What I’ve Learned: Brett Coleman ’84 (finance)
While a business student at Nevada, the professor who was the most influential during my college experience was Dr. Nazir Ansari. He taught the most difficult class—Strategic Management and Policy Formulation—a class that I’d heard about since my first day on campus. After my first day in his class, I told him that I intended to get an A in his class, even if it killed me. I challenged myself and put Nazir on the spot to pay attention to me. Fortunately, I did well in the class and developed a friendship with Nazir after I graduated. We have lunch at least once a year. Each year, I told him that someday I wanted to start my own business. After a few years of hearing the same line from me, Nazir asked when I was actually going to do it. At first, I was rather insulted at his directness, but later realized that he was exactly right. The next day I resigned from my position and decided to start my own business, even though I didn’t know what it was going to be. Shortly thereafter, I started Coleman Communities, a residential homebuilding company, which later joined with Barker Homes forming Barker Coleman Communities. Nazir, more than any other person, influenced me to take flight. I’ll always be indebted to him for that.
Occasionally in my business classes, we would hear speakers who were entrepreneurs and business owners. I was always excited to learn about how they got started and their business accomplishments, especially the process of growing their enterprises. I realize now that the key to success is persistence. There are so many good ideas out there in the world—business ideas, inventions, medical breakthroughs—but to actually follow through on making something happen, that’s the challenge that most people are unwilling to face. They give up too quickly. There will be obstacles, but you cann’t let them deter you from realizing your goals.
There is never a perfect time to start a business. If you wait for the stars to line up, you will never do anything. Today’s economic environment is not ideal, but it is tremendously better than it was two to three years ago. I think we are on the upswing in this region. Real estate is slowly recovering, but the overall economic health of northern Nevada is fairly good. It would be better to start a business now than at the top of the cycle, like in 2006.
As a CEO running a homebuilding company for 11 years, I experienced many challenging situations and, in fact, financial survival was on the line in many cases. What I learned was how to approach those situations, maintain my composure and not crumble under pressure. I also am proud of the team of people assembled for Barker Coleman Communities. I learned to surround myself with smart people, especially those smarter than myself. We created a culture where people enjoyed coming to work and working with each other. We also developed strong relationships with sub-contractors, suppliers and vendors because we maintained integrity in our business commitments to them. We did what we said we would do. In turn, they were loyal to us when we needed them, which had a long-term positive impact on our company.
To be a successful entrepreneur, you have to be a risk-taker. Many people find it difficult to take entrepreneurial risk. You also need a tremendous amount of confidence that you can overcome obstacles. One of the hardest things for an entrepreneur is to hear people tell you that you cannot achieve your goals. You have to be able to filter out negativity and move forward.
Also, be empathetic, whether for the people you work with, your customers or suppliers. I believe you can be more successful when you actually care about people and their well-being. One I admire most in business is Herb Kelleher, the former chairman of Southwest Airlines, with whom I’ve become friends. I share his philosophy on taking care of people in the company, caring about what is happening in their personal lives, and truly taking an interest in them. In some cases, this may mean that the customer is not always right. Sometimes the customer can be unreasonable and treat your teammates in a way they don’t deserve. It is okay to tell those customers that they are not right.
Plan for success and for what happens when you achieve it and beyond. When we finally sold Barker Coleman Communities to the Lennar Corporation, it should have been the biggest celebration ever, tantamount to winning the Super Bowl. Suddenly, you realize that it’s your last game. You are out of the league and don’t get to play anymore. It was quite an emotional adjustment and a bit disconcerting. Afterward, I struggled to find the next chapter.
Starting businesses is my passion. About four years ago, my current business partner, Arne Hoel, and I started a business together. Coincidentally, we both have five kids, so we formed 10K Investments—the 10K representing 10 kids. Today, we own businesses locally and in Arizona and Texas. We employ approximately 600 people.
All five of my kids seem to have a taste for business. My daughter Cristianna ’12 (international business), as part of her college experience and much to my insistence, studied abroad in San Sebastian, Spain through the University Study Abroad Consortium. She had a fabulous experience and caught the travel bug. Now, we have partnered with another business associate to start a wine distributorship business, Sapphire Family of Wines. She is a budding entrepreneur.
My eldest daughter Cassandra is completing her master’s in speech pathology at Wichita State University. She and her husband will return to Reno to work. My son Dillon is a sophomore at Nevada. My daughter Bayleigh is a senior at Reno High School with an interest in marine biology, and my youngest son Logan is a sophomore at Reno High. All my kids are wonderful people and truly nice human beings. I am so proud of them for that more than anything else.
When you are fortunate enough to have some success, I think it is important to give back to your community. Years ago, we formed a foundation that has supported many community causes, including the Boys & Girls Club of Truckee Meadows, Big Brother Big Sisters, The Children’s Cabinet, and a scholarship at the University. I think it imperative to find a balance between business and truly making a difference within our community.
From a conversation in November with Crystal Parrish, director of corporate and foundation relations. Coleman, a 1984 Nevada finance graduate, is the 2014 Foundation Board Chair. He is a partner in 10K Investments and in several businesses in Reno, Arizona and Texas. Coleman founded Coleman Communities, a residential homebuilding company, in 1994 and later merged with Barker Homes forming Barker Coleman Communities. The company was sold to Lennar Corporation in 2005. Coleman is extremely proud of his five children: Cassandra, a graduate student at Wichita State University; Cristianna ’12 (international business), a budding entrepreneur; Dillon, a sophomore at Nevada; and Bayleigh and Logan, a senior and sophomore, respectively, at Reno High School. Coleman has supported many local charities that assist children in need and established a scholarship at Nevada for students with financial need.
I was in awe of the entrepreneurs who presented to my business classes and thought, “if only someday that could be me.” The dream didn’t seem attainable at the time, and I could have used more encouragement as a student. My advice for today’s students is to find something you really enjoy and recognize that the dream is attainable. Be confident, focus, follow through, and make it happen.