll do what’s best for the customers and what’s best for the company.”
Welsh and Colliers believes in calculated risk, and the leadership trusts staff to take those risks, such as creating an unorthodox marketing campaign or finding creative solutions for a client, “without having to run them up the corporate ladder,” Kane says.
The primary quality Welsh and Colliers looks for in potential hires is integrity. Doyle believes that good people do good work, and Kane says it’s her employees’ “teamwork and camaraderie that keeps them engaged. We provide them with the tools to try new things and hone new skills to make them successful. I think all of that makes a winning combination.”
“People like being here,” Doyle says. “We don’t have a lot of rules and regulations.”
But they do have a lot of goals. Moving forward, Welsh and Colliers have a new focus on niche markets, including health care, senior housing, apartments, and law firms. “Specializations are really important to understand our customers better,” Kane says. Welsh and Colliers swears by the motto “people before properties” and has made a legacy of providing positive experiences for clients and growth