THURSDAY, AUG. 2
Post Falls Community Volunteers Community Picnic: 6 p.m. at Q’emiln Park. Cost is $6 per person.
“Idaho’s Hall of Fame:” 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Traveling display at the Post Falls chamber. Information: 773-5016
THURSDAY, AUG. 16
Post Falls Chamber Coffee Connections: 7:30 a.m. at the chamber. Call 773-5016 to register.
FRIDAY, AUG. 17
3rd Friday Festival: Downtown Post Falls. 2-7 p.m. Fun for the whole family, many activities and displays.
TUESDAY, AUG. 21
Post Falls Chamber Takin’ Care of Business BBQ on the Beach: Red Lion Templin’s. Join us for our annual networking barbecue. Check in begins at 11:15 a.m. Register online at www.postfallschamber.com by Friday, Aug. 17. Cost is $14 per person.
WEDNESDAY, AUG. 22
Post Falls Chamber Business After Hours: Stateline Stadium Speedway. Member tickets available at the Chamber for admission and happy hour.
THURSDAY, AUG. 23
Post Falls Chamber Ribbon Cutting: At Family Health Care of Post Falls, 1110 Polston Ave. 5-6:30 p.m. Tour their facility and enjoy healthy appetizers and vitamin drinks.
Downtown Street Fair: Come Downtown and enjoy the best arts and crafts weekend in the Northwest! There will be more than 250 vendors, daily entertainment, food, fine art, crafts, and much, much more! A true street fair! This event is dog, handicap and stroller friendly and offers a shuttle bus between A Taste of the Coeur d’Alene’s, Art on the Green and Street Fair. Catch the bus at either Third Street and Sherman Avenue or Fourth Street and Sherman Avenue. Starting at 4 a.m Northwest Boulevard and Lakeside through Seventh Street will be closed. Street Fair is 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
FRIDAY, AUG. 10
2nd Friday ArtWalk: Every second Friday from April through December, stroll through beautiful Downtown Coeur d’Alene and enjoy local and nationally acclaimed artists. Visit supporting galleries, shops, restaurants and businesses with your friends and family. Come and join us from 5-8 p.m., just follow the yellow balloons! Information: Cheryl, (208) 292-1629
TUESDAY, AUG. 14
Upbeat Breakfast: North Idaho College presents August’s Upbeat Breakfast from 7-8:30 a.m. at The Coeur d’Alene Resort. The speaker will be NIC’s new president Joe Dunlap, Ed.D. Upbeat Breakfast occurs the second Tuesday of every month at The Coeur d’Alene Resort. On average, about 150 members attend making it one of the most popular networking events in our community. Trade tables allow members to display their business and speak briefly about it to the group. The program features a different speaker each month, highlighting various topics of interest. With a reservation, the cost is $14 and includes breakfast and coffee. Reservations are due at noon the Friday before the breakfast. This month’s sponsor is North Idaho College. Information: Brenda, (208) 415-0110
THURSDAY, AUG. 16
100-Minute Reception: The Chamber’s Centennial Wine and Cheese receptions are usually held on the first Thursday of the month but August’s will be held on the third Thursday of the month. August’s reception will be held at Coeur d’Alene Cellars, located at 3890 N. Schreiber Way, Coeur d’Alene. There will be the $100 giveaway, live music and cheese and wine tasting. Giveaways include a magnum of wine, wine tasting and appetizers for 4 people, free entry into July 27th concert (Roamin’ Cadillac Church) for 2 people, free entry into Aug. 24 concert (Angela Marie Project) for 2 people, and a winery luncheon with winemaker and artist for 2 people. Information: Marilee, (208) 415-0111
27th Annual Wooden Boat Show: The 27th Annual Coeur d’Alene Wooden Boat Show and Inaugural Regional ACBS Chapters Classic is one of Coeur d’Alene’s most popular summer events, The Coeur d’Alene Wooden Boat Show, at the Coeur d’Alene Resort Boardwalk features a spotlight on wooden and classic boats along with food, entertainment and more! This event is free to the public. Information: Diane, (208) 292-1635
THURSDAY, AUG. 23
Business After Hours: Join us for June’s Business After Hours from 5-6:30 p.m. at Sunset Bowling Center, located at 202 W. Sunset Ave., Coeur d’Alene. Food and beverages will be provided as well as the opportunity to win some great prizes! Information: Brenda, (208) 415-0110
I love this time of year, I can’t understand why anyone would be anywhere else in the summer. We truly are blessed to work, play and live in such an incredible community.
Speaking of community, the Post Falls Community Volunteers will host the annual Community Picnic at Q’emiln Park on Thursday, Aug. 2 with a barbecue dinner, ice cold beverages and live music with Kelly Hughes. Bring your lawn chair; come on down and visit with old and new friends.
We invite the business community to take advantage of the many networking opportunities offered each month including our monthly membership meeting held the third Tuesday of each month at Red Lion Templin’s. We will host a number of events for the whole family including Chamber Night at the Spokane Indians on Monday, Aug. 13 with dinner and beverages, as well as a chance to win a vacation getaway. On Wednesday, Aug. 22, the Stateline Speedway will provide complimentary tickets to our members for a VIP happy hour and special seating for the race that begins at 6 p.m. Bring your business cards.
A number of businesses and nonprofits will come together on Friday, Aug. 17 for a fabulous festival located in the downtown campus that will include food, beverages, music and art. Activities start at 2 p.m. and will end around 7 p.m. For more information or vendor booths, go to our website at www.postfallschamber.com.
I had the pleasure of representing our chamber in Philadelphia this past week at the U.S. Chamber Institute for Organizational Management. I want to thank my sponsor, Custom Tiles by X-things and our board of directors for allowing me the opportunity to share our successes as a community and a chamber with hundreds of chamber and association leaders from around the United States.
Mark your calendar for the “Tapas and Tailgating” Dinner Auction on Saturday, Sept. 29. This will be the largest indoor tailgating party in the region, so plan to attend and support commerce in our fine city.
Last but not least, Jame’ Davis has been offered a position with Jobs Plus. She will continue to be involved with the chamber in various committees and community events and we wish her the very best in her new career.
