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Tim Galvin Featured

9:47am EDT July 22, 2002

Tim Galvin faced one of his biggest undertakings shortly after he co-founded a commercial real estate company with business associate Tim Wathen.

It wasn’t a multimillion-dollar construction contract similar to ones he’d worked on, like the AEP headquarters or St. Ann’s Hospital, while he was employed years earlier at Turner Construction. This time, it was his own company, Equity, in need of his building expertise.

“We actually started in 1989 — the worst real estate year in this century,” Galvin says, attributing much of the company’s rocky start-up phase to the savings and loan crisis and subsequent stall in development.

“The first year we were profitable. The second and third were really tough; the fourth was hard; and the fifth we were really negative,” Galvin says, adding that the Columbus-based company became a hard-bid construction contractor from 1990 to 1992 in order to survive.

Once the real estate market started to heal, Equity began to grow, and in 1996, brought on its first full-time commercial Realtor. Now, the company has $20 million in revenues and 42 employees, plus 10 independent agents in Columbus and an affiliate company, Equity Residential Corp., near Cincinnati. In fact, Equity’s capabilities have even landed it such high-profile projects as converting the old DeSantis mansion into offices for Horizons Video.

Just as Equity began to recover, however, Galvin faced another repair job — this one originating after the purchase of the company’s East Long Street building in 1995. Galvin and Wathen waited more than eight months for a building permit from the city to renovate the 1921 building for office space.

“During that time, the building code changed twice and we lost financing, because time commitments ran out,” he says.

Tolerance also ran thin for the normally kind-natured Galvin.

“The day we got our occupancy permit, I filed a formal complaint against the Columbus Building Department,” Galvin says. “It was difficult to do for fear of retaliation. I gave it a lot of thought.”

He got support from three organizations in which he’s a member: Central Ohio Associated General Contractors of America, Central Ohio Builders Exchange and Associated Builders and Contractors.

“I decided the only way I could help the City of Columbus was to force state inspectors on them and force them to get better or at least make them look at their systems,” he says.

“He was probably the single individual responsible for the City of Columbus to revitalize and revamp their antiquated building department,” says Rich Hobbs, executive vice president, Central Ohio Associated General Contractors of America.

In fact, it was Hobbs who suggested Galvin might be able to help Delaware County solve similar problems when officials there recruited volunteers last autumn to serve on a Building Department Review Committee.

It wouldn’t be the first time Galvin volunteered his assistance. He serves on the Catholic Diocese of Columbus building commission, reviewing projects at parishes.

Galvin’s personality, which includes a “calm honesty,” makes him successful as a business person, says Bob Deibel, superintendent of buildings for the diocese.

“It’s ideal, because there’s not what you would call a flame point,” Deibel says. “He deals with things on a really good business level. I take Tim as a very hard-working person and a good family man.”

As a fellow shareholder and Equity’s CEO, Wathen echoes Deibel’s impressions of Galvin’s honesty.

“Tim never has any hidden agendas. He’s just real open; he throws it all on the table,” Wathen says, remembering that the very first time the two met, they came away with at least the idea of forming a company together.

“We share a common value system, which is integrated in our corporate culture,” Wathen says. “So Tim is waving the same flag I’m waving as a leader in the organization.”

The value system, he says, originates from a shared faith.

A Roman Catholic, Galvin calls the most humbling experience of his life an interdenominational retreat weekend, called Cum Christo, held at his church during Equity’s first year in business. Wathen attended the retreat a year later.

Galvin says he came away with a realization that ran contrary to the concept of “earning God’s love,” which he grew up with.

“What Cum Christo showed me is that’s not at all what faith is about. What God wants is a personal relationship with you,” Galvin says. “It’s not about going to church on Sunday and being a jerk all week. It’s not about what’s in it for you. It’s not something you can earn. It’s a process, and it’s a lifelong process. Salvation is a gift.”

“Steve and I struggled through these first few years in our business,” Galvin says, “and it really became evident to me that the only reason we were in this business is because God wanted us to be in this business.”

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.