Latest move puts Mumm in position to make deals
After putting in eight years at Grubb & Ellis/Mid-America Pacific, Kurt Mumm walked out the door this past summer as Chris Greenfield was walking in to become the president. Coincidence? Mumm says yes, it was.
“I was completely drawn [to a new job], not driven away [from the old one],” he said, and his new job description does sound alluring. At the age of 34, Mumm is the president of the Des Moines region of NAI Ruhl & Ruhl Commercial Co.
“This was just a good opportunity for me,” said Mumm, who held the title of managing director when he left Grubb & Ellis. “I had been in a management role since 1996, now I have a more entrepreneurial opportunity.”
His job with Grubb & Ellis was largely administrative, tracking the activities of 15 brokers. Now, Mumm said, he’ll focus on seeking out new projects and making deals.
“In my opinion,” said Charles Ruhl Jr., the man who hired him, “one vital difference is that we have committed to ownership; Kurt is truly going to be a partner, not an employee. I’ve been the sole owner, now there are two of us.”
Noel Kurt Mumm Jr. – known by his middle name right from the start – grew up on the west edge of Iowa in Missouri Valley, where his father practices law and his mother is an accountant. After finishing a high school career that included some success in wrestling – he was a svelte 132-pound district qualifier as a senior — Mumm went off to the University of Northern Iowa. Two major developments took place there: He met his future wife, Jen (they now have three young children), and he became interested in real estate.
“I was taught that the majority of wealthy Americans are involved in real estate,” Mumm said, and like many an ambitious young adult, he decided to follow the money. He graduated with a degree in finance with an emphasis in courses from the school’s real estate program
Mumm went to work for Iowa Realty Commercial straight out of college and quickly became immersed in the real-world phase of his education. “I was exposed to a lot of deals there that you normally wouldn’t see for a number of years,” he said.
He also found himself in the midst of a market that was teeming with potential. “Here in Des Moines, everybody wanted to talk about real estate opportunities,” Mumm said. “Every time somebody saw a corner with a bulldozer on it, I’d get a call.”
Clearly, he made the most of the situation. At the tender age of 26, Mumm became the manager of Coldwell Banker Mid-America Group Realtors, beginning a run with Mid-America Group Ltd. that led to all sorts of valuable contacts.
“He really excelled at networking,” said his friend and former Grubb & Ellis colleague Dean Weitenhagen. “He attended all the brokerage functions. He was very diligent about making that networking contact with all the companies in town.”
In 2000, Mumm served as president of the Iowa chapter of the CCIM (Certified Commercial Investment Member) Institute and was named to the Des Moines Business Record’s first Forty Under 40 class. He’s now the president of the Iowa Commercial Real Estate Association.
“He put in long hours,” Weitenhagen said of Mumm. But when they found the time, the two colleagues liked to drive out of the city and find “dinky little nine-hole golf courses” for a quick round. “He’s a long-ball hitter,” Weitenhagen said. “He can really whack that thing.”
A change of course
“Iowa’s a pretty small state,” Mumm said, “so Chuck [Ruhl] and I would cross paths frequently.”
Three and a half years ago, Ruhl & Ruhl Commercial entered the Des Moines market to take advantage of a licensing opportunity that was available from NAI. “We felt somewhat saturated in the Quad Cities,” Ruhl said, “and we had a large number of clients who had or desired to have a presence in Des Moines.”
After starting its Central Iowa operations with one person in an office at 2800 Grand Ave. in Des Moines, Ruhl & Ruhl Commercial now employs nine people at 4949 Westown Parkway in West Des Moines.
The move to this area steered Mumm and Ruhl closer together. “I saw him even more frequently, and we served on some boards together,” Ruhl said. “I’ve always maintained a high level of respect for Kurt, and I considered him to be one of the top professionals in this market.”
The two men talked in 2003 about joining forces someday, and then got more serious about the possibility this past summer. Mumm left Grubb & Ellis July 1 and started with Ruhl & Ruhl Aug. 1.
“Leaving was tough,” Mumm said. “It was more of a family situation than an employment situation. They’re great people, and I had a level of comfort that goes beyond what you find at most places.”
Mumm sat down with Greenfield in July to discuss Greenfield’s new job and the transition. “He’s a strong business person with a lot of good contacts,” Mumm said. In hiring Greenfield and Teresa Wahlert (president and chief operating officer of parent company Mid-America Group Ltd.), Mid-America has filled two key positions with people who lack real estate experience. However, Mumm refused to comment on the moves, saying only, “We’ll be dealing with them, so I don’t want anything bad to happen there.”
“We don’t see as many experienced commercial brokers in the [Central Iowa] market as we did five years ago,” Ruhl said. “We’re seeing quite a bit of attrition going on. Some commercial brokers are jumping out of brokerage into development because they feel like they want to own more of the market, and there’s also some burnout.”
“Greater access to capital has allowed more people to become developers,” Mumm said. “Ten years ago, only about five people around here could step up to the plate for a $5 million project. Now, with interest rates what they are and the experience that so many people have gathered, it could be within the strike zone of 20 people.”
In short, Ruhl and Mumm see a lot of opportunity for their Central Iowa operation. “We’re not here to be the largest commercial broker,” Ruhl said. “It’s not our plan to have as many brokers as CB Richard Ellis/Hubbell Commercial or Iowa Realty Commercial. We want to focus on the business we’re accustomed to doing, serve the clients we have here and add clients who appreciate our integrity.”
Ruhl likes the economic diversification, too. “Des Moines is largely a financial-based economy, and the Quad Cities are more manufacturing-based,” he noted.
Mumm plans on growth and change in the next couple of years. “We would like to bring on some more people, but they’ve got to be the right people,” he said. He also intends to emphasize property management. “A lot of people have been doing their own property management and are ready to hand the responsibility over to someone else,” he said.
Finally, Mumm has his eye on obtaining more elbow room. “We’re looking at making a change in our office location sometime in the near future,” he said.
Longevity is the rule
NAI Ruhl & Ruhl Commercial Co. is one of three companies that have grown from an insurance company established way back in 1862, the others being Ruhl & Ruhl Realtors and River Valley Development.
John H. Ruhl took over the business in 1899, becoming the first of four generations of Ruhls to lead the company. Today, Charles Ruhl Jr. heads the commercial operation in Davenport, working alongside brother John G. Ruhl II, a senior vice president, and the company also has offices in Des Moines and Dubuque. Their sister, Caroline, runs Ruhl & Ruhl Realtors. Chuck and Caroline oversee River Valley Development.
Ruhl & Ruhl Commercial split off from the realty operations about seven years ago and now employs about 50 people, manages more than 4 million square feet of commercial space in three states, completes more than $204 million in annual sales and develops more than $35 million worth of property every year.
The commercial operation became affiliated with NAI, an international commercial real estate company, in 1982. NAI’s operations include more than 3,500 licensed associates in 300 offices worldwide.