Mark Saviers is a co-founder of Tempus Realty Partners, a real estate investment firm, and Sage Partners, a commercial real estate firm. Saviers has more than 33 years of experience in commercial real estate and is a proud alumnus of the Walton College. In 2018, he wrote a book entitled “Flipped,” telling the story of a community coming together to create triumph over tragedy. In this episode of the Be EPIC podcast, we discuss Savier's epic journey to real estate and becoming an author.
00:08 Matt Waller: Hi, I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Welcome to BeEpic, the podcast where we explore excellence, professionalism, innovation, and collegiality, and what those values mean in business, education, and your life today.
00:28 Matt Waller: I have with me today Mark Saviers, who is co-founder and general partner of Tempus Realty. Tempest Realty invests in real estate, and he is in charge of asset strategy. He's also the co-founder of Sage Partners. He has 33 years of experience in commercial real estate, and he has a Bachelors of Science and Business Administration from the University of Arkansas, from the Walton College of Business. Mark, thank you so much for taking time to visit with me today, I appreciate it.
01:01 Mark Saviers: Thank you, man. I've been looking forward to the time together.
01:05 Matt Waller: So, Mark, you have a really interesting career, and I've got a number of questions about it, but when you graduated from the Walton College, the amount of business activity in northwest Arkansas was pretty light compared to what it is now, and same with Little Rock, relatively speaking. Where are you from in Arkansas?
01:29 Mark Saviers: In Fort Smith. Grew up in... All my... I was born in Dallas, but from two years on, Fort Smith years. Vicki and I just had our 44th anniversary, and we're high school sweethearts from Southside High School in Fort Smith.
01:45 Matt Waller: Wow, congratulations. So Mark, if I understand this correctly, when you graduated from the university, you went to work for IBM, is that correct?
01:57 Mark Saviers: Yes. At that time, quite a few companies came on to campus at the University of Arkansas, so, there was an office where you would go on College Avenue where it had small building that had interview rooms, and IBM was among the companies that came there to interview. I remember interviewing with John Deere, Exxon. And so, coming out of college, man, I really didn't know what I was interested in, to be honest, and I did have a degree, or was about to get a marketing degree, but I was particularly interested in IBM because it was one of the top 10 companies in the world, employers in the world at that time, and I knew they had a great training program. So, that was the job that I really wanted.
02:48 Matt Waller: So, after you got that job, what did you do at IBM?
02:52 Mark Saviers: I was a marketing representative, at that time, in the data processing division, those were the days of the big mainframes, and there was no remote computing per se, was just coming on and we didn't have PCs then. So, in data processing division, which was the group that made the largest computers and had the biggest customers, there were two tracks: One was a marketing job, and one was a systems engineering job. And I was a marketing representative in the data processing division.
03:26 Matt Waller: So I know from something I read that you had a really good mentor at IBM, is that right?
03:34 Mark Saviers: I had a couple of good mentors, but the one that I think of the most often lives right there in Fayetteville, and still a good friend, George Knight, and he, at that time, had the Walmart account, which was already becoming a big deal internally at IBM. I can remember, I was in the honors finance class at the university, portfolio management, and we went to see Walmart, then, with Dr. Kennedy, who was our instructor. And at that time, I don't believe Walmart had 50 stores. But as they started to explode and as I came out of school with IBM, Walmart was already growing rapidly, and George had that account and also took an interest in me and gave me a lot of good advice along the way. So I'm still eternally grateful to George.
04:29 Matt Waller: Boy, having a good mentor makes a huge difference.
04:33 Mark Saviers: It did, and when I decided after five years to make a change in my career, I'd learned enough at IBM to know I needed a good mentor to go into commercial real estate. So that was really the primary target that I had, is where can I go where I could find a mentor that would really teach me the business, 'cause I knew by then, I had done well at IBM selling, and they had trained me for a year, as they did all the new employees at that time, so I felt really prepared to make presentations and do sales calls and all that. But I didn't have any idea if I could do commercial real estate. I thought I could lease space, which is basically marketing. I knew I needed a good mentor, so, for my next step, that's what I was looking for when I changed industries.
05:23 Matt Waller: And I know your next step was with Trammell Crow in Dallas, I believe, is that right?
05:30 Mark Saviers: Yes.
05:31 Matt Waller: And what did you do with Trammell Crow?
