Greg Dobson, Chief Operating Officer and Principal at AVB, tells us about his journey to leadership.
1970 | Born in Quincy, MI
I grew up in a strong family environment. However, my entire family is made up of die-hard Michigan State Spartans. So, when I got a last-moment scholarship to Western Michigan University (WMU) and decided to accept, there was more than a little tension in my household.
1988 to 1992 | Attended WMU, Studying Management and Accounting
Before I started college, I was obsessed with the movie “Top Gun.” I wanted to be an engineer, an attorney, and a fighter pilot all at once—I guess I wanted to be Tom Cruise. I planned to get a degree in engineering, find my way to a fighter jet, and then go to law school. Obviously, things didn’t play out that way. I found it a little hard to do all those things at once, and that led to some real rough decisions down the road. Looking back, I would tell my younger self to slow down. I was in a real hurry to expedite my studies and get into the Air Force as soon as possible, and I missed some opportunities to smell the roses and have a deeper college experience along the way.
1991 to 1999 | Assistant to WMU President Diether H. Haenicke
The interesting thing about Dr. Haenicke was that he wasn’t afraid to allow a twenty-one-year-old kid to sit in on every meeting. I was at every staff meeting and every meeting with the higher-ups. He always brought me along and engaged me in the process. Dr. Haenicke even sent me to the Mid-American Conference presidents’ meetings to represent him. The former president’s trust and encouragement meant a lot to me; he taught me that as a leader, you have to be willing to pull back and allow someone else to jump in and make mistakes. In his heart, he was a teacher; he taught not only by example and discussion but by giving you the leeway to discover things on your own.
1995 | Received an MBA from WMU Haworth College of Business
Other than my dad, Dr. Haenicke has been the biggest mentor in my life. Over the years, we did a lot of driving together, and while traveling, we would have deep conversations. He was the one who got me on track to doing what I do today. When I finally got the opportunity to become a fighter pilot, he talked me out of joining the U.S. Air Force Reserve and convinced me to pursue an MBA at WMU instead.
1998 | Associate Athletic Director at WMU
When I served as assistant to the president, I was very much involved in intercollegiate athletics, so the move to Associate Athletic Director made a lot of sense for me. My last day at the university was November 13, 1999. That day was also Tim Lester’s last game as the WMU Bronco’s quarterback, and coincidently, we are now neighbors and have remained friends ever since.
1999 to Present | Chief Operating Officer and Principal at AVB
I’m mainly involved in our commercial development. My title [now] is Chief Operating Officer, which means I coordinate the activities of our residential construction and residential development groups as well as our commercial construction and development groups. We have leaders who run each one of those organizations, but my goal is to make sure that we operate efficiently and leverage the value of that structure.
What Impacts Your Decision-Making More than Anything Else?
In my day-to-day, I try to focus on the ultimate as opposed to the immediate. I ask myself, “What is my long-term goal versus what would I like to have now?” A lot of time, the answers to those two questions are very different. It’s like thinking, “I’d like to have a Corvette now, but ultimately, I need to save for a home.” That’s the decision-making metric that I use and model. You have to be able to make those sacrifices. The word I always come back to is discipline. You have to have the discipline to make short-term sacrifices to invest in the future. That’s especially true for real estate as all our projects are long-term.
What Trends Do You See in the Industry?
I think the redevelopment of downtown Kalamazoo is going to continue to have legs and horsepower. On the residential side, we have noticed that the family-formation process for many millennials has been slower—they seem to be taking longer to move to the suburbs and form families. But at the same time, the baby boomers are impacting our business in a really positive way. We know that this community is going to continue to grow; it’s the reason why we are fully invested in Southwest Michigan and take pride in the initiatives that grow jobs, population, and our great school districts.