City of Coeur d’Alene
Vivo, commercial tenant improvement – Vivo clothing store, 296 W. Sunset, value $23,688, contractor Builders Alliance Construction, issued June 4
Atlas Homes L. L. C., SFD with garage, 6998 N. Cornwall, value $134,888, issued June 4
Hallmark Homes Inc., SFD with garage, 7362 N. Carrington Lane, value $94,721, issued June 4
Hallmark Homes Inc., SFD with garage, 7438 N. Carrington Lane, value $102,808, issued June 4
Copper Basin Construction, SFD with garage, 4310 W. Wirth Drive, value $293,011, issued June 5
Target, commercial interior remodel-update decor, 315 W. Canfield, value $750,000, contractor Skanska USA Building, June 6
Stuart Cabe, converting to duplex-adding deck & upstairs, 802 E. Young, value $38,500, issued June 6
Aspen Homes & Development, SFD with garage, 6667 N. Madellaine Drive, value $254,001, issued June 8
Viking Construction Inc., SFD with garage, 3875 W. Furcula Drive, value $135,144, issued June 11
Hallmark Homes Inc., SFD with garage, 7378 N. Carrington Lane, value $131,865, issued June 11
City of Coeur d’Alene, commercial-install drinking fountain, 710 E. Mullan, contractor Etco Services, issued June 12
JDL Services L. L. C., re-roof, 6500 N. Mineral Drive, value $55,000, contractor Cobra Roofing Services, issued June 12
Ultra Beauty, commercial-four awnings, 450 W. Wilbur, value $6,750, contractor F. O. Berg Company, issued June 13
SRMRS01 L. L. C., commercial-office remodel, 2065 W. Riverstone Drive, value $20,000, issued June 13
Benway Quality Homes, SFD with garage, 7454 N. Carrington Lane, value $110,404, issued June 13
Orthopedic & Physical Therapy Institute, commercial tenant improvement, value $190.000, contractor Polin & Young Construction Inc., issued June 14
Atlas Homes L. L. C., SFD with garage, 6943 N. Cornwall, value $159,253, issued June 14
Idaho Trust, commercial tenant improvement, 622 E. Sherman, value $25,000, contractor Ginno Construction, issued June 15
1038 L. L. C., commercial-repair sinking floor, 1038 Northwest Blvd., value $65,600, issued June 15
Elco Investments L. L. C., commercial-add wall & install door, 202 E. Anton, value $2,000, contractor Calvin McCullough, issued June 19
Eric Hedlund Design L. L. C., commercial-interior remodel, 754 N. Fourth, value $17,000, issued June 19
DCCA Holdings L. L. C., commercial tenant improvement-La Peep Cafe, 1884 W. Bellerive Lane, value $300,000, contractor Brent Westly, issued June 19
Scott Dirth, commercial-repair stairs, 2501 E. Sherman, value $5,600, contractor Bill Phillips, issued June 19
Tom & Gina Sampson, commercial-espresso stand, 1825 N. Government Way, value $20,000, contractor Mannon Construction Inc., issued June 22
Tom & Gina Sampson, commercial-remodel & addition-salon & spa, 1839 N. Government Way, value $190,000, contractor Mannon Construction Inc., issued June 22
Interstate Office Supply, commercial re-roof, 1207 N. Fourth, value $11,000, contractor C & K Roofing, issued June 25
Wind Management, commercial-pothole/utilities & storm water, 350 E. Annie, contractor Terra Underground L. L. C., issued June 27
Atlas Homes L. L. C., SFD with garage, 3412 N. Bernoulli Loop, value $132,936, issued June 27
Geoffrey Thompson, commercial demolition, 1322 W. Kathleen, contractor Silvey Construction, issued June 28
City of Hayden
Big Sky EDM Land L. L. C., single family residence over shop, 10890 Blake Court, value $141,183, issued May 31
Earl J. Kinney Jr., commercial remodel, 167 E. Miles, value $98,000, issued June 6
Hallmark Homes Inc., single family residence, 8583 Courcelles Parkway, value $142,715, issued June 5
Hallmark Homes Inc., single family residence, 8783 Boysenberry Loop, value $240,454, issued June 7
Stam Family L. L. C., single family residence, 9271 Justice Way, value $218,814, contractor Aspen Homes & Development, issued June 13
Hallmark Homes Inc., single family residence, 2889 Blackberry Loop, value $244,119, issued June 15
Hallmark Homes Inc., single family residence, 8762 Boysenberry Loop, value $252,685, issued June 12
Roseco L. L. C., single family residence , 1419 Chanticleer Court, value $310,000, contractor Rosenberger Construction, issued June 14
Hallmark Homes Inc., single family residence, 8639 Boysenberry Loop, value $213,058, issued June 15
Church of Jesus Christ LDS, commercial remodel, 533 Honeysuckle, value $103,500, contractor Ginno Construction, issued June 22
TBTG L. L. C., commercial remodel-tenant improvement, 11068 – 11078 Government Way, value $1,300, contractor Carlito Zaragoza, issued June 18
Viking Construction Inc., single family residence, 8502 Salmonberry Loop, value $264,466, issued June 19
RWR Inc., single family residence, 11021 Cattle Drive, value $300,000, contractor Rosenberger Construction, issued June 22
City of Post Falls
Atlas Homes, SFR tract house, 2105 N. Clark Fork Parkway, value $135,108, issued June 4
Hallmark Homes Inc., SFR tract house, 2886 E. Thrush Drive, value $222,298, issued June 7
Inland Northwest Developments, SFR tract house, 2077 N. Travis Court, value $80,319, contractor CDA Construction, issued June 7
Inland Northwest Developments, accessory building, 2077 N. Travis Court, value $13,172, contractor CDA Construction, issued June 4
Hayden Homes, SFR tract house, 1360 E. Warm Springs, value $207,107, issued June 8
Hayden Homes, SFR tract house, 1480 E. Warm Springs, value $177,710, issued June 8
Lawson Homes Inc., SFR tract house, 880 W. Wheatland, value $166,044, issued June 6
Lawson Homes Inc., accessory building, 880 W. Wheatland, value $35,564, issued June 6
Northwestern Builders Group, SFR tract house, 3751 W. Addidas Lane, value $158,288, contractor Northwestern Builders Corporation, issued June 8
Brian Rikard Construction, SFR tract house, 1020 E. Triumph, value $121,183, issued June 13
Viking Construction Inc., SFR tract house, 2715 E. Thrush Drive, value $240,487, issued June 12
Copper Basin Construction, SFR tract house, 3314 N. Cormac Loop, value $191,677, issued June 13
Copper Basin Construction, SFR tract house, 3713 E. Galway Circle, value $174,463, issued June 13
Copper Basin Construction, SFR tract house, 2231 E. Knapp Drive, value $115,519, issued June 13
Hayden Homes, SFR tract house, 1231 E. Bogie Drive, value $298,499, issued June 15
Viking Construction Inc., SFR tract house, 1962 E. Dipper Loop, value $302,207, issued June 20
Inland Northwest Developments, SFR tract house, 1575 E. Crossing, value $158,188, contractor CDA Construction, issued June 19
Viking Construction Inc., SFR tract house, 1920 E. Dipper Loop, value $138,457, issued June 20
City of Post Falls, commercial building, 1932 W. Grange, value $8,298, issued June 18
CDA Construction, SFR tract house, 2055 N. Travis Court, value $115,254, issued June 19
CDA Construction, accessory building, 2055 N. Travis Court, value $13,172, issued June 19
Glen Vaughn, commercial alteration, 550 N. Greensferry Road, value $1,000, issued June 22
Copper Basin Construction, SFR tract house, 1280 N. Ewell Court, value $230,858, issued June 20
City of Rathdrum
Thayer Senior Care Center, commercial-residential multi interior remodel & addition, 13400 N. Meyer Road, value $182,772, issued June 12
Thayer Senior Care Home, commercial-generations assisted living, 13400 N. Meyer Road, value $1,331,000, contractor Gray McCrite Archer Inc., issued June 12
Glacier Homes, single family residence, 8722 W. Sawtooth, value $197,404, issued June 14
