FORT COLLINS – If Kevin and Paul Brinkman had ended up in the right country many years ago, when Kevin was a civil engineering student studying abroad in Spain, they may never have founded the construction and real-estate company that bears their name, has built more than 200 projects along the Front Range and is developing almost 750,000 more square feet.
Paul, the elder by four years, had come to Spain to visit Kevin when the brothers bought Eurail passes — which allow non-Europeans to freely travel by train between 28 European countries — and boarded a train for France.
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As the train sped them through the Spanish countryside, past undulating hills of green and golden brown, Paul and Kevin drifted off to sleep. They awoke in Italy.
Late nights in foreign countries are isolating and introspective, especially if you never intended to visit that country in the first place, but they also bring you closer to the people you’re with. Those are the nights when you fix the world’s problems, talk about life and imagine the future.
Kevin and Paul sketched their future out on a napkin while they waited for a train to take them back from Italy. They had always thought about going into business together; now they got serious, writing down the broad outlines of what would become their company, working through the night until they caught the next train.
“I wish we still had the napkin,” Kevin said.
He and Paul realized their dream, and today are poised to grow it bigger than ever. Their company has spun out into Brinkman Colorado, which handles real-estate development, Brinkman Construction, which is self-explanatory, and Waypoint, a brokerage, consulting and investment firm.
Brinkman has also become 100 percent employee-owned through an employee stock ownership plan. The company wants to use “business as a force for good,” as Kevin put it, erecting buildings that benefit the community and create a sense of place.
Kevin took a job in San Diego after he graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder with that civil engineering degree, but he and Paul never forgot about that napkin, or that night in Italy. They kept talking about it, and finally Paul visited, and they finalized their business plan on the beach.
Aged 25, Kevin moved back to Colorado, into his newlywed brother’s house. Brinkman’s first project was its own office, a thousand square feet that they designed and managed themselves.
Brinkman’s first big project was a 4,500-square-foot building it built with the Fort Collins-based Everitt Cos. One building led to two, two to three. Brinkman and Everitt still have a working relationship. Kevin called that his company’s big break.
“Give Everitt credit for having faith in us,” he said.
The more Brinkman built, the more Kevin and Paul became fans of integrated design, where one company handles every step of the construction process, from securing the land to designing the building to actually building it to managing it post-construction.
“Integrated design is predictable,” Kevin said, citing the Foundry, a project Brinkman is building in Loveland. “Design meetings have project managers, budget people, leasing agents. It’s getting all that expertise together and building to budget.”
Integrated design also gives the designer more control over the project. In as high-risk a business as construction, reducing the variables you’re dealing with is invaluable.
It also raised issues, though, in that other real-estate brokers would see Brinkman as competition, even though brokerage was but one part of Brinkman’s business. Kevin said that some brokers wouldn’t work with other parts of Brinkman because of that. That was one of the primary reasons why Brinkman spun off its brokerage service into a separate entity, Waypoint, at the end of last year. The move allows Waypoint’s brokers to focus on third-party clients in addition to their in-house projects.
“No question within the first couple days, it’s made a difference,” Kevin said. “It helps open us up for more deal flow as a broker and a contractor.”
The other major change Brinkman underwent in the last year was its ESOP. Kevin and Paul had wanted the company to be employee-owned for some time; when Brinkman hit a “critical mass” of 100 employees, they thought it was the right time.
“It’s a tight labor market,” Kevin said. “There are less people in construction. We want to recruit and retain the best and brightest in the market.”
Using the ESOP, Kevin and Paul sold their 40 percent ownership shares, which were then divided amongst Brinkman’s employees. They didn’t have to buy in; they were given the shares.
“There’s a big difference in showing up as an owner instead of as an employee,” Kevin said.
Brinkman has a “no assholes” policy when it comes to its owners and business partners. Kevin said the company is in a position now to be more deliberate in the projects that it pursues, avoiding doing business with companies that don’t share its core values.
Brinkman has shifted its focus to projects that it thinks can benefit communities, rather than make it a quick buck. It’s adopted what Kevin called a “triple bottom line” that stipulates projects must have a positive social, environmental and economic impact.
He pointed to the Foundry, a development in downtown Loveland that will feature mixed-use retail space, apartments, a movie theatre, artists’ studios, condos and a parking garage, all arranged around a central, Old-Town-Fort-Collins-style town square.
Brinkman is also developing a similar project in Fort Collins, the 25,000-square-foot Harmony Commons on Harmony Road near the Hewlett-Packard plant. It will have mixed-use retail, dining and hotels around a central plaza.
Projects like these will help Brinkman become certified as a B Corporation, which is an independent review that signifies the company meets certain socially, environmentally and ethically conscious benchmarks.
“We’re walking the walk,” Kevin said.
And it’s working financially as well. Brinkman Construction topped $122 million in revenue in 2016, compared with $82 million two years prior.
It’s a long way from late-night train rides through foreign countries, from moving in with your newlywed brother, from that first thousand-square-foot office. Brinkman has grown to Kevin and Paul’s wildest dreams, and in the process they’ve brought the company full-circle, to a phase of giving back to the community that raised them, and their business.
“Being from here is a big help,” Kevin said. “The Front Range is one of the best real-estate markets in the country. We’re blessed to be born here.”