John Folsom isn’t quick to take credit for the successes he has had — whether it’s leading Colliers International South Carolina to continued success in the commercial real estate industry through the recession, working with Colliers staff to help their clients succeed in their real estate transactions or co-founding the Salute to the Shore effort. He is, however, quick to point out all who have played a part in the continued success of each of these — from his business partners and community members, to his family — English, his wife, and his children, Katie Eaddy and Andy and the example his dad set for him.
As president and chief executive officer of Colliers International South Carolina, John is responsible for the administration and executive management of the firm and for insuring its service platforms that provide the Colliers staff with the tools they need to succeed and serve its clients. For a growing company like Colliers, that is no small feat. Colliers has been a pillar in the Columbia community for more than 100 years and has had a presence in Charleston and Greenville for more than 20 years. Colliers offers a portfolio of services to commercial real estate owners, tenants and investors across South Carolina and beyond through its affiliation with other Colliers firms around the globe.
It’s in these customized services that John sees the opportunity for continued growth for the company and success for Colliers’ clients. As the market share leader in the office, industrial and retail arenas in Columbia, John and his management partners, David Lockwood, Micket Layden, Bob Link and others, see great opportunity in the market and are also quickly emerging as a key player in the Charleston and Greenville markets.
Additionally, Colliers offers corporate real estate services to assist clients with representation, acquisition, advisory services and facilities management for companies that are primarily South Carolina-domiciled. Through these services, Colliers is committed to helping its clients maximize and improve the efficiency of their real estate operations. But perhaps where John sees the most opportunity is in the project management business. Colliers’ affiliated company LCK provides project and construction management services for clients, including project planning, financial analysis and construction administration. LCK completed more than $68 million of projects in 2013.
Colliers has continued to invest in the company and its employees to ensure it can meet the growing needs of its clients. John believes these investments have enabled Colliers to meet challenges brought on by the recession and other economic downturns. “We believed that perhaps the challenges facing the market beginning in 2008 would actually create an opportunity for us,” says John. “We knew we would continue to be profitable through the recession and our management team decided that it was a time to make investments in our platform that would strategically position us to robustly exit the recession in a very competitive position. And that strategy worked.”
To that end, Colliers invested in software systems, hired more people to enhance its infrastructure, beefed up research and marketing and enhanced the depth of quality of the property accounting and property management teams. When they emerged from the recession, they were in good shape. In the past two years alone, Colliers has nearly doubled its property management portfolio to 10.2 million square feet of space under their management.
With this intensive level of growth and opportunity to manage, it’s remarkable that John is able to devote so much time to helping and supporting the community. His accomplishments are many, including being named United Way’s 2013 Humanitarian of the Year and the recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award and Honorary Member of ODK from Washington and Lee University, his alma mater. John has also served on many community boards and executive committees, lending his leadership skills and business acumen to organizations, including the Midlands Business Leadership Group, Certified Development Corporation, Continental American Insurance Company and the United Way of the Midlands.
For John, his philanthropic focus and dedication can be placed into three categories — healthcare, independent education and homeless services. As a member of the board of directors of Providence Hospital for nearly 25 years, John finds the healthcare institution extremely important to the Columbia community not only for their provision of healthcare but also for the faith-based way in which they provide their care.
John’s focus on independent education harkens back to his days at Washington and Lee University, as well as his children and grandchildren’s experience at a Columbia private, independent institution. John has served on the boards of the South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, the South Carolina Independent School Association, the Board of Hammond School and was a Trustee at Washington and Lee. His passion comes from his personal experiences but also from seeing the way independent educators approach education. “It’s astounding what they are doing in K-4 through 12 now. It’s the complete package,” says John. “Now it is cool to be smart, a great athlete, a member of the chorus and interested in the arts. Kids are rewarded for that. Cultural arts are just as important as academics and athletics. It wasn’t that way when I was in school.”
John was also a founding board member of Transitions, Columbia’s homeless service center that has successfully served hundreds of individuals who are making their journey to self suffiency.
It seems for John, there is always more to do, and resting on his laurels isn’t one of them. However, it was relaxing at the beach about 12 years ago that gave John and his friend, Toddy Smith and their sons, an idea for another way to give back to the community that has quickly grown in the state of South Carolina — Salute from the Shore. While enjoying their time on the beach, John and Toddy were reflecting on the men and women who were currently serving in wars in the Middle East and providing the freedoms that John, Toddy and all others in the United States are able to enjoy.
“We sat there and said, ‘We are able to sit here and do this because they are fighting for our freedom.’ We knew we needed to figure out a way to show our appreciation to them. We aren’t in the military, but we are patriotic!” Together, Toddy, John and Andy, John’s son, and Cam, Toddy’s son, came up with the idea of a military flyby down the entire South Carolina coast on July 4th to pay tribute to the men and women of the military. John contacted Rep. Joe Wilson, who got him in touch with the Department of Defense. They informed him that since there was a war going on, there was no way to do a flyby.
Nearly six years to the day later, John and Toddy were back at the beach and the same conversation came up. This time, the Folsoms, the Smiths and others who were also motivated, didn’t let it drop. They received approval from the FAA and the Department of Defense. The only thing left to do was find the aircraft. Thanks to the efforts of Mayor Riley in Charleston, they were able to get a C-130 aircraft out of Charleston AFB, which flew low and slow on the coast of South Carolina on July 4th for Salute from the Shore I. Two more “salutes” were highlighted by military flybys of F-16s from Shaw AFB and when Sequestration eliminated military flybys, the group contacted owners of vintage WWII aircraft who agreed this event couldn’t be cancelled and were willing to fly the mission. Today, vintage aircrafts are filled with veterans and active military who fly in the planes down the coast. The Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce estimates that more than one million people now see the flyby and have the opportunity to honor the nation’s men and women in arms. “We do our best to distribute videos of the tribute to our men and women in the military serving in the United States and all over the world so that they can see how much we South Carolinians appreciate their services,” says John. “And they can see the people on the beach ‘saluting’ by wearing red, white and blue and proudly displaying their flags.”
It’s a great example of a man whose mind is equally focused on getting the job done and doing it with heart.
Surprisingly, with all that he takes on, John says maintaining a work and life balance isn’t an issue for him. He is sure to spend as much time with his family — especially his grandchildren, while also hitting the links as often as he can. “I don’t have to work hard to balance my life. Fortunately, it comes naturally,” John says. “I enjoy everything I do. Whether it’s spending time with English and my family, recreation, the community or Colliers, it just seems to flow. But I know I won’t ever look back and say, ‘I played too much golf.’”
And no one would blame him.