Leadership + People:
Episode 07 - Cameron Gunter - Part 1 of 2

In this episode CEO of Peg Development Cameron Gunter tells of how he made the transition from accountant to having raised over $300 million. He explains the value of listening to others, learning the fine art of delegation and what it is like working with NBA star Shawn Bradley.

Show Notes

  • How a relationship can turn to a partnership [03:27]
  • The importance of treating everyone with respect [06:18]
  • Do not assume you know the right way of doing things. Be open to new methods and ideas [09:48]
  • Launching a $100 million dollar fund [12:22]
  • The value of humility in business, even when you are NBA star Shawn Bradley [14:58]
  • The need for support at the top. Not all relationships need to be transactional. Some are to feel support and have a friend going through similar struggles as a leader in business [16:51]
  • Cameron Gunters jump from account into a $30 million dollar deal [19:54]

Show Audio

Show References

  • None of Note
Cameron Gunter- Part 1 of 2

This episode of Leadership and People
was originally released on:
October 24, 2017

Show Transcript

[BEGINS] 00:00

Welcome to Leadership and People. This is a series that pulls back the curtain on leadership by interviewing CEOs, Senior Executives and Entrepreneurs who had large exits. We ask these experts about how they built trusted networks to rapidly grow their companies.  And what advice they wish they knew if they could do it all again.

PEG DEVELOPMENT’S CEO, CAMERON GUNTER: “So if you don’t feel like you’re listened to, then why do you care to do business? Am I right? You need to feel appreciated. We all need to feel appreciated. Not that we or any of us are struggling for attention. But there’s some level of appreciation that we all need as human beings.”

00:44 HOST – JESS LARSEN: Today on the show we’ve Cameron Gunter. He’s the CEO of Peg Development. Cameron thanks for making time.

GUEST – CAMERON GUNTER: Thank you for having me.

Background on Peg Development

00:49 JL: So… let’s talk about this. You guys have raised 300 million dollars in the last; how many years since you’ve been here?

CAMERON GUNTER: We started in 2002. So 15 years or so.

01:00 JL: And tell us about the kind of projects you’ve been doing so far.

CAMERON GUNTER: We do multifamily…. Some of the first projects we started with. And hotels. We’ve done some office and retail. We actually back in 07, got out of the big retail stuff. It was just a challenging market. The retail world and… with the rates that are out there and some of the bigger public companies that have lower cost capital; it’s something we just decided not to stay in that arena to compete. We are doing some smaller stuff. And there’s potential to do some more master planning communities with retail in it. But from the standpoint of really being a retail development, we’ve stepped out of it and really focused on the multifamily aspect, the apartments where we have long term income, coming into us. And then also the hospitality component of development. We’ve really had some success in hotels and it’s really helped build our company. Because we have that ability to..to find the right locations and find the right brand and be, you know- have a relationship with the brands; the big brands. An example is last year…. for hyatt we were developer of the year for all of america’s. So it is a pretty cool little reward that we got. It doesn’t bring a whole lot of money. It’s a 30 lb crystal. It doesn’t give you much. But it shows what our company has done and the relationships we have with some of these brands.

02:35 JL: So about how many projects. You came on in 2002. Is that right?

CAMERON GUNTER: Yea, I started the company in 2002 with another gentleman named Richard Ellsworth. I bought him out of the company in 2005, when he’d been called in a church position to go serve for three years and he asked if i would buy him out at that point. I did buy him out. And since that time i’ve brought 2 other partners on. One in ‘07 and one in 2009; to really deal with our capital needs and our growth so… That’s been, you know, it’s been a fun ride to do- we do about 1.2 billion accumulative through to date. With another 3 to 400 million on the docket over the next year to 2 years so.

03:27 JL: Yea that’s exciting. Well the name of the show here: Leadership and People. Let’s talk about people for a minute. Before the show started we were talking about a couple people who have been examples to you. Let’s start with your partner.