05:34 Mark Saviers: Anybody the Trammell Crow hired started out in leasing space, and there were property managers, there were other career tracks, but for those of us that came to Trammell Crow because we wanted to be partners and owners, if we did well, we all started in leasing, whether the office or industrial retail space, the space didn't matter. Trammell Crow was a... There were about 300 operating partners that were actually owners in the company along with Trammell Crow family and a few senior people in Dallas. But I was fortunate to be hired about one of those guys that was in the industrial business, then I knew I could lease the space, he had some vacant warehouse space and was a pretty large developer, even then, as a sort of a satellite office for Trammell Crow. And I knew I could lease the space; I just didn't know if I could learn how to design a building or build a building or all the other pieces, and he took time to invest in me and teach me those things.
06:35 Matt Waller: So with IBM, you had a great mentor in sales and marketing, and then you went to another company with a great mentor, it seems like a wise thing to do. How did you get interested in commercial real estate?
06:50 Mark Saviers: [chuckle] Great question. I get that often, and it was kind of a strange path, because coming out of college, as I said, I didn't know what I wanted to do, but I knew IBM was a great training ground. When IBM first transferred me from Little Rock, where their branch office was, to Fort Smith, our old hometown, 'cause I was gonna take over the accounts with Reem and Valdor Electric and Sparks Hospital all still right there. It was just an odd thing to be transferred home, but when they moved us, Vicki and I had bought a small house on Evergreen Street here in Little Rock, and those were the high inflation days. And when we sold our house, we made about 60% after a year of the same money I made working for a salary year-round. And all I did was we lived in it and we did some wallpaper and painting and put in some shrubs, and I thought, "Wow! If I can make that much on a piece of real estate that was... " Of course, it was leveraged, 90% leverage or something like that in those days, "I need to understand more how this inflation and leverage game works."
08:00 Mark Saviers: So I started investing on the side at IBM. In my free time, I bought a duplex in Fort Smith, and then in an eight-plex in Fort Smith, and was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. Went to two real estate classes at what was then called West Star Community College, now it's U of A Fort Smith, and took my first two real estate classes at the U of A Fort Smith and decided I really liked it. So when I decided it was time to do something different, commercial real estate made sense to me.
08:31 Matt Waller: And so, how long were you at Trammell Crow?
08:34 Mark Saviers: About 10 years.
08:37 Matt Waller: 10 years. So, by that point, you'd had a lot of experience just working, and then you decided to start your own business, is that correct?
08:45 Mark Saviers: That's correct.
08:47 Matt Waller: So you co-founded Sage Partners. And did you start it in Little Rock?
08:53 Mark Saviers: No, no. I was a partner in another Little Rock-based company that had expanded into northwest Arkansas, and when we sort of made a decision to part our ways in that business, the two guys in northwest Arkansas that were co-founders, Brian Shaw and Tommy Vanzant, lived in northwest Aransas. I was here in Little Rock, and we decided that our emphasis would be northwest Arkansas. Even 15 years ago, we could see part of what was coming, and so, my goal at that time was to be an ancillary office for Trammell Crow in Little Rock, but to really focus on the Sage business in northwest Arkansas, and that's proven to be a good decision.
09:44 Matt Waller: So, I know, making that move from working for a company to being on your own can feel unsettling. How did you know that it was the right decision?
09:58 Mark Saviers: Well, that's... One of the main things I think about that, then and now, is who my partners be? And I felt comfortable that all three of us had the experience to make a go of it on our own, but more importantly, the opportunity to work with Brian Shaw and Tommy Vanzant, who are two of the best people I've ever known in my life, and Tommy Vanzant, by the way, happens to be my brother-in-law, and not many people say that about their brother-in-law, but they're just... They're wonderful people. So to me, the decision was easy because I felt like between the three of us and the nucleus of the team, we could do well.
10:44 Matt Waller: And of course we see the names, especially in northwest Arkansas, we see Sage all over the place. You all have clearly grown quite dramatically here, but you're also involved in another company called Tempus Realty, and it's focused on investments. Would you mind talking about that a little bit?
11:04 Mark Saviers: Sure. Tempus is only about three or four years old, and previous to that, the principles of Tempus, most of them were operating in a company CapRock. But basically, as I got to this stage in my career, I decided that I wanted to focus more on investments and less on brokerage. Sage, on the other hand, is a great brokerage company. Some investments that more emphasis on a service business, and Sage was really wanting to grow the Little Rock office, which is happening now under somebody else's direction, Rick O'Brian, who's doing a great job, and Aaron Nickelson and several others here in Little Rock, who I'm still very close to. Anyway, I want to spend more time in the investment business. If you think about my background being Trammell Crow where we were builders and buyers of buildings, I really get more excited about building and buying than I do brokering. So, I shifted my time. I'm still a shareholder in Sage, I'm still on the board of directors, fully supportive of Sage and our son, Marshal Saviers, is president of Sage and I'm so proud of him, and I'm enjoying investing in markets around the country.
