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Harding, Dahm & Co. - a Fort Wayne institution in commercial real estate.

Harding, Dahm & Co.

A Fort Wayne institution in commercial real estate.

Just starting out on their own in the real-estate business in Fort Wayne, they decided to share office space.

After all, keeping down overhead was important for guys like Michael C. Dahm, who managed a couple of small office buildings, and James E. Harding, who appraised commercial and industrial properties. That was 1967.

A year later, they formed a company.

Today, they are turning that company into an institution.

That's a long way from 1951, when Harding broke into real estate. Then, all that the central business district of Fort Wayne amounted to was office buildings owned by banks and retail stores. The industrial areas were on the city's outskirts. International Harvester Co. and Zollner Corp. were on the east end. Essex Group, Inc., and General Electric Co. were on the west. There was little industry to the north and none in the south.

Just a couple of years later, Sears, Roebuck & Co. became the first major retailer to bolt from downtown Fort Wayne when it moved south. Northcrest Shopping Center also opened on the north side. When the U.S. 30 bypass was built on Coliseum Boulevard and Glenbrook Square was developed, the central business district was history.

But like the land they have sold, leased or managed, Dahm and Harding happened to be in the right place at the right time.

"The war (World War II) brought a lot of changes, not the least of which was real estate," Harding says. "The day was gone when a guy could work out of the backseat of his car. All of a sudden, they needed professional management and leasing."

One of the changes came when the government mobilized brokers who specialized in industrial real estate to help with its move into manufacturing, Harding says. That helped bring a professionalism to the industry.

After working for a construction company for a year and a half, Harding entered the real-estate industry by learning the business from Edgar H. Kilbourne, a dean of Fort Wayne real estate to whom he was related by marriage. Kilbourne organized the first chain-store real-estate department--for J.C. Penney Co.--and wrote the first Kroger Co. lease.

"I consider myself fortunate to have stumbled into this business, and it was a stumble," Harding admits.

Dahm, on the other hand, followed in the footsteps of a father who owned Dahm Roofing Co. and also had real-estate investments. As a youngster, Dahm would tag along with his father on weekends to check on the real estate and to help with maintenance.

So--following Dahm's graduation from Xavier University in 1957, he went directly into the real-estate industry.

Each had left his respective firm and struck out on his own when they decided to share office space. A year later, in 1968, they founded Harding, Dahm & Co.

"It took off the way the industry took off. We grew with the industry," Harding says. "What's happened in this industry in the last 30 years is just tremendous. It has been a golden era as far as real estate is concerned."

One of Harding's landmark transactions involved Anthony Wayne Bank, including finding the land.

"They came to me and wanted to know how you go about building an office building," Harding remembers.

Harding became the building's leasing agent. Dahm, in the meantime, had become the leasing agent for the Fort Wayne National Bank building. In their respective positions, they got in on the ground floor of growth in Fort Wayne. Their experience saw them through the management of One Summit Square, home of Summit Bank, a project that earned Building-of-the-Year honors from the Building Owners and Managers Association International in 1987.

While Harding and Dahm aren't responsible for everything that happened in downtown Fort Wayne, the company did represent one of the parties in many of the deals, Harding says. The company manages 3.1 million square feet of office, industrial, high-tech and retail space in 48 properties in Fort Wayne and Indianapolis--half the firm's business. "We're one of the leaders," Harding says.

One major client in Fort Wayne asked Harding, Dahm to save it $1 million over three years. Harding, Dahm partner Stanley C. Phillips, who is vice president of property management, revised contracts, reduced operating procedures, made housekeeping changes, cut personnel by nearly 75 percent and saved more than $1.4 million in two and a half years.

Harding, Dahm also has flourished in brokerage with an attitude matching the nature of its founders. When a client wants to know what is on the market, Harding, Dahm, does not dwell solely on the properties it has listed. Instead, it assesses the client's image, space utilization and location.

"Price sometimes is not the key area," Dahm says. "There are certain requirements that they have to have. Then it's a matter of negotiating with the owner of the property for the best terms possible."

When service requires helping a local client look outside Indiana, Harding, Dahm relies on the New America Network to open doors. The international network of 180 companies links firms with similar philosophies.

"We are affiliated with people who have been hand-selected because of their ability in real estate," Dahm says. "I don't have to worry about that guy in Atlanta doing a good job."

The concept of the industrial park has been a by-product of the post-war real-estate boom. The discovery of suburbia is another characteristic of the era. "All of the sudden, merchandising changed," Harding points out.

Developer Sam Fletcher founded Interstate Industrial Park near Interstate 69. Harding coordinated the park's growth. Harding, Dahm now is involved in five industrial parks, either in development or in management. "These industrial parks have been major milestones," Harding says. "These are achievements because great things have happened as far as these areas are concerned. (Interstate) really changed this town."

At the same time, Harding, Dahm grew beyond Fort Wayne. It currently owns an office building in Indianapolis, one in South Bend and two in Elkhart. The company has expanded internally to 65 employees in Fort Wayne and Indianapolis.

"It isn't Mike and I," Harding says. "It is the contributions of the people who came along. There would not be the kind of management department if it wasn't for Stan Phillips. We wouldn't have the brokerage department we have today if it wasn't for the marketing skills of Jim Lohman (who is vice president of marketing)."

Their expertise complements Harding, who is an industrial specialist, and Dahm, who concentrates on warehouse and industrial space. While Phillips handles property management, Lohman's expertise is office and retail brokerage. Harding, Dahm and Lohman also work in development.

Harding and Dahm have not permitted their company's growth to compromise the standards on which they founded the firm. "We had some strong opinions about how real-estate business should be conducted in terms of training and ethics," Harding says. "We strongly believe in ethics. We won't tolerate games."

Adds Dahm: "We strive for education in the real-estate field and designations."

They also encourage active participation in trade association and professional organizations. Harding has been president of the Indiana American Institute of Real Estate Appraisers and the Fort Wayne Society of Real Estate Appraisers. Harding and Dahm each have been president of the Indiana Society of Industrial and Office Realtors. Both also have served as president of the Fort Wayne Board of Relators.

Phillips, who is a national vice president of BOMA International, and Lohman, who is a SIOR office specialist, are expected to carry on the tradition. The transition to their leadership is calculated to bridge the eventual, staggered retirements of Harding, who is 63, and Dahm, who is 54.

Harding and Dahm want to be remembered for more than starting a company. They want to be remembered for establishing an institution. "There is a sense of having done something, but it's not totally fulfilling," Harding says. "We don't feel like we've done it all. There's so much to be done. We don't feel like we're there yet."

Jay Margolis is a real-estate writer for the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette.
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Author:Margolis, Jay
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Article Type:company profile
Date:Sep 1, 1989
Words:1351
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