The Value of Relationships

CAMERON GUNTER: Yeah so the partner I brought in, in 2007 was actually an investor with us in 2005, who was introduced to me by my former partner who was bought out. And we got him to invest in a project in downtown Salt Lake. An apartment project that  failed. Well I actually had another guy we talked about earlier is Shawn Bradley. Who was in that project with a couple other guys that were trying to figure how to get out of it. We came in and helped them really perform on an apartment project downtown that was really challenging, and so because of how we performed on that project and what we did to get it from nothing to now a cash flowing asset, we built some good relationships. One was with the partner that I had buy in in 2007. Where He bought 40% of the company and I own 60. He is, his name is reed halliday, has a company in….he was a Goldman Sachs guy and then he went out and started a wealth management company himself, a boutique company that really he focused on relationships and focused on how to treat people and what to offer people verses maybe the way Goldman Sachs did things in the past where… there was, you know, less personal, they were more business. Through Reed has the idea of- look relationships are important. I need to treat everybody the same. Everybody should be important regardless of who they are. And just watching him and the way he treated me and the way hes treated some of our other partners and other investors has been like he’s been friends with them for a long time. And I think as we, as we continue to go through life together with him and anybody else I think the important thing is everybody should be treated that way regardless of what status you are in your company. Whether you’re at the top of the food chain or at the bottom of the food chain, that look; everybody has good ideas. Some aren’t, some are but if you listen to them all I think it benefits us all. I mean we treat everybody the same. I think relationships grow and you just never know who’s going to be a partner in the future.

06:08 JL: So what’s an example of, of this, you know, being more dialed into them as a real life human?

CAMERON GUNTER: Oh ……[sigh]

06:18 JL: Or just what does it feel like to work with him compared to maybe some other folks who aren’t at his level?

Everyone Deserves Respect and to be Listened to

CAMERON GUNTER:  You never feel; with Reed, you never feel like you, you’re not listened to, right. So, your opinion is valued. At the same time it makes you value his opinion as well. And so another example is, I was- I worked for JR {inaudible}. And one of the things as I was going through, that was early in my career after I graduated from college. One of the things that he did very well, a lot of people don’t like JR, some love him. But one of the things he did very well, is he let the employees, even the new employees especially out of college, let them have a say. And he did it in a way that nobody knew who was talking. So he had this innovation center that was this big room and it all had computers, this was back when the technology wasn’t what it is today. But they would have a brainstorming session and they would have everybody from the CEO down to the interns in the room. And you could say your opinion right there knowing who was. And some of the most valuable opinions where some of the younger people. But implementation took the CEO or the guys who had the experience. So I think using that example and seeing how Reed acts interpersonally is really what a good leader should do. And that’s been a very good example to me.

07:50 JL: You know, you think about this thing that you said. You really feel listened to when you talk to him… it’s funny, you know, I have a bunch of friends from Goldman or Merrill or Morgan Stanley or something right. I think there’s a lot of guess works about what it’s like to work at those places. And it’s funny how the number one skill you bring up is his ability for people to feel listened to. Why do you think that makes such a difference in business?

CAMERON GUNTER: ….We all want to be listened to right? So if you don’t feel like you’re listened to, then why do you care to do business? Am I right? You need to feel appreciated. We all need to feel appreciated. Not that we or any of us are struggling for attention. But there’s some level of appreciation that we all need as human beings. And I think that has a lot to do with or how that relationship is built is if you’re neglecting me or you’re not paying attention to me and I’m off thinking of something else, then why would I want to continue doing business with someone like that. Just because, they may have or think they already have that knowledge now and they don’t need me. And that relationship may not go very far down the road if you become partners, or if you end up doing business is because somebody now is maybe not say the controlling partner, but they have it already in their mind what they are going to do. Versus opening up to other opportunities. So, and some may want to do that. Not everybody works together as partnerships, right. But if you can- and that’s why I like Reed. He’s open. His mind’s open. He is willing to listen. He is also willing to give input. Which is great. So learning from him, now I have that ability to listen to other people as well.

09:48 JL: It’s interesting. It sounds like such a simple concept right. I think; well I’ll just ask you. Why do you think so many of us especially, ambitious folks, or folks who have gotten into leadership, why do you think we struggle to do such a simple thing. Why do we spend so much time talking or telling?

Be Open to New Ideas and Opinions

CAMERON GUNTER: Well as I think, for me an example is sometimes I think I have, I know that I know the answer, because I had the experience doing it one way. And sometimes we get so stuck in how we did it before that we don’t think there’s a different way. Or we don’t think there’s a better way. And I’ve found myself doing that with my current employees, that- look I think this is the way you do it. And I’ve had to step back and say okay there is different ways of doing it. Sometimes ultimately we end up doing it the way that we talked about doing it in the first place. But a lot of times that’s not the case. We changed things in our company because of input from different people in the company, different partners, different staff members. So I think it is we have done it one way and we think it’s the right way. But we don’t open our minds enough to say let’s look outside the box. Let’s see if that way does work, and explore that. Sometimes it’s easier to just do it the way we did the first time.