12:33 Mark Saviers: With Trammell Crow, I started in Dallas with him, then they moved me to New Orleans, where I opened, Vicki and I, opened a new office for Trammell Crow. And then they transferred us and our children to Chicago, so I was used to looking at new cities and trying to underwrite trends and demographics and deciding where to invest. So what I like about the Tempus work is we do the same thing. We're investing from the upper midwest, all the way through to Texas and over to the southeast US. So, really enjoy that work, and that's what Tempus is all about.
13:11 Matt Waller: So, you... Also, you journal a lot, is that correct?
13:16 Mark Saviers: Yes, every day.
13:17 Matt Waller: And when did you start doing that?
13:20 Mark Saviers: I did it for a while, 20 or 25 years ago, and then I was not very focused in that work, and it got to be overwhelming because I have a quiet time each morning in my meditation time, and I started trying to write too much and I said, "Okay, this is overwhelming," so I put it down, and then I was working with a young guy, I love to mentor guys, including in the faith, and my mentor in the faith had taught me about journaling. And when I was talking to this young man about it, I thought, "I should try that again, except I should do it just the way my mentor told me to do it and not try to overdo it." And now it's a really great way to capture thoughts, organize thoughts, and basically record what's going on in my life, and someday, I hope that my children and grandchildren enjoy all those notes.
14:17 Matt Waller: I really think writing about what you're doing helps you think more strategically about it. It can really help you make better decisions. And I know you've written even about your duck hunts, I understand, and other things like that.
14:35 Mark Saviers: [chuckle] Yep. Man, I could tell you where I hunted 18 years ago and who I was with, and what the bag was. Yeah, it's fun. It's fun to look back on, 'cause maybe I have some guys who came to hunt with me six or eight years ago, and they come back, and again, I don't overdo it, but I can read to them, I name each hunt by what happened on the hunt, and I can go back, and we can read those funny and fun memories of what we did together five years ago.
15:04 Matt Waller: So, you eventually wrote a book called Flipped. Would you mind telling a little bit about how you wrote a book that... Writing a book is a huge task.
15:15 Mark Saviers: Yes. [chuckle] One of the guys that I admired greatly, Robert Lewis, he quoted Winston Churchill and he said, "Writing a book is like giving birth to barbed wire."
15:27 Mark Saviers: That if you've written the book, you know what I'm saying, and I could really relate. Robert's a prolific writer himself and published many books, so it was an encouragement to me that my struggles and getting it done were not unusual. But the book is about a faith and family journey we went through when Tommy Vanzant, my partner at Sage and my brother-in-law and Vicki's only sibling, lives in Fable, fell off the ladder 11 years ago in February and broke his neck and is paralyzed to this day from the neck down and on a ventilator. And so...
15:58 Matt Waller: And this is one of your co-founders, correct?
16:01 Mark Saviers: Yes, yes. So, basically, Matt, what we were going through was besides having this happen to a family member, it was a tragedy for our family, it was a tragedy for our business, and we had a real crisis. So, through my journaling, I was capturing what was happening with Tommy and our family, and it occurred to me during that process that a lot of people are flipped by life, and perhaps if I can organize this in such a way that it was helpful to somebody, then maybe what we learned from the experience would be helpful to somebody else going through a hard time. So that was the motivation to write the book Flipped. We have a website called flipstory.com, that not only a person could buy a book there, but more important, they can find helpful resources, like how to apply for Social Security Disability, how to get a wheelchair, how to get a handicap van. We were trying to turn our experience into something that would be helpful to others. So, I'd encourage any listeners to look at flipstory.com, and hopefully, it's helpful.
17:08 Matt Waller: Well, Mark, we're proud to have you as an alum of our college, and I'm so grateful I had some time to visit with you. Thank you so much for taking time for this.
17:20 Mark Saviers: Well, let me just say before we close that the Walton School was a great experience for me. I felt very well prepared for my first job with IBM and thereafter from what I learned there, not only in the school, but the whole experience at the University of Arkansas, and I wouldn't trade that experience, and I don't think Vicki would trade that experience or anything. So I would recommend it to anybody that would ask me.
17:48 Matt Waller: Thanks for listening to today's episode of the BeEpic Podcast from the Walton College. You can find us on Google, SoundCloud, iTunes, or look for us wherever you find your podcasts. Be sure to subscribe and rate us. You can find current and past episodes by searching BeEpic Podcast, one word, that's B E E P I C Podcast. And now, be epic.