Relationships pay off Entrepreneurs help entrepreneur
But what many people might not know is that GFT’s relocation and expansion were made possible, in part, by long-time businessman and philanthropist Peter Cook and “the good, smart, hardworking people” around him who take care of the details at Cook Holdings, which owns the Atrium Woods property.
When GFT President and CEO Gary Tilkin moves his business into Atrium Woods, he’ll be in good company. The building was once the headquarters of Cook’s former Mazda Great Lakes auto dealership business and was also once the headquarters of a small IT firm called Sagestone Consulting, which was started by local entrepreneur Keith Brophy. Through acquisitions, that little company eventually morphed into RCM Technologies, a national technology firm with multiple locations.
“Fortunately for both Gary Tilkin of GFT and Keith Brophy of RCM Technologies, I had exactly what they needed: office space,” Cook said. “Gary wanted to buy a building and could see his company in the Mazda Great Lakes former headquarters. To accommodate Gary’s plans, Keith needed to relocate to a new office, and I had space available in the Cook Plaza building.”
RCM’s relocation to Cook Plaza on Charlevoix Drive in Centennial Park will allow RCM to reconfigure its work environment to better suit the needs of its 51 local employees, said Brophy, general manager of RCM’s Enterprise Integration Services division. The company will also create an onsite lab at the new location, and the new facility will allow for more meeting rooms and free-flow work areas, he said. Brophy founded Sagestone Consulting in 1997 in the basement of his home, and, in 2000, moved the business into offices in Atrium Woods, becoming Cook’s next-door office neighbor.
“That was a very fortunate move for us,” Brophy recalled. “We knew it was a beautiful building and a beautiful location, and one of the added benefits I discovered after moving in was that Peter’s office was right downstairs. He was a great inspiration and mentor to me over the years: He always had a wealth of stories and lessons learned to tell. Sometimes I’d ask him for perspective on some issue I was facing, and he would share his words of wisdom with me.”
Bloomfield Hills-based NuSoft Solutions acquired Sagestone in November 2004. In March 2008, RCM Technologies of New Jersey acquired NuSoft and Brophy was named to his current position. Brophy said that, given his history and good experience with Atrium Woods and Peter Cook, he wanted to continue his landlord-tenant relationship with Cook Holdings by moving into Cook Plaza. It was an easy decision, he said, and the Cook Plaza building is perfect for RCM’s needs.
Cook said it’s difficult to estimate how many entrepreneurs he’s worked with or counseled, either as an investor, partner or mentor over his career, but he said the number is substantial.
“However, I’m not as interested in the number of young business people I’ve helped over the years,” Cook added. “Rather, I just hope that I’ve been able to be a positive and encouraging part of their business efforts. In fact, many of them still come to me today to thank me for believing in and backing them.”
Cook said it has always been important for him to reach out to and encourage other entrepreneurs because he has been blessed with the resources to help others and because others helped him when he was starting out. He said the best business advice he’s ever given anyone was this: “Keep your eyes and ears wide open for opportunities. I tell people that when you see an opportunity to help others, you could very well be helping yourself.”
According to Cook Holdings, Cook started his career working as cost accountant in 1937 at Blackmer Pump. In 1948, he became controller at Ranger Reel, a fishing equipment manufacturer. It was there he met lifelong mentor Howard Sluyter, who introduced him to the import automobile business. Cook said Sluyter provided him with opportunities, financial support and encouragement in his early days. By 1950, Cook was selling imported autos at Import Motors, and in 1954, when awarded the distribution rights for Volkswagen, he was named president of the company. He was aligned with Volkswagen until 1980 when he was bought out of Import Motors. In 1977, Cook was awarded the distribution rights for Mazda vehicles and parts for five states and founded Transnational Motors, which did business as Mazda Great Lakes. Under Cook’s leadership, the company grew to 130 employees supporting 130 dealerships. After 23 years, Ford’s investment in Mazda brought an end to the independent distributorship, and the business was sold to
Mazda North American Operations in 2000. Since then, Cook has continued his entrepreneurial spirit as chairman of Cook Holdings.
What drove the success of Mazda Great Lakes? “That’s an easy one,” Cook responded: “I hired good people, people that I trusted, and then let them do their jobs.”
Tilkin is looking forward to expanding his business with the help of “good people,” as well.
“We feel that West Michigan is the best place for our business,” Tilkin said upon announcing GFT’s relocation and expansion plans in March. “The region offers a high-tech, diverse work force — the type of ‘creative class’ talent GFT needs to succeed.”
To support GFT’s expansion and move to Atrium Woods, the Michigan Economic Growth Authority approved a High-Technology MEGA Tax Credit for GFT in March valued at more than $1.3 million over seven years. Additionally, Grand Rapids Township approved a property tax abatement of $12.3 million in equipment and $3.9 million in renovations to the building March 3. GFT will invest $13.8 million into the expansion, which is expected to create up to 105 new jobs over the next five years, according to Tilkin.
Tilkin founded GFT in 1997 to meet his clients’ increasing demands for foreign currency trading in the futures and spot forex markets. GFT’s trading platform is powered using many of the tools once only available to interbank professionals, many of which GFT offers for free to its customers. The platform delivers real-time currency prices, real-time price charting, technical indicators and up-to-the-minute world and financial news, according to the company.
In 2003, GFT introduced a second generation of its software DealBook FX 2 and later introduced DealBook Mobile, a full-featured forex trading application for mobile devices. In 2007, GFT introduced DealBook WEB, a Web-based platform for streamlined trading. Today the company serves customers in more than 120 countries and employs 312 people worldwide. The 105 new hires over the next five years will add to GFT’s current Grand Rapids employee pool of 146 people.