North Idaho Stem Charter Academy, commercial, 15633 N. Meyer Road, value $738,000, contractor Vern Reams, issued June 15
Aspen Homes-Airport, commercial structure, 10272 Sky Master Drive, Hayden, value $475,342, issued June 7
CDA Rifle Pistol Club Inc., commercial structure, 5981 N. Atlas Road, Coeur d’Alene, value $43,727, contractor Joe Hassell Inc., issued June 7
Larry T. Jones, commercial structure, 18434 N. Pope Road, Hayden, value $85,425, contractor Jay Taylor, issued June 5
Foolish Five L. L. C., commercial demolition, 3957 E. Mullan, Post Falls, contractor Raymond Jessick, issued June 7
George F. Smith, single family residence, 20716 E. Cape Horn Road, Bayview, value $207,028, contractor William Daum Framing, issued June 4
Daniel C. Blair, single family residence, 2039 S. Panoramic Drive, Coeur d’Alene, value $411,062, contractor Cornerstone Inc., issued June 7
Richard Weis, single family residence, 34004 N. Pend Oreille Drive, Bayview, value $85,191, issued June 15
J. Scott Deardorff, residential addition, 16998 S. Twisted Pine Road, Coeur d’Alene, value $103,779, contractor Kindred Concierge L. L. C., issued June 12
Stephen M. Petroni, single family residence, 3628 E. Hayden Lake Road, Hayden, value $297,611, contractor Aspen Homes & Development, issued June 13
Nick Ackerman, single family residence, 30777 N. Sienna Loop, Athol, value $296,604, contractor Coeur d’Alene Construction, issued June 14
Jerry R. Lange, single family residence, 13522 W. Peaceful Court, Rathdrum, value $157,759, contractor TBD, issued June 15
Northwestern Builders, single family residence, 19724 N. Ramsey Road, Rathdrum, value $296,357, issued June 12
Carolyn MacWhirter, single family residence, 12547 N. Partridge Way, Hayden, value $265,754, contractor MB Builders & Development, issued June 14
Timbered Ridge Custom Homes, single family residence, 30259 S. Sienna Loop, Athol, value $255,755, issued June 14
Avondale on Hayden Golf Club Inc., commercial addition, 10745 N. Avondale Loop, Hayden, value $50,000, contractor Jeff Newcomb Construction, issued June 18
Big Sky Development, single family residence, 2965 E. Obadiah, Athol, value $177,977, contractor Timbered Ridge Homes, issued June 20
Church of Jesus Christ LDS, commercial addition, 1824 E. 16th, Post Falls, value $127,000, contractor Associated Construction Inc., issued June 27
Golf Club at Black Rock, commercial, 18421 S. Club House Drive, Coeur d’Alene, value $1,800, contractor TBD, issued June 26
Golf Club at Black Rock, commercial structure, 18421 S. Club House Drive, Coeur d’Alene, value $241,200, issued June 26
Michael Estrada, residential addition, 5549 S. Carpenter Loop, Post Falls, value $147,928, issued June 25
Dale & Linda Newberry, single family residence, 1957 W. Conkling Park Drive, Worley, value $324,225, issued June 26
You can’t help but do a double-take when you see the book cover at Hastings.
“The Private Dick Diaries” title jumps out at you. Written by CJ Vertefeuille based on interviews with Erin Jenkins and Phil Thompson of Confidential Investigations in Hayden, the book is one of the most talked-about local titles. And that’s appropriate, because Confidential Investigations is perhaps the region’s most talked-about private eye firm.
NIBJ recently sat down with Erin Jenkins, president of the 15-year-old company, and Phil Thompson, vice president of Confidential Investigations, to see what makes a business like that tick.
NIBJ: Is this one of those careers where kids grow up thinking, “I want to become a private investigator?” How did you get into it?
JENKINS: I used to own a logging company. I spent six years in the military in the Air Force, as a cop. I got out of the military, came back here, and didn’t want anything to do with law enforcement. So I started logging again. It got to be way too much work. When my wife and I started having kids, it was like I was never home. I had a 2-year-old little boy I didn’t even know and I went, “I gotta do something different, honey.” And she said “You’re right.” Business was good back then, logging. Anyway, we started coming up with ideas. I said, “You know what, I’m gonna talk to a couple of attorney friends of mine, see if there’s something they could use a PI for. They were like “Yeah. Hey, in fact, I got something you can work on.” I started doing it part time in ’97. I still owned my logging business and I was still running it and pretty soon it got to the point where I had enough to pay my bills. We weren’t rich by any means, but I had enough work to pay my bills. Logging was at its height and I sold my stuff out; it was great. So that’s how I did it.
THOMPSON: I had a chance to meet Erin when I was an executive recruiter. We met ‘cause he did some work for me in the past and we became fast friends. Eventually I started going out on small jobs with him when he needed a hand. One thing led to another. My skill sets directly complement his skill sets; his weaknesses are my strengths (and) my weaknesses are his strengths. Based on that principle, (in) 2003 we started kicking around some ideas and (in) 2004 I folded my other business that I had going and came to work here full time.
NIBJ: People have preconceived notions about the kind of investigations people like you do. Is it all glamorous, intriguing work? What’s a day in your life like?
JENKINS: Nine-tenths of the time I sit behind my desk, I talk on the phone and I read reports, numerous reports. The last murder case I’ve been working on there was 750 pages of discovery. There was 44 disks with photos, transcriptions, video, you name it, all there. I literally burned my brain out sitting behind my desk making notes as I go through all this stuff.
NIBJ: Is part of your work determining the credibility of witnesses?
JENKINS: Yes. We go back out and review the witnesses, re-interview them.
We’ll go out to the crime scene and look at the crime scene. (We’ll) see if what is in the police report matches with what is there.
THOMPSON: In certain cases we’ll go out and get witnesses of our own that the police may not have even interviewed. Case in point, the Felony Mayhem case in Cd’A where the guy got his nose bit off? The real story behind that…The newspaper carried the headline of Felony Mayhem in downtown Cd’A, nosebiter in jail and $250,00 bond. Well the kid had just got back from Iraq, he was just minding his own business, having a beer and this guy right next to him was giving him a bad time, tryin’ to pick a fight with him. He tried to avoid this person. He went to the other side of the bar. This person followed him. He decided he needed to leave the establishment, ‘cause this guy would not leave him alone, so he went to leave this establishment. This person followed him outside the establishment and back around Las Palmitas in the parking lot. After this altercation, this guy’s nose is on the ground. By the time the police show up there’s four guys left, the victim and the four friends. So that’s the story the police got.
What really happened: He got into a fight and got bound up so the only thing he could do was bite the guy’s nose off. Only thing he got was disturbing the peace and the case was closed. The victim had 26 crimes. Some of them were felonies; the rest were misdemeanors and he was only 24 years old. So we find actual witnesses to the case and give it to the attorneys, let them deal with it.
