Some background on McKinley: we are a privately held, family owned, owner-operator of multifamily apartments, one of the largest in Florida and likely the largest along the I-4 Corridor between Daytona Beach, Orlando and Tampa. We have been in business since 1968, we love Orlando and Tampa, and we are genuinely committed to Central Florida for the long term.
It was 2008, and we had been executing a rather significant strategic expansion in Orlando, Daytona Beach, Gainesville and Tampa for several years at that point. Then Sept. 15, 2008 came around, the day Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy. Like many reading this article, that day changed the landscape for so many of us, really all of us in real estate, and that event caused us to make sweeping changes to what we had been doing and what we would do next.
We lived through the real estate crash of the early 1990s, and the recession of the early 1980s, but “The Great Recession” was different. Access to capital froze like we had never seen before, the market immediately melted down, and the real estate industry in the U.S. essentially came to a halt. Fortunately for us, we had great relationships in the financial community, particularly with our commercial banks and our long term lenders. It was shocking to see the CMBS (collateralized mortgage backed securities market) evaporate, and having grown up as a banker in the 1970s, I was shocked to see how quickly everything froze up and just shut down.
Faced with that reality, we “went to the mattresses” to use a famous line from The Godfather, we gathered the team around the table and used this burning platform to effectuate immediate and radical change. We proceeded to operate more efficiently than we ever had before, we counted every nickel, and we personally visited with every one of our lenders connecting face to face and rallying their support.
Looking back on our history, I am proud to say that we have never missed a mortgage payment and never missed payroll, but that period between late 2008 and 2013 really put us to the ultimate test. As we took inventory of what was going on, determined what we had to do to stay alive, we then decided that exact moment was actually the best time for us to expand and thrive. We rallied our team, we designed a focus plan to expand in our core I-4 Corridor markets, and then we engineered and executed our largest Florida expansion ever.
Our “WAY FORWARD” strategy included four (4) key elements:
- We focused on becoming even better apartment owner-operators. We focused on building stronger relationships with our team members and our customers. We built an organization that was flatter to our customers, and focused on enhancing the entire customer experience. We connected with our customers in ways we had never done before, making major investments in technology and in our apartment communities themselves. We thought we were good, but things had to change, and now we know what extraordinary looks like! In the final analysis we understand looking back that this was the major differentiator in our outcome, it was the difference between winning and losing.
- We then took advantage of historic low interest rates, and coupled with our improved operations, we were able to essentially refinance our entire portfolio, building a fortress balance sheet with low rate long term financing for years to come. That allowed us to then build strong recurring cash flows and a very strong liquidity position.
- We divested ourselves of those assets that we didn’t want to bring into our future that either took away from our core focus, or just didn’t fit. In all cases they didn’t contribute to our long term value creation plan and to our improved financial position.
- We focused on our people and our culture, creating a smaller, more adroit, more genuine, more flexible, and a more caring place, and that became the foundation of a multi-generational leadership team that will take our enterprise into the future. Those leaders aged in “dog years” between 2008 and 2013, adding a lifetime of experiences in just five years.
Today we look back on our accomplishments by our extraordinary team, the portfolio of generational multifamily assets that we curated, acquired and redeveloped during the past eight years, and we are most pleased with what we see. From adversity comes great things, a burning platform is a great opportunity to make transformational changes to a business.
In the spirit of Halloween, don’t miss your opportunity when a horrifying business experience comes your way!