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Where Is Your Tool Belt?

By: Aaron P. Graft

September 12, 2012

Team member Keith Shepelwich remembers his first day on the job when he didn’t know the difference in a torque wrench and a hacksaw.

After working in the telecommunications industry for six years, I was eager to begin a new career in commercial real estate. Aaron Graft, the founder of Triumph Land & Capital Management, gave me that opportunity by hiring me as the company’s first employee. On my first day, September, 10, 2007, I reported to the Las Lomas Apartments. I looked forward to spending my time analyzing financial statements and determining whether oil rubbed bronze or nickel plated doorknobs would yield higher rents. Instead, I was greeted with a gruff, “Where is your tool belt?” from Bill the lead maintenance consultant for the property. I was certain that Bill must have had me confused with another Keith Shepelwich starting that day. After all, that Keith was somewhat capable of replacing a wax ring on a toilet or at least owned the aforementioned tool belt.

I quickly realized that I would be in the trenches to learn the business from the inside out. Over the next few hours, I moved a refrigerator from one side of the property to the other in a driving rainstorm. I dry-heaved while helping to repair a dishwasher filled with a thriving community of cockroaches. And I plunged a clogged bathtub while a man yelled at me in a language I didn’t understand. During my lunch break, I called Aaron from a nearby Arby’s—curly fries have a way of calming me down. He reminded me that the best way to learn about the leasing, maintenance, construction, and management of real estate was to actually do these things myself.

I spent the next two years working at a number of properties working in different roles, learning the ins-and-outs of the day-to-day operations of an apartment community. This knowledge base was invaluable in my development as part of the asset management team at Triumph.

We have come quite a long way since that fateful day in 2007. Somewhere along the way, Triumph purchased 1,000 apartment units, acted as receiver for another 5,000 units, and acquired a bank. Triumph now has 100 times more employees than the day I started. The headquarters has moved from a 500-square-foot room with one window and four cramped desks to a 25,000 square foot office with views of Dallas in all directions and ready-made Sonic© ice in the break room. And the number of Aaron’s computer monitors has quadrupled.

As much as things have changed, what’s important remains. Team members at Triumph are still encouraged to put on their “tool belts,” to get their hands dirty, and to do the work that needs to be done so we can have a positive impact on our customers, our community, and one another. I am proud to be a part of the Triumph team and look forward to the changes to come in the years ahead.

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