- December 12, 2014
Gries Investment Fund is picky about its deals. It looks at more than 50 companies for every deal it makes.
And the pace of deal-making at the Tampa-based fund is headed up: Bob Gries expects a busy first quarter and new year. “We're working hard,” he says.
The fund has arranged financing of $300 million for its clients in the past few years.
“The worries people had five years ago that the world was coming to an end and the economic system was going to implode — all those worries have ended,” says Gries, founder and managing director. “I think we all feel much better. We're getting closer to getting back to normal.”
Gries, who represents an A-list of clients, including sports stars, executives and officials, says he's more “enthusiastically cautious” than he has been in years.
Investments include a stake in the AFL's Orlando Predators; a majority role in a commercial real estate entity that developed the $25 million, 43,000-square-foot WWE-New York entertainment facility at Times Square; and past ownership of the Tampa Bay Storm Arena Football League.
The firm took a small utility company from $40 million in annual revenue to $400 million over a three-year period, Gries says. That company, Stamford, Conn.-based Crius Energy Trust, is now publicly traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Gries Investment Fund is primarily focused on two things: Lending to businesses and making acquisitions or minority investments to smaller companies in need of capital to grow.
Banks are still being understandably conservative in lending, which creates opportunities for investors. “These are good times, and there are many fine smaller companies out there that are still challenged by a lack of capital,” he says.
Gries isn't looking at a particular sector. Rather, the fund makes loans to companies across many sectors, both locally and nationally. “There are lots of opportunities for lots of businesses to grow,” he says.
The fund doesn't just lend money or arrange financing. It also advises companies it works with on how to navigate the many minefields associated with growth.
Earlier this year, Gries founded Discount Loans after deciding against pursuing the acquisition of Tampa-based Southern Commerce Bank.
At least a half-dozen business associates advised Gries to stay out of community banking because the industry is so highly regulated, he says. They told him to find another way to reach his goal of building a large home mortgage business.
Gries saw opportunity as banks shrank their mortgage lending departments as the nation's home refinancing boom ended.
Locally, the Tampa Bay area's homebuilding industry is making a strong comeback, he says.
Discount Loans, with about 25 employees, was profitable within several months of its founding. The name of its website, followthegiant.com, is indicative of the growth Gries foresees.
“The mortgage business is a huge part of the American economy,” he says. “We're very confident about growing it.”
Two of Gries' partners — Steve Gianfilippo and Roy Williams — manage Discount Loan's day-to-day operations.
“You can't replace mortgages,” he says. “They aren't like pay phones.”