NIBJ: Roughly what percentage of your work would you say falls in the criminal category?
JENKINS: I would say the majority of it, 70-75 percent of it is criminal stuff. Other stuff: civil matters — all kinds of civil matters from insurance-related civil matters, from workman’s comp-related civil matters, missing persons — I’ve got a great track record on missing persons. Everybody I’ve ever been assigned to find, I’ve found. Every one of them. Some of them haven’t been alive, but I’ve found them.
NIBJ: This is a business publication, so I’m interested in what you do as a business. How many employees, total employees, do you have?
THOMPSON: Four full-timers, six part-timers. We have a satellite office in Moscow, Pullman, Sandpoint, Spokane. We’re licensed to investigate for Washington. Idaho has no licensing requirements. If you recall, during the [Jim] Brannon case, the city of Cd’A made a big ado about us not having a city of Cd’A private eye license.
NIBJ: Does the city have private eye licenses?
THOMPSON: Oh they have…they absolutely do. But they fail to tell everybody in the news media that. We don’t live in the city of Cd’A, so they have no jurisdiction, but [in the Brannon case] they wanted to make a big to-do that we were unlicensed… Our attorney sent an “F-You” letter, and it worked.
NIBJ: You started this company and you didn’t get rich, at least early on, Erin. Can you give readers some sense of how profitable a good PI firm like this one is? (Both laugh.) JENKINS: Up until the last two and a half years we were doing really good. We made a pretty good living at it. We’re not going to get rich doing it. The last two and a half years, it’s been tough. Citizens who have been accused of a crime, the attorney says we ought to hire a PI firm to look into the case and they go, uh, well, I barely have enough money to pay you.
We still get hired to do major cases like capital crimes, murder, drug cartels — that sort of thing — but we do it on a shoestring budget.
NIBJ: You guys came out with a book which is kind of an unusual step for a firm like yours. Is this for marketing or for making money? Or both?
JENKINS: The thinking behind doing the book was, the stuff that we deal with here on a daily basis is stressful, really stressful. If we can’t laugh about it — you’d go crazy. The office here, we really enjoy our opportunity to laugh at things like Are you Kidding me? He really did this? The book is along those lines.
Yeah, maybe we make a couple bucks off it somewhere down the road, but it’s also a lighthearted attempt to go, “OK, well, this is life and let’s have some fun with this stuff that we’re dealing with.” Amazingly enough, it’s really helped us with our marketing.
The book is great but it’s not a literary work of art. It’s designed to be funny. (The author) has been a friend of ours for 18 years… and one day she basically told me she’s a writer and I said, “Oh, let’s talk about this.” We sat down with a digital recorder and I’d tell her the story, she’d write it and I’d edit it. This first book is about repossessions — 18 stories on repossessions.
THOMPSON: The stories in this book are so humorous, one can’t make them up. Fiction would never do this justice. When you can tell a story about repoing somebody’s landscaping, you’ve got someone’s attention. The book definitely opens doors to attorneys who didn’t know us before.
JENKINS: The kind of repos we do have gone out to repo guys who weren’t successful, and they come back to us. I’ve repo-d some interesting things — Harley Davidsons from a motorcycle gang, tractors, you name it, I’ve got it.
NIBJ: What makes the job so stressful? Are you in physical danger?
THOMPSON: We’ve had people threatening to sue us, and Erin is very good at getting death threats on the telephone.
JENKINS: I did a case against a guy who blows up buildings for a living. (Short discussion ensues.) Maybe we better not go there. (Both laugh.)
THOMPSON: What about the guy who broke into our building? You guys [The Press] ran it on the front page.
JENKINS: Some of the information we had on that case turned into some major evidence against a sex offender… A year later, a guy came back and threw an empty wine bottle through the front door, did an F-U, looked into the camera and the rest is history. That’s on World’s Dumbest Criminals.
I’ve had lawyers call and threaten me, saying you better not talk to this person, you better not talk to that person, you better stay away from them, you better not investigate my city, whatever. Some of the repo stuff, people are unhappy when you take the stuff they didn’t pay for.
THOMPSON: One of our “simple” tasks is serving papers. There are some people that will go to unbelievable lengths not to be served papers.
NIBJ: Do you send your biggest and nastiest people out to serve papers? Caleb (Trinkle)?
JENKINS: Caleb. Sometimes Phil.
THOMPSON: In the Plummer area, somebody had killed somebody’s hounds on somebody’s property and they had a history of assault with weapons, both the father and the son. The son had just gotten out of prison.
JENKINS: Some guy came barreling down the street in a pickup, rammed Caleb’s car, jumped out with an ax handle, jumped on top of Caleb’s car and came after him — all over a set of documents.
NIBJ: What did Caleb do?
THOMPSON: He was really calm. Got his recorder out and went through everything the guy did so he had the guy admitting to everything he did. Coeur d’Alene’s finest didn’t arrest him, though.
NIBJ: What makes a great investigator vs. a good investigator?
JENKINS: A professional level of service. That’s really what we’ve got going for us. The guys who work for us are all experts. We’ve got a level of professionalism that’ s unsurpassed. Our integrity — we do not compromise. We do not twist anything, we do not bend anything. It is what it is. We’re going to tell you the truth and you can use it however you’re going to use it.
THOMPSON: Persistence and follow-through. There might be some great investigators out there, but they don’t have the persistence we do, they don’t have the follow-through we do.
JENKINS: One of the other things we have that makes us extremely valuable is we have Caleb — Caleb Trinkle. He’s our surveillance expert, gathering the documentation on video that we need. That guy is a bulldog in finding ways to get video (on fraud). Because of that a lot of state and insurance companies hire us because we’re known for getting video on guys who are wanted for defrauding the system. Caleb gets some video that sometimes I just shake my head and say, “How did you get that?” And he’ll say, “I was on a mountain about 500 yards away and I built a blind up there and sat there for two days. Didn’t leave. I got it.” It’s in the middle of St. Maries somewhere.
THOMPSON: He got video of some poor guy who can’t drive a truck because his back is so hurt. But the video shows the guy taking the tires off a truck and throwing them in the back; we’ve actually got him selling meth in downtown St. Maries. It’s the side benefits of surveillance sometimes.
JENKINS: That’s persistence. Just good quality work.
COEUR d’ALENE — Before investing, effective business people weigh all the variables that impact potential profits. That holds true when the investment is in education.
Aaron Dollahite, who earned an executive MBA degree in May at the University of Idaho Coeur d’Alene, said he enrolled in the professional program because it met solid, no-nonsense criteria.
“I chose the program for its price and convenience. It’s right here in Coeur d’Alene. And classes meet three full days each month, versus every-other week,” said Dollahite, a Coeur d’Alene resident and busy practice manager for Willamette Dental Group, with offices locally and in Pullman, Wash.
“Plus, I did not have to take the GMAT, an MBA entrance exam. The university considered my work experience and undergraduate grades. That alone saved me serious time and money.”
While taking the EMBA courses and working full-time, Dollahite increased company profits six fold, improved patient satisfaction scores by ten percent, and raised employee satisfaction to the highest level in the region, which encompasses eastern Washington and all of Idaho.
