For many, the word “entrepreneurship” is likely to conjure thoughts of fast-paced tech startups or business owners making pitches to celebrity investors. For Molly North, CEO of Al. Neyer, a Cincinnati-based commercial real estate developer and design-build firm, it means something different entirely: it’s about remaking something old into something new.

It was this way of thinking that led to her being named a national and regional winner of the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year award in 2019. In her 15 years at Al. Neyer, Molly has steered the 128-year-old company into new markets and areas of growth.

Pam Weber, a senior relationship manager for PNC Real Estate, who has worked closely with North throughout her tenure at Al. Neyer, says that nominating her for the award was a no-brainer. “I told Molly early on she was going to be running that place one day,” Weber said. “She has vision. She looks beyond immediate problems and thinks about the company in a strategically transformative way.”

Strategic Vision in Challenging Times

When North joined Al. Neyer in 2007, she didn’t allow her relative lack of experience in real estate development to hold her back. “I was committed to getting things done,” said North. She accomplished her goals largely by forming collaborative relationships both inside and outside the organization. This included her relationship with PNC and Weber, who would prove integral to helping North and Al. Neyer, especially as the company endured some rocky financial times – including the Great Recession.

The recession had a long-lasting impact on the business, creating a number of issues that threatened the company’s viability. North saw an opportunity and raised her hand to take on the vacant role of CFO. “There were a lot of problems that needed solving, and my background in accounting and corporate finance gave me what I needed to take them on.”

Collaborative Partnerships

Among the challenges facing the company was that the Neyer family partnership, which had managed the organization since 1894, was looking to transition its leadership. One of North’s first moves as CFO was to transfer ownership from the Neyer family to its employees, establishing an Employee Stock Option Plan (ESOP). PNC played a key role in facilitating this transition, as it did in providing solutions for other operational needs. Al. Neyer not only had real estate projects that required capital, but also unique operational needs in terms of capital and treasury. Weber’s approach to this challenge was to assemble the PNC team that matched Al. Neyer’s needs.

“Molly had strategic ideas of how the company could evolve, including beginning to operate as a real estate developer separate from a contracting model, and this opened up a lot of new business needs,” said Weber. “While our PNC Real Estate business deals with all types of developers and business models, we know we are at our best when we bring the full depth and breadth of PNC’s capabilities to the table to meet our clients’ needs. We all benefit by having the right players on the field.”  

In 2014, North accepted the position of CEO for Al. Neyer. Since then, the company's revenue has tripled, and it has added two more markets, Nashville, Tenn. and Raleigh, N.C., to existing operations in Cincinnati, Ohio and Pittsburgh, Penn.

North’s role in these achievements, as well as in establishing a strong company culture that fosters autonomy and empowerment, led to her receiving the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year award in 2019. It’s an honor that has played an intangible but clear role in her organization’s ongoing success. “Prior to receiving this award, I never really considered myself as having this strong, proactive leadership that was changing an organization,” North said. “But when someone from the outside says they think you’re doing something really special, it boosts your confidence and leads you to start thinking about what else you can do to propel the company even further.”

Moving Forward with Confidence

Since the award, the pace of growth at Al. Neyer has continued to accelerate. When the company entered the Raleigh market in 2019, they signed $205 million in new business. In 2022, they plan to more than double this number with $550 million in new business.

Al. Neyer is also dramatically increasing its market share in its strategic growth markets. In 2019, 75% of its business was in Cincinnati, the location of the company’s headquarters. In 2022, only 30% of its revenues are generated in Cincinnati, with its other three markets comprising the remainder. The company has also grown in headcount, from 42 employee-owners in 2014 to 193 employee-owners currently, half of them working in markets outside of Cincinnati.

As the company continues to spread to new geographies, it is also increasing its product offerings. Market expansion has opened opportunities for progressing beyond the industrial sector and into areas that include multifamily, medical office and life sciences spaces.

Al. Neyer has come a long way, 128 years removed from its founding as a carpentry and contracting business. That it has managed to survive through serious financial crises and emerge thriving is a credit to North’s leadership, which she says is based on creating confidence and empowering autonomy. “The real story about entrepreneurship here is, how do we take a very old company and give it the feel of a young, agile startup? To me, that happens through empowering others to lead and giving them freedom to make an impact. That’s real entrepreneurship. We always think about entrepreneurs as starting something, and the story here is you can have something old and start something new with it.”

Ongoing Support for Entrepreneurs

PNC has been involved with the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year program on a regional level for a number of years, but this year, the bank expanded its support of the awards program as one of the national presenting sponsors. Year after year, this program recognizes leaders who are building and sustaining successful, dynamic businesses around the world and in local communities, which PNC is deeply committed to fostering as well.

Entrepreneur Of The Year award winners are recognized for both their individual accomplishments and the successes of the company. The award ceremony for the 2022 award winners will take place in November 2022.

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