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One-on-One with Drew Dolan

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Drew Dolan gets stuff done – big stuff.

Apartment complexes. Office buildings. Industrial parks.

Dolan, the president of Albuquerque’s Titan Development, says the company will break ground on an estimated $150 million in projects this year.

The Albuquerque native has a long history of making things happen, professionally and personally.

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As an Arizona State University engineering student, his supersized social calendar sometimes eclipsed his studies. Realizing that his grades might not pass muster with potential employers, he hatched a plan. Take a series of internships with big-name companies such as Boeing and Intel, and build a killer résumé.

It worked – all offered him a job after graduation.

Dolan ultimately chose a sales position instead. And while he excelled at it, development began to captivate him.

He came up with another plan. Go home to Albuquerque, parlay his relationships there into a job where he could learn the ropes.

Dolan linked up with Titan CEO Ben Spencer and asked for an unpaid spot in the firm just to get exposed to the ins and outs of the business.

That worked, too.

Dolan is now president of the 45-employee firm with operations in New Mexico, Texas and Florida, and a particular emphasis on senior living.

“I think what I love about this company that has never changed is it is entrepreneurial-driven,” he says. “If somebody has a great idea, if somebody’s willing to try something, this company will give that person all the room they can to try to do something. Of course we’re going to put checks and balances, and make sure they’re running in the right direction, but the entrepreneurial mindset of this organization is really outstanding.”

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Q: Describe yourself as a teenager.

A: Growing up, I lived in a lot of structure. I went to Catholic school; I was always involved in sports; our family was always taking family trips or doing stuff together and I always had a job. But … if you could live within that structure, you were pretty much free to kind of do whatever you wanted and I think my parents had a lot of trust in me provided I stayed within that structure. It was really a wonderful time.

Q: What was your first job?

A: My very first job was (for) the bank my dad was working for. They had the loan on Alan’s clothing shop and Alan’s went bankrupt, and they took it over. The bank was responsible for selling everything Alan’s had, so I was probably 11 and I worked there for a week literally selling anything that could be moved to this group of bargain hunters, just rabid bargain hunters: jewelry, clothes, mannequins, couches, literally if it could move, we were selling it. … I ended up the week with probably $200 or $300 as an 11-year-old. … It was in the summer and it was great to just have something to do. That led into every summer in high school I was a lifeguard for the city of Albuquerque, which were just such fun jobs (because of) the people you would meet. We lifeguarded with pretty much the whole UNM swim team and people with other schools you wouldn’t interact with, but you got to meet them every summer, and meet their friends and hang out.

Q: You studied industrial engineering in college. What were your plans with that?

A: With industrial, you can either go two directions: you can start going down the manufacturing route or you can start doing computer simulation and operations research. What those (college) internships taught me is what I didn’t want to do. That to me was the most valuable part of the internships. So, when I graduated, I didn’t waste five years doing something that I didn’t want to do. I had the internships because I thought it would help me get a job; what it really helped me do is figure out what job I didn’t want. And what jobs were not a great fit for me.

Q: What did you end up doing?

A: I took a job with Trane (in San Diego). They design and essentially manufacture HVAC equipment. They hire engineers (and) only engineers to do all their sales. So you work with other mechanical engineers to design HVAC systems for buildings and you work with contractors to sell them but, from day one, it was a 100-percent commissioned sales job and it was the lowest offer I had. … (But) it had the most potential, the most financial potential.

Q: Was this completely different than any other job you were offered?

A: Yeah, especially when you tell the people you’re going to school with that (you’re going into) a commission sales job. Right there, there’s a lot of people just not wired (for that). So Trane had to find an engineer that was a people-person and was also an entrepreneur.

Q: Were you a pretty good salesman?