Dollahite attributes that success to applying what he learned, as he learned it.
“When you’re in class, you are challenged to think about how to apply what you are learning to your work — taking your education a step above just theories,” he said. “You are given projects and assignments that you can tailor to your individual business needs or aspirations. This is something I greatly valued in the program.”
“When I was facing a challenge at work, I could take what I was learning in class and use my assignments to address it, from employee management, to financial management, to innovation. There were countless times when I would get great insights from the professors and my class members that I could use immediately to help turn things around in my new office. I directly attribute all the change I have been able to effectuate at work to the things I was learning every month in class.”
The University of Idaho EMBA offers a challenging integrated curriculum designed to promote students’ understanding of best business practices, decision making and critical thinking, to name a few of its components. Students do their reading and research outside of the classroom.
“Balancing work, home, church responsibilities and school was not an easy task,” Dollahite said. “However, it has been possible. That’s why I like the setup so much: You are in class three full days, then you have the rest of the month to balance everything with school work.”
Before entering the program, Dollahite was a little apprehensive about what the professors would be like. “I have been so impressed by the caliber and quality of the professors,” said Dollahite. “I would have never guessed that the college would have sent such accomplished, tenured professors to Coeur d’Alene.”
College of Business and Economics faculty who make the trek north to teach at U-Idaho Coeur d’Alene include Mario Reyes, dean of the college and professor of finance. Reyes’ expertise includes emerging stock markets, econometric analysis of the behavior of asset prices, asset valuation and investment management, and integrated business curriculum and finance pedagogy; and John Lawrence, professor of business, with expertise in quality management, business/environmental sustainability, and case research methods.
The College of Law shares law professor Maureen Laflin, a certified professional mediator and director of her college’s Clinical Programs; and law professor Patrick Costello, who supervises several law clinics, co-supervises the Mediation Clinic, and teaches trial advocacy. Laflin and Costello help EMBA students build negotiation and mediation skills.
Business professor Ray Dacey brings his expertise in decision theory and game theory to the program, providing the conceptual foundation for the negotiation and conflict management taught by Laflin and Costello. In addition, Philosophy Professor Douglas Lind provides insights and instruction in ethical decision-making.
An unexpected perk of the program was the opportunity to network with, and learn from, other working professionals in his cohort, said Dollahite. The cohort is a group of students who take the coursework together throughout the two-year program.
The EMBA set-up drives home the old adage that business success is all about relationships.
“My cohort members are phenomenal,” said Dollahite. “I had no idea how much value would come from those relationships and learning from each other in class. We help each other, support and encourage each other. Those are relationships that will continue throughout our lives.”
While there are challenges inherent in simultaneously going to school and working in your profession, the return on investment is both immediate and lasting, he said.
“I’ve already been able to apply so much of my education to what I am doing at work,” said Dollahite. “I do feel that it was a very good investment. I feel that my MBA will pay dividends over time much greater than the cost of tuition and the time I invested. I feel that having my MBA will build my career and improve my career prospects and earning potential, which will pay for the degree 10 times over.”
The spacious offices occupying the third floor of McEuen Terrace look like the owners couldn’t make up their minds if this would be a place to work or play.
Or maybe merging the two was the whole idea.
A putter leans against a wall with an electronic golf hole a potential two-putt away. In the heart of the main office, a ping-pong table and silver Foosball game are framed by attractive furniture. You can see a couple of guitars from that central vantage point; big screen TVs and a Polk sound system are off at the moment, but you can imagine the HubWorks team huddled around to watch The Big Game or blasting tunes when the mood strikes.
Against a wall adorned with inspirational quotes is an un-Heismanlike trophy, honoring company President Rob Berger as the two-time defending fantasy football champ of the HubWorks world.
Everything about the place smacks of success, of laboring in the lap of luxury. But the truth is, this high tech rocket is yet to take off. Started in 2009 by three Coeur d’Alene guys who knew each other from their days at Lake City High School, HubWorks has developed an iPad-delivered customer order product for restaurants and bars that is being piloted in the Minneapolis area and in Hollywood, Calif.
“We’ve put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this,” said the 29-year-old Berger, son of Nighthawk Radiology founder Paul Berger. “There was a time we lacked a little confidence, I’ll admit. But now it’s not a matter of if it’s going to happen anymore. It’s when.”
Behind Berger in the glass-enclosed HubWorks conference room is a whiteboard with the names of nine restaurant chains. The HubWorks braintrust, primarily Berger and his fellow co-founders, Aaron Gabriel and Sam Winter, project annual revenue from their product will range from $1.2 million to $10 million or more — per chain. That’s based on roughly $1,000 per establishment per month. In the case of Buffalo Wild Wings, which has been piloting the product at two of its Minneapolis-area restaurants for about four months, a successful test run could lead to HubWorks-powered iPads in many of its 800-plus locations.
But the multiplier could be even greater.
“This is a conservative industry that’s often stuck in their ways,” Berger said. If you can un-stick just one chain, he said, its competitors are likely quick to follow suit.
Ever since they played baseball together at LCHS — Gabriel was a pitcher and Berger, the catcher — they stayed in touch even though college took them in different directions. A bad customer experience as an undergrad in Boston started an idea for a new product germinating in Berger’s brain.
“In Boston you’ll go to a sports bar and you can’t get a drink,” he explained of packed places where wait staff was stretched way too thin. “Later on I thought, ‘This is a broken system and there’s a chance for us to change it.’”
The pitcher/catcher combo joined up with Winter — “at Lake City he was our geeky friend” — and they dove into researching the feasibility of a product that would not only speed up customers’ orders, but enrich the customers’ overall experience.
“We’ve all seen the kiosks that have been around since the 1990s, but our idea was different,” said Gabriel. Unfortunately, it wasn’t unique. The young men learned that one other company was doing something very similar.
“I called my dad and said, ‘Somebody’s already doing this,’” said Berger. But rather than suggest his son aim in a different direction, the elder Berger encouraged him to pursue it, pointing out that what their research showed was proof of market demand.
With Rob putting up seed money and Paul Berger stepping in as one of three primary angel investors — another is Bill Allen, former CEO of Outback Steakhouse — HubWorks had enough capital to build a solid foundation. The Coeur d’Alene-based staff is 20 people, a dozen of them designers and developers who are constantly honing the product while the others are geared to sales and service.
With orders going directly to someone at the bar or in the kitchen, fears of servers being replaced are unfounded, Berger said. In fact, tips at the pilot sites have gone up since the devices were employed, he said. The reason: Servers have more time to actually help their guests, rather than constantly running back and forth on fools’ errands.
“it’s a shift in job description, with the focus on high-quality service,” Berger said.
More importantly, overall sales receipts have increased significantly: 10 to 20 percent, Berger said. Gabriel and Berger say sales have gone up because customers don’t have to wait for a server to come to their table to order another beer, for instance; they order whenever they’re ready. Further, the device prompts customers to add bacon to a burger for another buck, or order some other add-on that directly boosts the business’s bottom line.