11:11 JL: And so for somebody like your partner let’s face it -he’s a smart guy. He probably has some of those thoughts already. When he does fight that temptation and he listens first; what kind of advantage does he get by doing that?

CAMERON GUNTER: He sees other options, right. So he sees other ways that maybe on- if it’s a business deal, maybe it’s more profitable, maybe there’s less risk in it. And down the road there’s more profitability. We’re talking about an investment now that, you know, he has his opinion on what he thinks he wants to do. Which is a good opinion on it. But there’s also  some components that we thinks a better way. And so one of the things I think we have gotten to on this one is a compromise that works both – both things that maybe more risky on his side that are really cool, but then on our side where it’s less risky but less cool. That we’ve combined them together to make the project work. But maybe the returns not going to be the most sexy but it potentially could turn out to be a good return for both of us. And there’s a compromise there.

12:22 JL: When you think about… let’s talk about big deals. You guys are talking about- How big is the fund you are thinking about doing next?

CAMERON GUNTER: So we’re- because we have raised silo; or our deals, deal by deal in silos, we call them silos. And we’ve raised almost 300 million….deal by deal. We feel like we have built a big enough track record to launch a 100 million dollar fund, which we have hired a fund manager. A guy that has some experience with Baine and little bit of experience as A junior guy there, who’s running it and putting it together. And so as we have launched a 100 million dollar fund, its.. it’s- we’ve got some challenges ahead of us right. We’ve got communication challenges to our current investors. To say ok we’ve had you come in deal by deal and now we are going to launch a fund for the fund is really going to have to that first priority so we don’t have any conflicts to invest. We will allow co investment with us. But it does present some challenges. And there’s some challenges also as we sit and listen. We’ve never done a fund before. And so, you know,  we don’t know necessarily how to do it. We know how to raise money. We know how to do the deals. And so we brought this Jamison on to help us run the fund and put the fund in place… And so, you know we need to listen to other people. We need to listen to my partner. We need to listen to other people who’ve had the experience. Including you. I mean you’ve obviously had some experience in raising equity, and raising a fund so… It’s important for us, as we do this bond, to understand all the dynamics of it. It’s a- Because it’s a challenge and there’s a lot of things, you know, we don’t know about the fund or about how fund raise happens. And the biggest institutional groups are out that. And so I think this idea of leadership and understanding leadership has a big part in and how we understand and implement this fund.

14:30 JL: Yea. Let’s talk about somebody else for a minute. You talked about having Shawn Bradley as an investor and doing business with him. For starters how tall is that guy?

CAMERON GUNTER: So shawn is 7.6. I like to… When I meet with him I like him to sit down and not stand up next to me. Because you know im 6.3 and I’m usually one of the taller guys in the group.

14:53 JL: Career wise he went to the 76ers right?

CAMERON GUNTER: Yup the 76ers and then ended up with the dallas mavericks.

14:58 JL: What’s cool about working with Shawn Bradley?

Value of Humility in Partnerships

CAMERON GUNTER: You know Shawn’s a down to earth guy. He’s a… You know I was raised on a farm in Idaho. A farm kid. He was raised in rural Utah, kind of in farm country. So it’s just fun to know that someone like a Shawn Bradley, who’s a star, pretty much. I mean you know him because of his height and his basketball ability. But he’s a down to earth guy. And he’s another guy that listens. He will call me on occasion and say ‘hey tell me about this. How can you help with this business I just started. Help me with relationships out there’. So as you know as popular is as a high profile guy as Shawn Bradley he, I think, he has that ability- look I’m going to listen to someone else who has had some experience. Which I appreciate. I also ask him for advice as well. So not necessarily how to dunk a basketball because that’s more challenging but… He’s a very good guy. A very fun partner to be with. And a very personable guy.

16:06 JL: You know it’s funny looking from the outside in thinking, you know, wealthy NBA star you know, and we hear things in the news about whenever celebrities act poorly, you know, and being divas, you know. In a situation like this it really sounds like humility is a competitive advantage for him.

CAMERON GUNTER: Yea I think so. I think humility should be a competitive advantage for everybody. I think it opens up more doors and makes..If you are able to absorb from other people- …. Smarter people than you. Whether you think you’re smarter or not, that I think it really just opens up your mind to a lot of other opportunities to evaluate and implement different strategies.

16:51 JL: Well let’s shift gears here for a minute. You and I are both members of corporate alliance. The C4 group, you know. You are a busy guy. You’re building hotels in Alaska and doing all this sorts of stuff. Why make the time for a group like that?

