Real estate CFO seen as a ‘straight shooter’

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James Crowder

HHHunt Corp., Richmond

James Crowder loves putting real estate deals together and finding ways to finance them.

“It’s fun to see projects come alive,” says Crowder, CFO at HHHunt Corp., one of Virginia’s largest real estate development companies. “My favorite part of the job is structuring the deal and negotiating with the banks to get the best financing. I like the creativity part of it.”

Before the Great Recession hit, Crowder was able to arrange for a $90 million syndicated loan involving five banks. “That provided a line that we were using a significant portion of to finance projects,” Crowder says. “We were able to invest in projects and properties prior to and during the recession.”

HHHunt’s diversified real estate operations in four states also have helped in hard times. In addition to residential communities, the company owns apartments and assisted-living facilities. Those projects continued to generate income for the company during the recession. “That was great to have,” Crowder says. “It enabled us to continue to build houses on the for-sale side of the business and continue to develop other income properties.”

J. Melvin Watkins, group manager with M&T Bank in Richmond, sees Crowder as “a straight shooter” when he’s working on a deal. “Jim is very candid and very matter of fact. He’s methodical and analytical,” he says. “He takes the time to explain why he’s making a decision. It’s refreshing to deal with him in that way.”

In fact, Crowder on many occasions has taken bankers on personal tours of HHHunt communities to illustrate the company’s vision.

A Petersburg native, Crowder taught math in Richmond public schools before switching to a career in finance. He was a banker at Central National Bank in Richmond before he joined The Bogese Companies, a Richmond-based, family-run land development company. He was working in finance and accounting for homebuilder Tomac Corp. in Midlothian before moving to HHHunt in 1998 as vice president of finance and accounting. He became chief financial officer in 2013. During his tenure as CFO, the company’s profitability has increased 57 percent.

“When he came to the company he came from a homebuilder that had much more experience than we did,” says Buck Hunt, HHHunt’s vice chairman and CEO. “We had done master-planned development to large scale and homebuilding to a degree. He brought a broader base of knowledge on homebuilding.”

Keeping up with industry and banking changes can be challenging, especially in light of the company’s rapid growth, Crowder says. “Counties have become more sophisticated in their development requirements, and the federal government has issued new banking regulations.”

Crowder always keeps an eye on potential risks. “If something with a deal like a market change or competition goes bad, you have to find new strategies to make it work,” he says.
In addition to managing the company’s finances, Crowder has a variety of other responsibilities ranging from insurance to technology. “I have also always handled the legal matters to make sure we are covered legally and our loan agreements are properly structured,” he says.

One of the people who has observed Crowder in his various roles is Nathan Kerr, vice president at Scott Insurance, a Lynchburg-based brokerage. “He is an amazing leader with an uncanny ability to encourage, challenge and unify everyone with whom he works,” Kerr says.

As part of the executive team, Crowder helps the company craft its strategy.  “A lot of times we will get into discussions around a new initiative or policy outside of the realm of finance,” Hunt says.

Crowder’s commitment to the company stands out, the CEO adds. “He is dedicated to HHHunt and also to me and my family as well. I feel like I can trust him with every detail. There is nothing we can’t share and that is vitally important.”

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