While they’re young — the oldest employees at HubWorks are 41 and 39, respectively — the team at HubWorks is old enough to think beyond their own success. They’re hoping to be part of something great on the Coeur d’Alene economic front. Gabriel and Berger spoke enthusiastically about how Bozeman, Mont., has become a powerful incubator for innovative tech start-ups.
“Some people with a little bit of money in Bozeman said, ‘Let’s make some jobs,’” Gabriel said of start-up investors there. “Hopefully, that’s what happens here: We create a hub.”
HubWorks for happy customers
Here’s how it works:
The server comes to the customers’ table where a HubWorks iPad is anchored or passed around. The server shows how the device is used, if the customers are unfamiliar with it, and builds rapport while answering questions.
In addition to offering everything on the menu from drinks and appetizers to main courses, the HubWorks iPad integrates other elements from the restaurant, including memorabilia and music. At each step of the ordering process, the customer sees pictures and descriptions of the menu items and their prices. When done ordering, not only is the total including taxes listed, but an adjustable bar allows the customer to add the tip, which defaults to 20 percent if no other number is selected. If paying by credit card the customer can check out without delay. A final page encourages the customers to rate their experience, and a low rating prompts managers instantly so they can talk to dissatisfied customers before they leave.
But one of the most intriguing features from HubWorks is that while customers are waiting for their food and drinks, the iPad offers Facebook and other social media, video games, access to stock quotes and news from CNN and sports from ESPN. After enjoying their drinks or meals, customers can reach a local taxi service from their HubWorks device.
“It’s a captive environment for the restaurant,” said HubWorks President Rob Berger.
And yes, Berger says the company is likely to use the devices at some point for other lucrative revenue streams, like data mining from customers’ email addresses to using the iPads for advertising.
The retail wizards who put Coeur d’Alene’s three best-named businesses under one roof are beginning to think about the next horizon.
For Brett and Susan Sommer, it looks something like this:
• At some point, they’ll sell Figpickels Toy Emporium, Mrs. Honeypeeps Sweet Shop and Pappilon Paper Emporium. With Figpickels’ recent move, all three stores now reside in the Plaza Shops on Sherman Avenue. The Sommers also landed additional space in Plaza Shops for an office, for shipping and receiving, and for storing inventory that supplies all three of their shops. That gives them four strong footprints in one of the region’s best retail locations.
• Then: Consult, consult, consult. Oh, and find a little more time for each other and for their two sons, one of whom has been teaching in Turkey on a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship.
To the former bullet point, Brett Sommer, 53, acknowledges business is booming.
“We have three successful stores,” Brett said in the tone of a man declaring that he’d just eaten toast for breakfast. If you’re looking for boastfulness, you’ve got the wrong guy.
But building success for the long haul exacts a painful price in the short one.
“For us,” said Susan, 55, “having successful stores is just as stressful as having a store that’s struggling.”
Success for the Sommers is stressful because they’ve been working 14-hour days, seven days a week for some time now. Part of their investment in stress equity was mandated by moving Figpickels this spring from its location a block east on Sherman Avenue while continuing to keep Honeypeeps and Papillon percolating.
The Figpickels move hasn’t just been a success; it’s been almost overwhelming. An estimated 1,200 customers came calling the day of the new location’s grand opening, which set off a prolific stream of shoppers that has surged even more with the seasonal tourist tide. Its new home gives Figpickels 40 percent more space, Brett said, and well over 40 percent more business.
Now, about that second bullet point, and how it ties in with the first.
Perhaps the Sommers’ two greatest secrets to success are these: Look. And listen.
“What some people in the Northwest fail to do is adequate research,” Brett said. “You need to look: What isn’t there? In our case there wasn’t a toy store. There wasn’t a candy store. Well, there was one (the Penny Candy Store) and people really missed it.”
When you look and listen well and you have a creative engine like Susan’s brain — “I wake up at night with ideas, and sometimes it’s another store,” she said — good things happen.
They happened with Figpickels when the Sommers moved to Coeur d’Alene from New York City. The couple thoroughly researched what appeared to be a glaring need in the region — a fabulous, fun yet affordable toy store — but before making the investment leap, they dug even deeper. Susan flew to London and to Nuremberg, Germany, taking in two of the largest toy conventions on the planet. Armed with contacts and contracts that gave their store the European flavor they’d sought, the Sommers opened Figpickels in December 2005.
Brett and Susan don’t buckle under pressure for video games or cheaper, trendy products.
“A lot of people make the mistake of letting sales reps tell them what to buy,” said Susan. “I early on adopted the philosophy, ‘If everybody has it, I don’t want it.’ I want to stay true to my business model.”
Good things happened a couple years later, when customers clamored about how frustrated they were because nobody in downtown Coeur d’Alene sold gift cards.
“Well, that’s a clue,” said Brett. “Someone wants some cards here.” Papillon Paper Emporium was born and has been putting great cards and other quality gifts in customers’ hands since August 2008.
And good things happened again on a Friday the 13th — May 13, 2011 — when the Sommers hatched Mrs. Honeypeeps Sweet Shop directly across the Plaza Shops hall from Papillon. As so often happens to hard workers, fate fetched a friendly hand.
“Jerry [Jaeger of The Hagadone Corp., owner of the Plaza Shops] came to us and said, ‘We have an open space — do you have another idea?” said Susan. And it just so happened she did.
The site had been a candy store, but as Brett put it, the store was as short on imagination as it was tall on sugar.
“Everything was painted chocolate brown,” he said. “I didn’t want to go in there. I felt like I was being buried alive. It needed to be fun.”
The Sommers took over the space and made it fun. Even before customers walk through the Honeypeeps door, they’re greeted by a machine that whips up cotton candy for a mere two bucks.
Thorough research is imperative to launching a successful business, they agree, but their business instincts and the toolbox of business tools they’ve accumulated over the years have served them particularly well. Yet another of their many assets is perspective.
Brett and Susan have seen the penthouse of prosperity from poverty’s basement — and now, many years later, they still appreciate the view.
“You need to be really, really poor once in your life — or be homeless,” said Brett, “because when it happens to you, you never, ever forget it.”
That perspective sustains long-term motivation, the Sommers agree, and the appreciation of working hard and reaping rewards also helps in a host of other ways. Because they were so poor early in their marriage — they lived in Brett’s music studio, sans bathroom or virtually any other creature comfort — they treat their 15 employees better and continue to be committed to the best possible customer service.
For a place like Figpickels, customer service is dramatically different from an online source like Amazon.com — or many other toy stores, for that matter.
“With us, it involves demonstrations and touch,” Brett said. “It’s hands on — it gives customers an experience of having good fun with a product. And then next thing is, they buy it.
“You can’t get a demonstration at Amazon or most stores and ask a person there questions like where was it made and how does it work, or even, what’s cool?”
One of the principles that has made Figpickels and the Sommers’ other stores so cool to local shoppers is because that was a big focus of the couple in setting up shop here.
“We’re one of the few downtown businesses that’s built for locals,” said Susan. “I constantly shop [for product line] with my local economy in mind. I love the tourists — they’re the gravy — but I can’t imagine where we’d be without the locals.”
