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Leland Consulting Group Celebrates 30 Years

December 2019

Over the years, I started, owned, and operated several consulting firms. In 1984, I left the real estate consulting business, recruited by Portland General Corporation to build a real estate development company. As President and Chief Executive Officer of Columbia-Willamette Development Company, I grew that business over four years with projects in Portland, Seattle, Tacoma, and joint ventures in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Colorado. By 1989, I was quite exhausted. It had been a very rigorous run and I decided that I was not particularly enjoying it any longer. I had previously sold my interest in Leland and Hobson Economics Consultants to my partner Wally Hobson. I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do except I knew it was time to calm down.

Our careers are a journey. All who read this will likely acknowledge that our work, whatever we do, is a series of changes, some up, some down, but learning and adapting as we go. I acknowledged to myself that I liked the real estate consulting business. It was a great way to put bread on the table and to address my insatiable curiosity. The things about consulting that are so attractive, then and now, are the variety of assignments and interesting clients and new friends that seek advice.

I decided I wanted to return to the consulting business, but not in the same way as before. As a developer, I found myself buying consulting services from a variety of firms and individuals. What some were selling me was in many cases not what I really needed. I wanted answers. I wanted direct, clear recommendations that addressed opportunities and concerns. All with the conviction that those answers had been arrived at thoughtfully and, hopefully, accurately. I wasn’t interested in reading a long report of 50 or 80 pages, which is what I used to produce and sell. I also wanted to work in an environment where I could have direct communication with top decision makers, whether they be a CEO, a mayor, city manager, or other public or private leader. To the extent realistic, I didn’t want my advice and recommendations filtered through someone else’s thought process before it arrived at the end user. In a downtown redevelopment strategy, it is appropriate to report to the planning director and the city manager together, planning and politics being inseparable.

People Places Prosperity – a byline I coined because it captured what I thought best described what we should be doing. Our work needed to be about people. To understand the market (people) in my experience is the single most important component of real estate decision making – to understand their needs, desires, ability to satisfy those needs and desires through jobs and wages, and then to help establish the places where they can carry out those needs and desires, whether it be a place to live, to work, to shop, to relax, and more. And if we were successful, the end result would be prosperity in the full sense of the word; not just economic, but equally importantly, social, physical, environmental, and other forms of holistic prosperity.

That driving focus, coupled with a parallel but highly supportive principle, formed the philosophical basis for Leland Consulting Group. That principle was that, if fully doing our job, we needed to be “guardians of the vision” while simultaneously advising about details, making the two (vision/details) seamless.

I sold the firm to two of my employees, Chris Zahas, now Managing Principal of the firm, and Jane St. Michael, who had been with me for 25 years and was and is a highly able and capable manager who also happens to be my daughter. When they told me that they were ready to take over, I knew that to be true – I had been watching closely. They and the other people in the firm very much understood the business and the philosophy driving it. It pleases me no end to see that that philosophy continues to this day. There had been four offers to purchase Leland Consulting Group along the way, and I turned each one down because I realized how damaging an acquisition could be to our culture and to the future of the employees who I was privileged to work with.

Now, at 80, I continue to work in my chosen field. It is important for me to stay relevant, to use the skills that I have developed over decades in this fascinating industry. I formed a U.S. firm that does business in Mexico and other countries. My wife Cheryl and I live full time in Mexico and have for the past six years. Occasionally, I have the opportunity to work with Chris, Jane, Brian, Sam, Ted, and Kristina on engagements in the United States and, by the same token, they help me with some projects in Mexico.

I am a firm believer in honoring relationships that involve trust and professional capability, a sense of humor (because serious and responsible are not the same thing), and a true sense of satisfaction working together in teams and cooperative environments. I have had the privilege and the pleasure of working with highly skilled teams and individuals from around the world. That continues today.

In closing, Leland Consulting Group is one of the true highlights of my career. It gives me a great sense of pride and satisfaction to see it continue to succeed and to grow its markets. Through it, I have had the opportunity to make a great number of friends, to work on interesting and intellectually challenging engagements, and to build relationships that remain today. Thirty years have passed. The fact that Chris, Jane, Brian, and the others continue to hold to a high standard, operate truthfully and professionally by bringing the best possible advice to the firm’s many public and private clients, is extremely satisfying – all frosting on the cake.

I wish all who took the time to read through my 30-year tribute, Felíz Navidad, Felíz Año Nuevo y un Próspero 2020.

Dave Leland

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Kristina Benson
Kristina Benson
Dec 20, 2019

and have a happy new year!

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