Putting down roots in GR works just fine for real estate vet

October 24, 2011
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Anne Ficeli wanted to live and work in Grand Rapids even before the downtown began to reinvent itself with the opening of the Van Andel Arena in 1996. Today, roughly 27 years after her first taste of the city, Ficeli directs the property-management section at Colliers International of West Michigan, one of the region's largest commercial real estate firms. Her department manages about 800,000 square feet of space.

Ficeli joined Colliers seven years ago and has been with the company through all its transformations — from Paramount Properties to Grubb & Ellis, through the merger with Commerce Realty and to its current standing.

"I enjoy the people I work with. If I didn't, I wouldn't be here," she said. "I have a lot of respect and admiration for the partners of the firm," she said.

Ficeli was born in Jackson and spent her younger years there. She moved here and attended East Kentwood High School for her freshman, sophomore and junior years before returning to Jackson for her senior year. With a keen interest in finances, she earned an accounting degree at Jackson Community College, and also received the Certified Property Management designation from the Institute of Real Estate Management.

"I've got that strange combination: I like working with numbers and I like working with people," she said. But it was her years at East Kentwood that whetted her appetite for the city.

After graduating from Jackson CC, she took a broker's job in her hometown at AG Edwards in 1987. On Oct. 19 of that year, the Dow Jones Industrial Average took the largest one-day drop in history when stock prices fell more than 22 percent.

"Working at AG Edwards was quite an experience — watching the impact that day had on a lot of people's lives," she said. But at the time, Ficeli had no inkling that the market's dramatic crash would lead her to what she feels is the biggest break in her successful career.

While at the financial firm, her best friend's father, Jack Rutledge, called to tell her he wanted her to join him at his new advertising firm in Grand Rapids. After the Black Friday crash, which actually occurred the following Monday in the U.S., Ficeli wasn't sure she wanted to base her life's work on the quirks of the stock market. So she decided to take Rutledge up on his offer, and starting in 1988, she spent four years at Rutledge, Wallace, Schaffer, Swanson & Associates.

"We did a lot of work with Haworth, Donnelly and Country Fresh," she said. "I learned a lot during that experience. I consider that my biggest break because it brought me back here to Grand Rapids.

Anne Ficeli

Company: Colliers International/West Michigan
Title: Director of Property Management
Age: 45
Birthplace: Jackson
Residence: Walker
Family: Husband, Chris, and daughter, Stori.
Business/Community Organizations: BOMA West Michigan past president, Our Hope Association board of directors
Biggest Career Break: Joining Jack Rutledge and Dave Wallace in a start-up advertising agency, a move that brought her back to Grand Rapids.

"I went from there to working for a small start-up company called RDV Corp. That was also a great experience, as it was truly the beginning of RDV Corp. I think there were a total of four of us working there at the time. We had just moved from 190 Monroe to 126 Ottawa."

One day at the new location, Ficeli overheard the building's manager say that he needed help. She applied for and got the job, and her career in property management began.

"That's how a lot of people end up in property management — by accident, or they sort of fall into it. And that's what I did," she said. "The name of that company was Oxford Partners, and we managed all of Peter Cook's real estate at the time."

At Oxford, Ficeli oversaw more than 400,000 square feet of office space and a staff of five. Her work required her to manage tenant relations and coordinate maintenance, repairs and improvements for eight office structures. About nine years later, Ficeli left Oxford for the Granger Group. There she managed more than 1.5 million square feet of office, industrial, warehouse and retail space and headed a staff of 14.

"We managed Bridgewater, along with some other assets and investments that Gary Granger was involved with."

Ficeli has been married to her best friend, Chris, for 13 years. The couple lives in Walker. Chris is an entrepreneur and owns Ficeli Painting Inc. "He has been doing that for, I would dare say, 10 years now," she said. They have a daughter named Stori.

"She is a fabulous young woman. She is 20 years old and has just started her third year of nursing school. She is a University of Detroit Mercy student, but is taking her courses through Aquinas and works for Saint Mary's. She is a CSA — a certified nursing assistant," said Ficeli. "She picked exactly the right profession for her because she has a huge heart and she loves helping people. I'm very proud of her."

Ficeli loves animals. In fact, she and Chris have rescued neglected and abused animals and currently have two dogs they saved living with them. She bikes and walks in her spare time, and enjoys reading.

"I kind of have an eclectic taste when it comes to reading. I just finished reading 'Jane Eyre' and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it," she said. "I've read kind of the … book-of-the-month-club sort of thing, and those are the books that tend to get most of the attention. But I happened to think that I hadn't read a lot of the classics, so I've kind of made a commitment to read one or two classics a year."

As for her community involvement, Ficeli has shown a keen interest in the lives of young people and troubled women. She was a facilitator for Project Rehab's Project Charlie, spending four years speaking with third and fourth grade students on how to deal with peer pressure and providing them with insights on how to resolve conflicts in a non-violent manner.

"It was sort of a drug-prevention program, but it was more than that. We talked about bullying and, basically, how to get through life," she said.

Ficeli currently serves on the board for Our Hope, a Heritage Hill-based group that primarily works with women who are battling substance-abuse problems. "It's kind of a quiet, little organization that has been around for 30 years. One of the founding members was Nancy Mueller, who recently passed away."

In a more career-related volunteer effort, Ficeli served a few years as president of the Building Owners and Managers Association of West Michigan. As with many groups, the poor economy has taken its toll on BOMA. "It is smaller than it once was, but it is still very much alive," she said. "Hopefully, once things rebound, so will it and get a little bit larger than it is today."

Ficeli is looking forward to better days ahead, and not only for herself. "Things are still a little bit uncertain right now, but I think there are a lot of indicators that show things are improving with the economy, and I'm hoping that people's confidence in the economy starts coming up with that, because that's what's going to bring us back," she said.

"So I'm looking forward to starting to see some of that in the clients that we work with and the people that I work with. I feel like there is so much gloom and doom out there. I'm looking forward to seeing a little more joy, a little more happiness in everybody that I come across because I'm a little tired of the gloom and doom, and it's time to look up."

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