“We have high-end things,” added Brett, “but that doesn’t mean we’re expensive. We make it very affordable for our local customers because we understand how the economy impacts them.”
For instance, the Sommers describe a family with four children coming into the store to buy presents for someone’s birthday party.
“For $25 total, I can send all four kids to the birthday party with separate gifts they’ll be happy to give,” Susan said.
When the Sommers do reach the next horizon in their professional lives as business consultants, they hope to take Coeur d’Alene retail to the next level: Creating an enthralling variety of unique shops that would make the region a marketer’s dream. It’s the kind of dream that keeps creative businesspeople up at night.
Well, I’ll be figged
According to Susan Sommer, the name “Figpickels” came from a Southern cookbook she inherited from her grandmother. The cookbook misspelled the “pickle” part of the word but the Sommers stuck with the name anyway. “Makes a better toy store name than culinary dish,” quips Brett Sommer.
Figpickels — er, figpickles — are pickled figs. And no, you won’t find pickled figs on the shelves at Figpickels.
The music man
The Sommers actually own four businesses; three inside the Plaza Shops and one in New York City. When they lived in the Big Apple years ago, Brett started a music technology business whose most high profile invention is a keyboard contraption that he says “makes the 18-person orchestra in Lion King sound like 30 or 40 or 100 musicians.” That’s of enormous importance when a production like Lion King, Les Miserables or Phantom of the Opera — all users of Brett’s brilliance — plays off Broadway in places like Spokane.
Whether it’s selling high-tech audio or good old-fashioned toys, the Sommers have held true to their most basic business principle: “Finding a business need and filling it.”
A one-man bookseller, a man-and-pop retailer three times over,
and a start-up company with a full menu of promise. Each has carved out a niche and is focused on the next step in business success.
The bearded, bespectacled host greets his customers like guests. Hands folded at his chest, John Hiller bows in welcome. Because it means business has just crossed his threshold, it’s a gesture he does not take for granted.
Wearing khaki shorts, a T-shirt, sandals and a 108-bead mala necklace, Hiller, owner and sole employee of Browsers Uncommon Books, doesn’t hesitate when asked how he has survived the economy’s roller-coaster rides over the 26 years he’s owned his store. His customers always find their way to the shop at 2415 N. Government Way.
Even when road closures from construction on the Government Way bridge spanning Interstate 90 marooned his shop from July 2005 to August 2006, somehow, 80 percent of his faithful bookstore followers got to Browsers anyway, he says. So which was worse — the construction crisis or the small business-killing recession?
“Economically,” Hiller says, “the worst time is right now.”
Now is worst because the livelihood of his business is being threatened not just by big, bad box stores that also sell books, but by the seemingly omnipresent Internet bookstore assassins: Amazon.com and electronic tablets that download free or almost free classics.
While Hiller laments those threats, he also sees an upside.
“Competition is really tough now,” he says, “but now is a really good time to buy books.”
Like real estate, inventory at places like Browsers is abundant, and because of competition, affordability is a given.
“The books are cheap, and actually, he’s got a real good selection,” says Coeur d’Alene resident and Browsers frequent shopper Dale Ruperd. Ruperd and his wife are looking for audio books before heading out of town on vacation, and they’re not disappointed. For less than $20, they leave Browsers with an armful.
A retired couple, the Ruperds represent one end of the book-buying spectrum that Hiller counts on heavily to keep him in business. But the other end is here, too.
“I’m going to ask if you have Mein Kampf by Hitler,” says 18-year-old aMandalin Grasser of Careywood. She’s thrilled when Hiller instantly pulls from a shelf a copy in excellent condition — one that costs half what aMandalin found elsewhere. Ms. Grasser, whose ancestry goes back to Germany, hopes to visit the country in the next year or two and is eagerly absorbing as much German history as she can.
With books stacked nearly to the ceiling and, in some places, occupying precious floor space, Hiller knows his inventory — one of the reasons customers come calling. A man asking about a Quran in Turkish or Arabic is quickly rewarded with a beautiful, rare copy — sold for just a few dollars.
But Hiller’s humble, efficient demeanor is somewhat misleading. He’d be the first to say he isn’t in the running for Mr. Congeniality.
“I don’t think of myself as a people person. I really don’t,” he says.
The business model he envisioned back in the dawn of Browsers was based on his lifelong love and knowledge of books, not humans.
“I thought that if I picked the right books, they’d sell themselves,” he says. “I don’t like to sell. I don’t like to try to talk people into buying something.”
What Hiller does, though, is buy what he calls “timeless” books, everything from the classics to gold pamphlets. What he doesn’t do? He doesn’t sell fad products, the books that are red-hot one minute and dead cold the next.
“When it comes to ‘the latest thing’ I haven’t got a clue and don’t care,” he says simply.
He pauses and adds, “Of course, I do listen to what people are asking for. But it’s funny to watch the intensity of interest in some things.”
Hiller has seen plenty of fads come and go, preferring instead to stick with lit that lasts. He learned from his grandmother and mother not just how to read, but how to love the vessels of all those words.
“In my teenage years I haunted the bookstores in Spokane,” he says of the experience that likely planted a personal bookstore seed which would blossom later.
As an adult, Hiller worked in a Spokane-based newspaper’s circulation department, with an area of responsibility that included the northern end of Lake Coeur d’Alene clear down to Palouse and over into eastern Washington. He made the switch to bookselling one winter when he broke his ankle and struggled to meet the demands of his job. More than that, Hiller sympathized with the plight of many carriers working under him.
“I was unhappy because I thought we were exploiting them,” he says.
So Hiller made a change. He started Browsers Uncommon Books in a house in downtown Coeur d’Alene that served as the store’s home for the first three years. His grand opening wasn’t so grand: He began with a few dozen books from his own collection and whatever else he could muster from here and there. With inventory in the thousands now, though, Hiller says volume isn’t really the name of his game.
“I’m focusing more on quality now,” he says. “I know where to look for it.”
Hiller has come up with quality gems over the years. Two come quickly to mind. One was “The Cowboys,” autographed by John Wayne and other members of the cast from the movie of the same name.
“It sat here for years,” Hiller says, and although he can’t remember how much it eventually sold for, he does recall that the buyer was a book dealer from Philadelphia.
Hiller also went out on a limb to acquire — for $5 from a thrift store — a 1930s city directory for a coastal city in China. “I thought it was a big risk at the time,” he says. But the risk paid off. Hiller sold the directory about five years ago to someone in China who was willing to pay $800 for it.
While the future doesn’t promise many $800 single-title sales, Hiller is hopeful for what he calls his “university of information.”
“I think there always will be [a market for ha
rd- and soft-cover books],” he says. “I’m counting on parents to pass on to their kids the value of the physical book.”
Browsers Uncommon Books
2415 N. Government Way
Hours: Monday-Saturday, noon to 5 p.m.
Go to browsersuncommonbooks.com or call John at 667-3964.
