Chuck Toeniskoetter sees post-COVID South Bay real estate boom
Chuck Töniskoetter, a high-profile Silicon Valley real estate manager, is preparing his family-run business for an expected surge in commercial property and building development and renovation as companies return to their offices after well over a year of coronavirus-related business closings.
The Töniskoetter companies are known for both basic development and high-quality renovations.
Renovations include the restoration of the iconic San Jose Cathedral in downtown San Jose and the renovation of the historic Santa Clara County Courthouse just blocks away. The company’s current headquarters are located in a restored mansion on the Alameda in San Jose.
In Palo Alto, the Töniskoetter company carried out a comprehensive renovation of the Hewlett Packard headquarters. They developed two large industrial parks in Morgan Hill that attracted technology firms Flextronics and Paramit to the city. In a current major project, the company is restoring and improving the Los Gatos Athletic Club.
Now he’s reorganized his two companies with a focus on succession – and plans to spend more time with three community organizations: The Stroke Awareness Foundation, Team San Jose, and Hunger at Home, which serve restaurant-quality food to the economically disadvantaged.
Chuck Toeniskoetter at his company’s headquarters in San Jose, May 2021. // Dai Sugano / Bay Area News Group
This news organization sat down with Töniskoetter for an interview, which was edited for the sake of clarity and length.
Q: What made you decide on a succession plan and how has it worked so far?
A: The successor has been a long time coming. We probably started talking about safe succession about 15 years ago. I got really interested in this after my stroke. December 23, 2000. 2:30 p.m. I know exactly when it was. I was outside briefly. Succession is very important now because of my age.
Q: How are the companies organized now?
A: We have a development company and we have a construction company. They work hand in hand with each other. After the pandemic, we’ll have a lot of work that I can’t do anymore. Now I can guide and advise and answer questions. I can help open doors for new management.
Q: How would you describe your family’s roots?
A: I’m from St. Louis. There, with our ancestors, we started making carts for the people who traveled across the country, as well as leather goods. I went to Notre Dame and then joined the Marine Corps. I studied at Stanford. Then I went to McKinsey & Co. in San Francisco and my family was in Palo Alto. But I couldn’t get my roots down in any community. So I went to see San Jose and I could see this high tech thing get started. I left a very lucrative job at McKinsey and joined Swenson in 1975.
Q: What did you like about South Bay?
A: What impressed me the most was how open it was to someone who hadn’t started here. We didn’t know anyone here. In places like San Francisco, you need a family tree to start a business. San Jose and Silicon Valley are so open compared to San Francisco.
Q: How did you start your first company?
A: In 1982 I met Dan Breeding at Swenson and we decided to start our own company. We opened our shop on February 1st, 1983. We have concentrated on tenant improvements.
Q: When is the best time to start a business?
A: When things are down, then you start. We started almost every business during a recession.
Q: How did the onset of the coronavirus play a role?
A: COVID 19 caused a downturn and created a great time to make that transition for our businesses. Every forecast says the next two years will be very, very active in development and construction. Both of our companies are ideally positioned for the upswing.
Q: What opportunities do you see for yourself in the changeover?
A: I can no longer run as far or as fast as I used to. The chance for me is to step aside and let the great people here develop and expand the company. I am always worried about the employees and their families. I also have the opportunity to be more involved in committees in which I am involved. We have some thoughts on this homeless issue and we hope we can help in some way.
Q: What potential does San Jose have now?
A: Now it’s San Jose’s turn. All the momentum of development and growth has shifted south to San Jose. It’s only natural for it to come to San Jose. So many tech companies moved to San Francisco. But the environment in San Francisco has deteriorated dramatically. These companies want more space. You want access to talented people. And San Jose has it all.
Q: Do the developers in San Jose make a difference?
A: You have Google, Jay Paul, West Bank, Dillabough and all these wonderful things that are planned. In the past few years you had Lew Wolff and Kim Small. The momentum is there. The commitments are there. Finally the time has come.
Q: Are companies and technicians returning to the office?
A: If you ask the employees of these companies, they say they want to work from home three or more days a week. If you talk to the people who write the checks, the people who run the businesses, they’ll say there’s a place to work from home.
Q: The newest big player in San Jose is the West Bank-Gary Dillabough Alliance. What do you think of this venture?
A: West Bank, if they can build even two of the five or six projects they talk about, San Jose will leave its mark. You get Google and Jay Paul with their developments, they’re going to be huge.
Q: As for the West Bank, they could have chosen San Francisco or Oakland, Los Angeles, with so many options, San Jose is the city they picked.
A: Isn’t that something? They said San Jose is the place.
Q: How does Töniskoetter fit in?
A: We have a long-term perspective. I think we’re going to have all kinds of opportunities that I didn’t even think we had when we first built these companies. We have positioned these companies so that they are right in front of the action. I wish I was 40 again.
Töniskoetter Development Chairman Chuck Töniskoetter is at his company’s headquarters in San Jose. // Dai Sugano / Bay Area News Group
Companies: Töniskoetter development, Töniskoetter construction
Place of birth: St. Louis
Residence: The cats
Training: University of Notre Dame Bachelor of Science Mechanical Engineering, MBA Stanford University Graduate School of Business
Family: Wife and four adult children.
FIVE THINGS ABOUT CHUCK TOENISKOETTER
1. Married for 54 years to his wife Linda, who is an artist.
2. U.S. Marine Corps, 1967-1971. Served in Vietnam, 1968-1969.
3rd Has participated in more than 40 community boards and served on the boards of directors of three publicly traded companies
4th Has toured almost all of the 50 states on his Harley Davidson in the company of friends. He has also ridden his Harley in Cuba and New Zealand.
5. In 2009, Töniskoetter took part in the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in the Black Hills region of western South Dakota, an annual event that regularly attracts 500,000 or more bikers.
Chuck Töniskoetter, Chairman of Töniskoetter Development, rides his motorcycle in San Jose near his company headquarters. // Nhat V. Meyer / Bay Area News Group