Winter 2003 • Issue 12, page 12

Profile: Douglas P Wilson & The Douglas Wilson Companies

By Rense, Kirk*

(As is the case with many members of the California Receivers Forum, Doug Wilson’s career path to receivership work was indirect and unpredictable, the confluence of personal interests, changing economic conditions and the needs of the business community around him. He is the subject of this issue’s Professional Profile. Here is his biographical sketch, in his own words.)

In some ways, it was the good times and the great building boom of Denver, Colorado in the 1970’s that paved the way for me to eventually specialize in the business of helping property and business owners who have fallen on bad times.

I moved from my home in the Chicago suburb of Glen Ellen, Illinois, where I was raised, to Denver in the late 1960s to attend the University of Denver. My mother had attended Colorado College and was an expert skier; we had spent many family vacations skiing in the Rockies as a result. When it came time for me to decide where to attend college — Notre Dame, Cornell or the University of Denver – my choice was entirely predictable.

While attending I also worked in several retail and sales jobs, all the while taking a pre-law curriculum (I had wanted to become an attorney) that emphasized English literature, history and other heady topics. However, after graduating and spending some time reflecting further on what I then wanted to do, I took a position with the Cannel & Chaffin Commercial Interiors firm’s Denver office, where I spent five years, eventually becoming a regional vice president in charge of a staff of 33 design professionals. We designed and built out spaces in commercial projects for financial institutions, law firms, accounting firms, clubs and created public spaces.

That position taught me many things. Among others, it was my first exposure to providing specialized services to attorneys, accountants and major businesses. That experience later became invaluable in preparing me to offer the different – but still highly specialized – sort of services I provide to such clients today.

I was fascinated with all the construction taking place in Denver in those days. There were 19 construction cranes in that city’s downtown area alone at one time. As I watched the many buildings and projects being constructed, I realized that I wanted to be involved in that kind of work – wanted to learn how to secure the land, to arrange financing, to design a project, and to manage the construction and marketing efforts. My eventual mastering of these functions became important resources for the work I now do for troubled properties and companies.

I left Cannel & Chafin to become president of French & Company and, later, a partner in The Tower Development Group. In 1979, while at another firm, Wagstaff & Raynd, I represented the Petro-Lewis Corporation in its commitment to lease 573,000 square feet in a 50-story high-rise building in Denver.

  It was the single largest office lease
negotiated in the state up to that time.

In 1980 I joined Raynd Ventures, a joint venture with a London-based property company that represented European investors in the U.S. and provided comprehensive development and management services. That brought me to San Diego three years later. Denver had fallen on hard times at that point and there was considerably more development opportunity in Southern California. Our firm had acquired a major site in San Diego’s slowly emerging downtown – a full 60,000-square-foot block on which there were several run-down buildings and an historic Fox Theatre. We cleared the block except for the theatre, which was to be restored to become the new home of the San Diego Symphony. We made that restoration possible by building a 1.1-million-square-foot, two-tower hotel and office complex with a connecting multi-level garage that spans the existing theatre. Today, more than a decade and a half later, our Symphony Towers complex remains the largest privately financed mixed-used project in downtown San Diego.

It was during the construction of Symphony Towers that many of San Diego’s savings and loan associations and banks were becoming overwhelmed with troubled assets. Also during the mid-1980s I was getting my initial experience with workouts for troubled properties located back in Denver. It was abundantly clear to me that there was nobody providing these work-out, debt adjustment services on any kind of a regional basis. I quickly saw that with the coming economic downturn there would be a need for workout and receivership services not only in San Diego but other locales throughout California and elsewhere.

After our company sold Symphony Towers in 1989 I founded my present company with the primary goal of providing a diverse range of services in any economic cycle – and to be able to do so throughout the state. The recession provided my new company with an ample supply of high-quality real estate and accounting professionals along with a dependable book of business.

Our initial assignments were troubled real estate assets: office buildings, hotels, medical buildings, and retail properties in particular. That list has expanded over the years to include larger and more complex properties as well as golf courses and agricultural properties – and has even extended beyond real estate. More and more frequently we are being asked to work at the operational level to disentangle troubled operating companies. We take over and manage their inventories, employees, and their daily operations in order to stabilize them and return value to the enterprise.

The providing of these and other types of services has taken us far beyond the traditional duties of a receiver. Acting as a court-appointed or judicial fiduciary is a better description of what we now do.

what excites me about our work
is its high level of diversity.

No two assignments are even remotely similar. There are different problems and challenges every day even within one project, requiring very thoughtful analytic, management, and communications skills.

Our company has expanded the notion of diversity even further, however. In keeping with our mission to cover our bases and prosper in all economic cycles, we have a full-fledged real estate development division operating alongside the work we do for operating companies and distressed real estate.

In October of last year we completed the $60 million Parkloft condominium loft complex in downtown San Diego’s East Village neighborhood, a block away from the new Petco Park where the San Diego Padres will play beginning spring, 2004. By fall, 2002, we had sold all 111 lofts on the first nine floors and were selling the nine luxury penthouses on the 10th and 11th floors.

This spring we are breaking ground on The Mark, a $120 million, 32-story condominium tower on a full city block across the street from Parkloft.

Our company’s diversity in scope requires our 35 employees to operate as a fully integrated team of asset managers, development, financial, and marketing professionals – all with a “take charge” attitude. This depth of knowledge and flexibility has allowed me to be active in a variety of civic and professional organizations, including the Receivers Forum, Bankruptcy Forum, the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties, Urban Land Institute, the Lambda Alpha national real estate fraternity, the Downtown San Diego Partnership (of which I was vice chair last year), and our city’s University Club, where I serve as chairman of the board. San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy also has appointed me to the Downtown San Diego Community Plan Update Committee.

It has also allowed me to spend quality time with my wife of 26 years, Kathleen, and our three sons. Our youngest son, Michael, 13, is in middle school in Solana Beach where we live and our older two, Nick, 20, and Alex, 18, are attending college in –- of all places – Colorado.

As we look to the future, it’s clear that the only thing that never changes is change itself. We and others in our line of work will need to continually adapt to the myriad changes in our clients’ operating businesses and properties. Soaring energy costs and shortages, a nervous stock market, operational and financial mismanagement, political campaigns, fraudulent business practices, the Middle East situation, and the continuing threat of international terrorism are factors that affect our clients. There is a continuing need to develop full-service capabilities in managing and marketing specialized classes of assets – golf courses, hotels, for-sale residential and agricultural properties – to name but a few.

I, for one, remain optimistic. There will be continued demand for our diverse range of problem resolution and management services. It is our continuing charge to be positioned to support our clients’ needs whenever and wherever they may be.