Jim Merkel pushes Rockbridge upward from a strong foundation

“As a private equity firm, you have to be capable of answering those questions in detail, and servicing those institutions effectively,” Merkel says.

As the firm got more and more engagement from investors, it invested in technology and improved business processes for better financial reporting and business intelligence. He says this allows them to give investors first class, transparent information, which in turn provides a competitive advantage.

The company also created an affiliated group, RB Hotel Development, which oversees new construction and significant renovations for turnaround projects.

“What we found through the downturn is that when (we) invest in these types of projects, we needed to have our internal team overseeing those renovations because we were the majority investor,” Merkel says. “We needed to make sure that the dollars got invested where we wanted them to get invested, and that it was done correctly.”

 

Takeaways:

  • Focus forward to always evolve and get better.
  • Look at a lot; do a little.
  • Don’t under invest in your assets.

 

The Merkel File:

Name: Jim Merkel
Title: President and CEO
Company: Rockbridge

Born: Columbus
Education: Bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Michigan.

Why did you get a history degree? I knew that I wanted to go into the investment field, and when I went to school, I met a CEO who had gotten his MBA. He gave me very good advice: Get a liberal arts education, and then when you’re ready to specialize get an advanced degree.

I was taking history classes and getting a lot out of it. It taught me reading comprehension; how to draw conclusions where there’s really no right answer but where you’re being persuasive about your interpretation of a set of events; and to study human behavior.

The history degree is incredibly valuable in what we do — in understanding human behavior and determining what outcomes are going to result from certain behaviors. The adage that ‘history repeats itself’ is very true because humans are the same, just interacting with different variables at different points in time of history.

How did you determine you wanted to get into investing? When I was 10, my father — his father was an investment manager who invested in companies — taught me how to look at and invest in companies. So, I made my first investment. I put $200 into a company, and it turned into $600 in two years. And I thought that was the greatest thing in the world.

By making that decision and being able to evaluate companies and the trajectory of a company and create value that way, it was very impactful to me.

So, your father was a big influence? Yes. My other influence is from my grandmother who was an immigrant, a female who ran a business and this incredibly strong and successful woman — a make-it-happen person. I just always believed anything was possible when you roll up your sleeves and you work hard.

She really set an amazing example for me because the challenges I face today pale in comparison to the challenges that she faced and the courage that she had. It keeps me grounded.

What’s your favorite hotel amenity? It’s really the common area — the lobby and food and beverage experience at a hotel.