Mining company’s CEO a precious metals whiz kid
The title, the background, the income, the designation by Forbes as one of the most powerful young CEOs in all the land — they paint a very stark and stuffy picture of Mitchell J. Krebs.
For the past year, he’s been president and CEO of Coeur d’Alene Mines Corp., a giant in the precious metals world with revenue growing from $100 million a decade ago to $1 billion now. In just the past year, net revenue from metals sales has doubled.
Krebs earned his bachelor’s degree in economics at Penn’s prestigious Wharton School, then topped that with an MBA from Harvard. His business background has been nothing short of blessed, especially, he says, when he crossed paths years ago with a man from Coeur d’Alene named Dennis Wheeler.
Businessweek calculated Krebs’s 2011 fiscal year total compensation in the seven-figure range, somewhat above the median annual income in North Idaho.
And in February, Forbes compiled a list of the 20 most powerful CEOs in the U.S. who are 40 or younger — Krebs turned 41 last month— and Krebs weighed in at No. 6. That’s Mr. Mitchell J. Krebs, president, chief executive officer, director and member of the executive committee for Coeur.
But the minute that boyish grin flashes? And it does, regularly and brilliantly. Why, that’s Mitch.
Now he’s the guy who just enjoyed a hike at Mineral Ridge with his golden retrievers, Buddy and Buster — “Between the two of them I think we have one good golden retriever,” Mitch jokes; his wife, Debby; and his 1-year-old daughter, Emma. Emma may have been happily strapped to her daddy’s back, but Krebs would be the first to admit that as the head of Coeur, he isn’t carrying the company alone.
The preparation of Mitch Krebs to head Coeur began 41 years ago in Storm Lake, Iowa. More precisely, it began in the farmlands around the rural community of about 8,000 Midwesterners.
“It’s amazing how many similarities there are between agriculture and mining,” Krebs said of the earthy commodities that provide livelihoods for many and sustain life itself. Not that he was particularly enamored of life in Storm Lake: “Wherever you grow up, you think that’s the worst place on Earth.”
Krebs knew western Iowa wasn’t really so bad, but he was eager to start the next stage of his life in college. He landed at the University of Pennsylvania in west Philadelphia “in Levis and flannel,” he said, “definitely square peg, round hole.
“I brought my bike. I think it lasted about 20 minutes before it was stolen.”
The road to prosperity hit more than that yield sign, too. Krebs became well-acquainted with panhandlers, a big-city phenomenon he’d been spared in the land of corn and camaraderie.
“I didn’t know it was optional [to give],” he said, laughing. “A thousand dollars later, somebody clued me in.”
But Krebs was definitely on his way to a career in finance, and after graduation he took a job in investment banking in New York City.
“I also met some people there who wanted money,” he said.
Krebs worked. Boy, did he work. He’d arrive at the office around 9 a.m. and wouldn’t get out until 10 or 11 most nights.
“That was not a sustainable lifestyle,” he acknowledged.
Nor was it his goal. The way Krebs planned it, he’d continue his education but only after working for a year or two in a second job. That way, he understood, his chances of being accepted to a good grad school would improve. So in his search for Job No. 2, he learned of a mining company based in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and he met the company’s CEO, a Silver Valley native named Dennis Wheeler. Job in hand, Krebs moved from Manhattan to the mountains, and he worked for Wheeler from 1995 to 1997, applying to grad schools — with Wheeler’s blessings — when the time was right.
One night Krebs pulled into his Hayden rental and, he said, the headlights rested on a package at the doorstep. It was the acceptance package from Harvard University, where Krebs would go on to earn his MBA.
“The best part of Harvard was the relationships I made and the alumni network, people all over the world,” he said.
After Harvard, Krebs joined Allied Capital in Chicago, but he never lost touch with Wheeler. Eventually, Wheeler hired Krebs again, and for seven years Krebs remained based in Chicago and handled Coeur’s business development. Not only did he see the world, but he became increasingly familiar with the company’s inner workings. And in 2008, Wheeler brought Krebs home to Coeur d’Alene, appointing him corporate CFO.
Krebs concedes that the idea of succeeding Wheeler in the big boss’s seat appealed to him, but he never took it for granted. And at times, he may have wondered if it would ever happen.
“Working with Dennis, with his energy, I thought he’d never retire,” Krebs said with another trademark grin. “Dennis was such a force, larger than life. He would drag everybody across the goal line. Fearless guy.”
Here Krebs paused a moment before concluding: “I learned everything from him.”
So when Wheeler retired a year ago, Krebs’s time had come.
“What I fell in love with here was a commitment to a group of people and seeing things through,” he said. “The follow-through was something I was always serious about. That’s what I wake up every day thinking about: Seeing things through.
“What’s rewarding for me is accomplishing things, succeeding together.”
Krebs points out that while he’s new to the title, he’s an old hand with the company.
“I’m the guy who’s been here since ‘95,” he said. “My job is to get the people, get the team to do things better than I can do.”
So far, so good. A year into the new job, Krebs — and Coeur —are thriving. He’s overseeing the company’s largest single-year investment ever in exploration: a whopping $40 million, with most of that taking place near the company’s four primary “assets.” Coeur operations are focused in Palmarejo, Mexico; San Bartolome, Bolivia; Rochester, Nev.; and Kensington, Alaska.
His goals are crystal clear, if not easy to attain.
Primary personal goal: “Operational consistency, quarter in and quarter out. That’s the basis for everything else.”
And everything else, Krebs said, has to do with “finding ways to fill the hourglass. Every day, we’re shrinking,” he said, referring to finite deposits being mined and the need to find new ones.
Challenges are everywhere, Krebs said. For example, he refers to the threats of “external forces,” which include the impetus of increased taxation levels in Bolivia and Mexico. The more metals prices increase and Coeur d’Alene Mines profits, he said, the further the grand hand of taxation extends.
That holds true at home, too, where a “fiscal cliff” is looming, Krebs said. If Congress allows the Bush tax cuts to expire, he said, Coeur’s corporate tax rate will jump to 43 percent.
One ongoing challenge that might qualify as an internal force has to do with safety and sound environmental stewardship. Mining companies are under constant scrutiny — sometimes, Krebs said, for good reason.
“The industry has brought a lot of this on itself, especially in communities where the industry hasn’t been a good citizen,” he said.
Great corporate citizenship is what Krebs strives to maintain with Coeur. “It’s good business and it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
Safety, he added, is always the company’s highest priority.
“I wake up every morning thinking, ‘Did everyone go home safely at every one of our operations around the world?’” he said.
While it might be an unsavory silver lining to some, the worse U.S. and global economic conditions grow and worries mount, the better things can quickly become for those in the precious metals business.
“I don’t hope those [bad] things happen,” he said, “but if they do, I hope they’re good for precious metals prices.”
Spoken like a true CEO — with a great big boyish grin.
Coeur financial snapshot, 2011
• Record production of 19.1 million ounces of silver and 220,382 ounces of gold
• Net metal sales topped $1 billion — nearly double previous year’s total.
• Operating cash flow increased nearly 150 percent over previous year to $454 million.
• Cash and equivalents increased 165 percent to $175 million at year-end.