Interview with Brandon Birtcher '76

The following article is from our Spring, 2008 newsletter:

Brandon Birtcher ‘76

Following Mr. Birtcher’s visits to classes, he spent some time answering a few personal questions, ranging from his personal philosophies on leadership and his first exposure to leadership to the ways he spends his time when he is not working.

Q: How did your company get started? What has been your involvement in it?
A: Birtcher Development was started in 1939 by my great-grandfather after moving to southern California from Philadelphia looking for work. His son, my grandfather, got to know owners of citrus farms while in college, and he worked to help those landowners find a better, more profitable use for their property as urban areas closed in around their farms. My father joined the company, with his brother Art following soon afterwards following his graduation from CMC. The company grew as it became Southern Pacific’s exclusive developer for their land nationwide, building distribution centers, offices, and other buildings. In 1976, after graduating from CMC, I joined the company and have been there ever since. As a fourth generation developer, I have been blessed with some very good mentors, my grandfather, my father, and my uncle.

Q: What is the future of real estate?
A: Densification. Urban sprawl has been great in some ways, allowing for some very nice master-planned communities. But densification is going to be the new trend, looking inward to go up with density, rehabilitate old neighborhoods, create more of a sense of a community, and allow for more efficiency by allowing people to live closer together and stay off the roads. I also think we will be seeing much more environmentally friendly building.

Q: How did CMC prepare you to be a leader?
A: I had the pleasure of being the chairman of the Claremont Economics Association and we helped to take it to a new level, tripling membership and bringing in prestigious speakers. As Social Affairs Chairman, I put on the parties, which forced me to think outside the box and learn how to bring value to our events and attract students. One of the most interesting experiences I had was running for student body president, which taught me how to run a campaign, and it showed me how students can be active and affect life on campus.

Q: What do you do outside of work?
A: I have been lucky to find myself in a place and a time to use my gifts to help grow a vision that my church has had to do work in Africa. We work to help stop AIDS, contribute to education, and perform other philanthropic work. Twice a year, I meet with the Urban Land Institute, an organization of thousands of people in the industry: builders, architects, and planners. We spend time talking about our business and learning from each other. I love being outdoors, especially fishing. I once set a record for swordfish fishing in Cabo San Lucas, catching four swordfish in one morning.

Q: What lessons from fishing have you applied to your career as a real estate executive?
A: In many parts of my business, I like to use something called blue water strategy. It means getting away from the saturated waters where everyone else has already fished, and getting to the untouched waters by approaching a new market or trying a technique that has not been done before. Blue water strategy allows us to find an area where we can redefine or even get rid of competition, finding new clients and doing things differently. You won’t be in blue water for long, because the competition will quickly find you, which makes it even more important to be continuously searching for blue water, ready to take new risks.

Q: What advice do you have for students who may be interested in following in your footsteps?
A: One of the most important things to do if you want to be successful in life is to create a good set of habits early: to challenge yourself to take risks, to take opportunities and not be afraid of failing, and to have confidence in what you are doing without fearing the results. I would tell students to take as many risks as they can and gain confidence while they are still in school, whether its running for office or managing an organization, because taking risks and being leaders is what their jobs after CMC will be all about.

I would like to thank Brandon Birtcher for taking time off after visiting classes to answer questions, ranging from his personal philosophies on leadership and his first exposure to leadership to the ways he spends his time when he is not working. His guidance to the Rose Institute students is an invaluable resource.

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