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Career As Kaleidoscope

Ken Talle, CLA alumnus and entrepreneur
January 6, 2015

Portrait: Ken Talle

Portrait: Ken Talle
CLA alumnus Ken Talle
The company:
Thies and Talle
Management, Inc.


The mission:
Problem solving to
satisfy investors,
lenders, developers
and tenants

It is almost certainly true, as Ken Talle says, that kids in elementary school or junior high don’t usually say, “I want to be a rental property manager” when they talk about their futures. Talle certainly didn’t. So it was not a lifelong grand plan that lay the groundwork for his success at founding and managing Thies and Talle Management, Inc., a rental property business that today includes 5,000 apartment units on 100 properties throughout the Midwest.

Instead, Talle says, “You do what’s fun and what seems to make sense. Then things change, so you look around and say, ‘OK, this is reality. What I used to do doesn’t make sense; what does make sense now? Where do I go from here?’ It’s a kaleidoscope that keeps changing.”

The kaleidoscope of his own life began in south Minneapolis, where he grew up in what he calls “middle middle middle class.” With no particular expectations, he went to the University of Minnesota, where he was captivated by an eye-opening intellectual climate that he had never before experienced. He majored in history because he loved it, then went on to the University of Chicago for a law degree because it seemed practical. Back in Minneapolis, he joined the trust department at what was then First National Bank.

“[In the liberal arts] You are
exposed to different disciplines
and challenged in intellectual
ways that are with you forever,”
Talle says. “In a sense it frees
up the mind; the problem with
the human condition is that we
put restrictions on ourselves when
we limit ourselves to a particular
background or experience. The
intellectual tradition of the liberal
arts is to try to knock down
those limitations.”

And there he discovered that a history major could be very intriguing with real estate investment. Actually, it wasn’t so much about real estate, where changes in tax codes and federal housing programs had created a boom time for rental property investors in the early 1970s. Instead, it was about putting puzzle pieces together. In his job at First National—and at a subsequent job at Piper Jaffrey—Talle found he enjoyed figuring out and creating transactions that could satisfy investors, lenders, developers, and tenants.

He was so intrigued in fact, that he wanted to do it on his own. “The lure of doing my own thing was compelling,” he says. And that was how he and broker David Thies decided to create their own business—first financing and developing apartment properties and later buying and managing rental units. Thirty-five years later, Talle continues to be energized by a focus that goes well beyond the specifics of real estate.

“My business is in problem solving,” he says, “whether it’s the problem of a lender who’s making a loan; the problem of resident who needs a place to live and who has criteria about location, price, and design; or the problem of a low-income person who needs to find housing and has essentially been shut out of the market. So we’re constantly attempting to understand customers, suppliers, lenders, and government agencies.”

It doesn’t seem at all unusual to Talle that a successful entrepreneur can be someone whose intellectual focus is the liberal arts, where, he says, “You are exposed to different disciplines and challenged in intellectual ways that are with you forever. In a sense it frees up the mind; the problem with the human condition is that we put restrictions on ourselves when we limit ourselves to a particular background or experience. The intellectual tradition of the liberal arts is to try to knock down those limitations.”

In other words, to create a kaleidoscope.

What he says:
“I’ve had the opportunity to create something that is emotionally very fulfilling. I get to have a direct impact on the quality of life of this small city.”

“Do what is intellectually stimulating and emotionally fulfilling…and that probably means trying many different things. Let yourself go in different directions.”

“Do what you enjoy because that’s what you’re going to be best at. If you open yourself to possibilities and experiences, strange things will happen.”