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Close-up: Don Ankeny

Westcore CEO takes the long view, conducts strategic hiring

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Don Ankeny knows how to deal with tough challenges.

He grew up with four younger siblings. He graduated cum laude from Dartmouth College with a degree in economics. Years ago, he used to compete in triathlons and more recently, he's taken part in a bicycle ride for the Challenged Athletes Foundation.

So when the commercial real estate market took a downturn within the past year, the CEO of Westcore Properties knew what to do when adversity struck: He would make the most of it and find ways to come out on top.

"We were fortunate we sold a lot of properties in '06 and '07," he said. "We saw prices going up quickly and we started getting nervous."


However, he added no one in his industry knew how far the market would fall.

"Anybody who says they did is full of (it)," he said.

Though times are not the easiest they have been at Westcore, or practically any other commercial real estate firm for that matter, Ankeny is not twiddling his thumbs.

While other companies are laying off long-time employees, Ankeny has started strategically hiring -- something he'd found somewhat challenging in the San Diego real estate world.

After obtaining his MBA from Stanford, Ankeny spent much of his early career in the San Francisco Bay area, one of the largest commercial real estate markets in the country.

"I'd say it wasn't real estate itself, per say, as much as the company I was working for," said Ankeny about how he made real estate his career.

He said the Bay area was teeming with entrepreneurs in the early '80s. Before entering the real estate world, Ankeny almost worked at Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL), but instead found himself at the Trammell Crow Co.

Ankeny thrived on the company's entrepreneurial culture. He enjoyed the thrill of making deals and new connections.

By the early '90s, Ankeny seized the opportunity to combine his interest in technology with his real estate savvy.

Robert Stephens and Co. was teaming up with Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO) in 1993 and was looking for someone who knew real estate to teach investment banking to; the opposite of the norm.

Ankeny answered the bell and found himself in the fast-paced world of the dot-com boom.

Twenty-two-hour days became the norm. Money was flowing freely.

"It was a very fun place to be," Ankeny said.

Things started changing, though, after Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) acquired his investment banking company.

Bank of America already had an investment banking arm and tried to merge the Robert Stephens team with it, somewhat unsuccessfully.

After Ankeny's company was sold to Bank Boston, things improved, but due to several other merges, Ankeny and his team of investment bankers found themselves owned by Bank of America once more by the late '90s.

Ankeny left his position as managing director in 2000 and became the president and CEO of PhatPipe, a now defunct company that focused on bringing voice and data services to industrial properties.

Unfortunately for PhatPipe, the dot-com bubble burst and Ankeny left the company in 2002.

It was then that Westcore founder Marc Brutten tapped Ankeny to join his company.

By 2005, Ankeny was the CEO.

Since joining, he's helped grow the company. It now has offices in Los Angles, San Francisco, Denver and Switzerland.

While the company is spread out, Ankeny said having all of the corporate leaders located in San Diego is crucial to achieving team success.

But getting that team together hasn't always been easy. San Diego has a relatively small pool of real estate professionals, said Ankeny.

However, layoffs throughout the industry have proven beneficial for Ankeny and Westcore.

"There's a lot of talent out there," he said. "There's a book by Jim Collins called 'Good to Great' that says a good organization gets the right people on the bus.

"Maybe you don't know what seat they need to sit in right away, but if they have the core values we espouse, we'll train them and know they'll be great."

Over the years, Ankeny said he learned he should not be afraid to hire the brightest and the best, even if it means he feels like they are smarter than he is.

It's a part of his competitive nature that knows when the team takes priority.

Though the commercial markets are difficult, Ankeny said he's looking to the future for better days.

For now, he's sitting back and building a team he is confident can come out on top.

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