A: Yes, I was a great salesperson. They had this top 10 percent of the company (and) I was the quickest out of my (Trane training) class to reach that. People in San Diego rarely got awards because the volume of that market wasn’t there, so when I got that, it was great. What I learned was that the stronger my relationships were with my clients and they could trust me (the better the sales). If I said I was going to do something, I did it, and that relationship grew and they just wanted to work with you. They would rather work with somebody they trusted and liked, even if it cost them more money.

Q: You were doing well and living in San Diego, so what prompted you to come back to Albuquerque and start with Titan?

A: One of my clients was a large medical office developer. … They always seemed to be having more fun. They were always in more control of the decision-making process (than the people I typically worked with). If they told me something or if we had an agreement, I absolutely knew they were going to do it. We just had this incredible relationship. On the flip side, I had lost some (other sales) opportunities because of things that were out of my control. I lost some sales because somebody at the top was making a decision that the guys I had influence with could not control. I quickly learned that, if you wanted to control your own destiny, you’ve got to get closer to the top. I loved living in San Diego, but I wanted to have kind of a wholesale change of career. And I really thought that moving back to Albuquerque was going to be a wonderful place for me to do that because of some of the relationships I had. Also, I met my wife in San Diego. She was in marketing public relations (and) she, too, wanted to change careers. I was lucky enough she was from Albuquerque – you’re not going to get a San Diego girl to move back to Albuquerque that easily. But we decided together we’d move back and change careers, and kind of hit the reset button.

Q: Did you go back to intern mode when you started with Titan?

A: I was absolutely back to square one. I knew nothing. And Ben was kind enough to pay me. I took an 80 percent salary decrease, but I was just in this incredible position that I could take that risk. And was really fortunate enough to be around a guy like Ben who literally exposed me to everything. I started asking to do more things and started to gain my knowledge and started being able to take things off his plate and do things, and learn and collaborate and grow.

Q: Do you remember the first project they gave you the lead on?

A: Yeah, one of my first real projects was when we purchased the Del Ray mobile home park. We bought this huge piece of land. It was 60 acres in the Northeast Heights (near San Pedro and San Antonio) for redevelopment and was ready for redevelopment with one exception: It still had 47 mobile home residents on it who were not happy. When we got into the project – some of the animosity was created prior to us getting into it – but a lot of them just wanted to be left alone and some of them just really didn’t want to leave Del Ray. Fast forward to when we ultimately closed the mobile home park. I had had 38 meetings with the residents. All of those meetings were at nights and on weekends. At this point, I’m newly married, I’ve got a young son and we are into this complicated real estate deal which has an incredible amount of moving parts, and a lot of political and public attention and, oh, by the way, the Great Recession just hit.

Q: That development has taken how long?

A: Ultimately about 10 years. It will be a three-year project that will have taken 10 years. (Laughs) But an incredibly successful project we are very proud of. (There’s a) diversity of people living out there. … From 18-year-olds to 98-year-olds, from low-income to top of the tier. It’s a project we’re very proud of.

Q: What’s your life like away from work?

A: It’s the hectic (life) of having three young kids. My wife works. My wife has her dream job – she’s a ninth-grade English teacher. … It’s hectic. But we love going skiing, we love going up to Taos. We love taking the kids on trips. I love traveling, I love exposing them to new things. My son is a fanatic fisherman and that has led us to being outdoors a lot.

Q: What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?

A: I had a previous boss that said that he would love to have cloned me. And this was a guy that had just incredibly high standards and the fact he thought his company would be better with more people like me was a real special compliment.

Q: What’s one food you can’t live without?

A: Does beer count? I love hefeweizens.

Q: Any specific one in Albuquerque?

A: La Cumbre is just awesome.

Q: What are your pet peeves?

A: Besides finger-lickers, my real pet peeve is when people say “It must be nice.” Every time I hear that phrase I think that those people should put their best efforts into their own goals and passions as they wouldn’t be resentful of what others do or have.

Q: Do you have any hidden talents?

A: I’m very handy. I can fix almost anything. I love fixing stuff.

 

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