Not all Relationships will be Transactional. Some are for Support.

CAMERON GUNTER: It comes to relationships. As we’ve been talking about leadership and relationships and business. Sometimes you work out business deals with members of corporate alliance. Other times you just create that relationship that helps you talk through issues. Or they may have relationships. So you know I’ve found myself on occasion talking to some of the members saying ‘Look I’ve got this issue, we’re going through some growth. How do I scale this? Am I the right CEO? What do I need to do as a CEO? How do you know if you’re doing the right thing as a CEO? How do you know if you’ve got the right people in the right position?’ So those things have been very helpful for me from the standpoint of- you’re building a relationship. It’s not a high pressure situation. And a lot of times, and my partner says, my other partner Mark Bingham says this all the time. He says ‘It’s lonely at the top’. And what that means is sometimes you just don’t have people to talk to about the things that are happening in the company that you shouldn’t be talking about, right. They need to go and think everything’s fine, your employees. I mean they need to know where you are at. But sometimes there are decisions that you have to make that really take you to make them. And so an organization like Corporate Alliance helps it be not so lonely at the top.

18:29 JL: You know, I couldn’t agree more. I’m thinking about, you know, the event you and I were both at on Friday.  And I think, like you said, you know, you want the investors to think you know what you’re doing so you aren’t necessarily telling them about the parts of your life where you don’t feel like you know what you’re doing. You know you want the staff to feel like they have a leader who they should be trusting to lead from the front, at first so you don’t want to freak everybody out. And for me that like event we were at on friday. You know there’s got to be 150 people there, right. And knowing that there’s all these people going through the same type of things and like telling the same kind of sarcastic jokes [laughs] about the parts of our lives that nobody else in our company has that exact problem if we’re the CEO.  But now you are in a room full of 75 ceos and their spouses. Then like it’s ok that I have these struggles. There are other people in life that have these struggles to. And maybe it helps with the self pity or the loneliness or those kind of things for me [chuckles].

CAMERON GUNTER: You are exactly right. there s a benefit and you feel comfortable right. Now you’ve got business friends. And I know some people in that organization that are more than just business friends. They are friends outside and they do a lot together so… It creates where you have some similarities in business and that where you’re at and you have that ability to escape or make that your escape versus some other escape that somebody may do so..

19:54 JL: Well listen we’re getting close to the end of part one here. Why don’t we close with a question. Thinking about all of the mistakes you have had to made, because everybody in business made mistakes. What’s something you wish you would have learned earlier?

Advice: Just Jump In

CAMERON GUNTER: Boy that’s a hard one because there’s a lot of things I wish I would have learned earlier. Probably the biggest one… I started my career as a CPA. Graduated from college, well played football and went to college and got a degree in accounting. And went and started my career in accounting. And then went and became a city manager. I always had a thought. Look I’d love to be a business guy. I love that concept of having something myself. I grew up on a farm, so anybody who doesn’t think a farmer is a business guy; that has their own farm, that has to rely on mother nature to make things work- is crazy. It’s not just a farmer, they’re business guys. So some of that where you have your own and you control your own destiny.  But it took me until when I was- How old was I? 30… mid 30s or so. Early 30s before I took the shot at doing something on my own. Which is good and bad right. I got the experience to get to where I was. So, you know, hindsight I probably would have said ‘Look. Maybe should have done it a little bit sooner. That maybe be on one of them. And then just after I did it, probably the ways I did it. I jumped in big time. We jumped into a 32 million dollar project right off the bat. And with the experience that I had It was probably a little bit too much. We did ok and we were where we were at. Should have started smaller. Maybe life wouldn’t have been so difficult to get to where we were at before the downturn. And so the downturn was a little tough for us but we got through it and it’s been great.

21:49 JL:  I Like that stoic Idaho farmer, “the downturn was a little tough for us”. [laughs] I’m guessing there was some emotion going around.

CAMERON GUNTER: There was a little bit of emotion. It was like that year on the farm when you didn’t have any rain for all year and you cut your crops and it didn’t come close to paying for what it cost to cut them, let alone everything else up to that point so… It was a little bit tough but we made it through it. We had great partners. And I think we learned from that which is going to help us in the future for sure.

22:24 JL: That’s great. Well let’s cut it off here for part one. Make sure to tune into our next episode. We’re going to ask Cameron about what life is like when you are trying to do a 100 million dollar fund.

ENDS [22:36]

X