Michael Eisenga — Investor & Former Mayor of Columbus

Michael Eisenga is a successful commercial real estate investor with a banking and finance background and is the former mayor of the City of Columbus. As a President of both American Lending Solutions, a mortgage lending company (he founded and operated from 2000 to 2018), and First American Properties, he has a track record of creating and operating successful businesses. Mr. Eisenga is also devoted to property development and construction, primarily serving smaller local communities. Especially in the senior housing sector.

Tell us about yourself.

I’m an entrepreneur. I’ve been involved in several different businesses doing real estate development, commercial development, developing senior housing, assisted living facilities. I also owned a mortgage banking company for nearly 20 years. So I’ve done a number of different things in business, and I’ve had a successful career doing so.

What makes you different than other professionals in your field?

I’ve been involved in government. I was the mayor of the city of Columbus for four years. I think I have a very wide range of viewpoints on things that I’m working on. So, when I’m involved in the development, I’ve been on both sides of that table. I know what municipalities and government agencies are typically looking for and what they want to get out of the development that’s occurring. I also understand the construction side and the real estate side of it. After the years of owning management companies that manage assisted living facilities, I understand the most important side, which is resident services, how to care for the residents, the staffing, the budgetary items, and putting the right team in place.

How much potential market share can you achieve in next 3 years?

The market share side is very individualized with each community that we do an assisted living facility in. So, for example, our most recent construction was in a smaller community of central Wisconsin. And we are the only assisted living facility in that community. And there’s really not room for another assisted living facility to open up. That’s what I’m looking for in future developments with assisted living. I’m looking for that happy medium profile where there’s a need for an assisted living facility, and there’s nothing there yet at this point. And also, once I build one, I want to build one that is sufficient to meet the needs of the community so that it excludes other operators from coming into that community.

What was the most important part of your professional journey?

It’s hard to come up with what was most important. If I could pin one thing on, it would be my background in banking and finance. Because no matter what your goals are, as an entrepreneur, it’s very helpful to understand finance and how to put loans together and obtain the funds that you need to grow your business. So having that finance background has been a big help to me over the years.

What are the best and worst purchases you’ve ever made?

I had a lot of good purchases. Probably one of the best was getting into the assisted living facility field. Although two years into it, I probably did not think it was a good investment because initially, I had a company that was leasing these facilities from me and paying me rent, so I had a nice passive income coming in. And unfortunately that operator went bankrupt, and was not able to fill the terms of the lease so I ended up having to start my own operating company, and manage them directly. In the end, it turned out to be better than it would have been if I had the original deal with the other operating company that I didn’t own.

The worst purchase I’ve ever had was when I got involved in a highway commercial development on the westside of Columbus, Wisconsin, where I was formerly mayor. I did a lot of research on it, did some market studies, but it just turned out to be a really bad decision for me all the way around. One of my main tenants, which was Shopko, ended up filing bankruptcy, and that turned out to be kind of the final straw over there. So that was by far the worst purchase I’ve ever made.

What takes up too much of your time?

Well, I can’t think of anything specifically that takes up way too much of my time; I think I’m pretty efficient at how I spend my time. Although sometimes when you’re managing a group of people, you do tend to have some times where there are some personality conflicts and things like that. Whenever you manage people, those are things that happen, and there are some people that just don’t work together well or don’t work out. So if I had to say what takes up more time than it should, it would probably be personnel issues that, for whatever reason, they can’t get along. And, you know, trying to work through that and make things work as best you can.

What three pieces of advice would you give to college students/new startup business owners who want to become entrepreneurs or leaders in their field?

The first thing is to make sure that it’s a field that you are very interested in. Then I would suggest working in that field in getting a feel for it, do all the research you can do independently as well, but also think about working in that field so that you understand the ins and outs. When I started my mortgage banking company back in the year 2000, I had worked in the finance field for several years. And I also worked for a couple of different mortgage companies at that point. So when I started my business, I understood the business, and I knew what I needed to set up and how I needed to do it and how it all needed to be arranged. And I also had great contacts. So if I had questions I didn’t have answers for, I knew who to call. I had all that information through people I had met or gotten to know, being involved in the industry.

And I would also suggest that you become involved in the trade organizations. For example, now in the assisted living business, I’m involved in The Wisconsin Assisted Living Association. Keeping up on what’s happening in the industry and having a good trade organization is always very helpful.

Then, find a good banker. You want to try to find one good banker to start with, but then don’t be afraid to keep looking for others as you’re looking at new deals and new expansions because it’s always smart to price things and find out what the deal is. Sometimes things change; the bank I did the most business with when I started my real estate investing career didn’t make it through the financial crisis of 2008. That bank went under. Luckily, I had some other bank contacts, so I’ve always been able to find financing for things.

And one more thing I would add is, find a good attorney. Depending on the field you’re in, there are different attorneys who specialize in specific fields. I’ve used the attorney I hired at the beginning of my career for over 20 years now, and I still work with him.

Who has impressed you most with what they’ve accomplished?

Warren Buffett with Berkshire Hathaway. What’s impressive about him is he’s been very effective at knowing businesses to invest in. He’s not a one-business wonder. You have people like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, and they’re really impressive as well because they built companies that are amazing and huge, but you know they did that with that one company. What’s interesting about Warren Buffett is, he started with one company, Berkshire Hathaway initially was a textile company. That industry was on the downward slope. So what he did was he ended up buying an insurance company, and Berkshire Hathaway became an investment company that owns several different businesses. He’s been very successful at finding good businesses and buying them for a good price. So he has been very good at allocating funds and the power of compounding and making good business decisions. This rewarded him handsomely over the years.

What drives you to keep going when it’s tough?

No matter how bad things may be eventually they always will get better. And that’s a way to go through life. I heard a quote once. I can’t remember who said it, but it goes something like, you’ll never truly appreciate the view from the highest mountain until you experience the depths of the deepest valley. So, when things are tough, those are things you can learn from, and you need to look at that as an opportunity, whether it’s in your professional life or your personal life. Get good advice from good people, find good professional people to work with and people whose advice you can trust. You will always get through it, and life goes on.

How should people connect with you?

Probably the best way would be to email me at michaeleisenga@gmail.com.

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