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Denver Real Estate Families On Passing The Torch

Commercial real estate is often a family business, and that means succession planning. Bisnow spoke with two father-and-son teams prominent in Denver CRE recently, the Zeppelins and the Fulenwiders, about passing the torch to the next generation.

Mickey Zeppelin is president of Zeppelin Development, while his son Kyle is a principal with the company. Cal Fulenwider III is president of L.C. Fulenwider Inc., and his son Blake is a vice president.

Mickey Zeppelin

Bisnow: What's the main challenge in planning for the next generation in a family-based commercial real estate business?

Mickey Zeppelin: The main challenge in passing the torch is first to light a torch together, which involves friendship, respect and shared core values. It requires a continued effort to build a team that shares those core values and a commitment to maintain them.

These values are based on putting people first, and understanding that continuing efforts must be made to have people feel important, be creative and know that problems are an opportunity for creativity. It's mutual respect and fun in the commitment to these values that promotes continuity.

Bisnow: Is it more than just figuring out when the younger generation is going to take over?

Kyle Zeppelin: Yes. We need to make sure there's constant commitment to social change and building a community. We look at what other developers are doing and then do the opposite.

Our specialty is finding urban areas that haven't found their time and turning them into places for people to gather, work and have an experience together, not just a meal. We need to make sure everyone has the same vision of what we want Denver to be — and how we can meet people's needs while making the community a better place.

Cal Fulenwider

Bisnow: How long does this kind of planning take?

Cal Fulenwider: Succession planning for our fourth-generation company is something that has been underway for over a decade. It is, without a doubt, my most important responsibility.

Bisnow: Is there a specific challenge for the younger generation?

Blake Fulenwider: The main challenge for me in regards to working in the family business is balancing and maintaining a healthy separation of family and business. My family is a very important piece of my life, and I strive to ensure that my recent transition into the family business doesn't affect my family relationships on a personal level. Maintaining the strong relationships I have with all members of my family is a top priority for me, as well as preserving our legacy in Denver's real estate community.

Both the Zeppelins and the Fulenwiders will speak at our Denver State of the Market event about passing the torch in a special panel devoted to family-owned CRE companies. The event will be on June 13 at the Denver Marriott City Center.