Leading in Tough Times: CEO Gary Bechtel and Chief Strategy Officer Ray Davis, Red Oak Capital Partners

Throughout the month of August, Connect CRE is running a series titled “Leading in Tough Times.” We’ve asked leaders around the U.S. and across the commercial real estate spectrum to share their wisdom and discuss lessons learned. In this installment, you’ll hear from Red Oak Capital Partners’ Chief Executive Officer, Gary Bechtel, and Chief Strategy Officer, Ray Davis.

GARY BECHTEL, Chief Executive Officer

Q: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned about leading in a challenging environment?

A: Trust your gut. Always do your homework and endeavor to make educated decisions, even though the data available for making those decisions may be relatively fluid and incomplete. I’m fortunate to be able to draw from experiences learned in previous cycles to make decisions today based on similar circumstances and conditions that have occurred in the past. History does tend to repeat itself (unfortunately)!

Q: What’s the most common mistake leaders make in an inhospitable market?

A: The biggest common mistake is NOT making a decision and getting caught up in the “paralysis of analysis.” You’ll never have all the information you need, but as leaders we need to make the best decisions we can with as much data as we can acquire. Over and over again, you see people/companies freezing up and not wanting to make a decision because they don’t want to be wrong. No one is ever right 100% of the time, but as leaders we are responsible for making informed decisions and dealing with the consequences.

Q: What’s the most valuable leadership advice you’ve ever been given?

A: Play the long game. Over my career, I have seen many people get into the business thinking they were going to make a great deal of money quickly but they didn’t put in the time to build the relationships and knowledge base that you need to have a successful career. Short-term thinking and jeopardizing relationships for short term monetary gain generally don’t lend themselves to a prolonged career, where you can make more money over time.

Q: What’s the best decision you’ve ever made as a business leader?

A: Besides marrying my wife? Surround yourself with experienced, ethical people and you’ll be successful and sleep well at night! I’ve been fortunate in my career to work with some of the best people in our business and I wouldn’t have been as successful in building this business if I had taken a different approach or tried to do it on my own. As the saying goes “There’s no I in Team” and you need a great team to be successful long term.

RAY DAVIS, Chief Strategy Officer

Q: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned about leading in a challenging environment?

A: Keep moving no matter what. Having gone through several market cycles, I’ve learned that momentum can be a life saver, both from a cashflow perspective and that it creates a mindset of perseverance. We have been fortunate in that we don’t use leverage within our investments, so making defensive moves are easier without having to get bank buy-in or worry about triggering a covenant.

Q: What leadership advice would you like to give your younger self?

A: Leverage is like a drug that will make you feel like a king, until a market correction hits. Use it wisely to enhance your business but don’t rely on it as a foundational building block of your thesis… unless you have a balance sheet that allows defensive counter moves should they be needed.

Q: What’s the best decision you’ve ever made as a business leader?

A: I’ve turned down aggressive capital investment from outsiders. External investment must not only fill the capital requirements, but it also has to fit within the corporate culture and core ethics of the management team.

Pictured, at top: Gary Bechtel. Below: Ray Davis.

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