Investing In Others
Photos by Rachel Lock Photography
Framed newspaper clippings outlining the unprecedented growth experienced by AE hang on the wall—right next to the reviews and grand opening announcements of several restaurants and bars. Renderings of the Cyrus Hotel, a multimilliondollar project about to unfold downtown, are scattered on a nearby table.
Growing up in the small town of Stockton, Kansas, Foster said he really couldn’t afford college. However, thanks to the Hindman Scholarship granted to high school graduates from Rooks County who wanted to attend Washburn University, he received a mass media degree in 1999. A combination of the close friends he had made during school, a good job opportunity and a budding relationship with Jen, who would later become his wife, Foster chose to make his home in Topeka.
“I didn’t see a reason to leave when Topeka really had everything I was looking for,” Foster said.
INVESTING IN QUALITY SERVICE After a few years working in the financial services industry, Foster and a co-worker left to become financial advisors. Foster said it was much more difficult to grow their business than they anticipated because of the lack of support they could find in the industry. Seeing the potential of creating a high quality, customer support-oriented field marketing organization, Foster, along with co-founders David Callanan and Derek Thompson, created Advisors Excel in 2004.
The rising success of AE over the years is no secret. Founded on the principles of taking care of employees, taking care of clients, and making sure the business was making money, AE has been touted as one of the fastest growing companies in the history of Topeka— expanding from three employees in 2004 to more than 320 today, with sales exceeding $5 billion.
As if keeping AE on its upward trajectory wasn’t enough to keep him busy, Foster began investing in areas outside of the company.
“The idea of investing in the stock market and sitting there watching it was boring to me,” Foster said. “Investing in businesses can have so many ancillary benefits to them.”
INVESTING IN IDEAS The first real investment outside of AE was in his brother’s business, Builder Bees, where Foster provided some startup capital and helped with the business plan and marketing. That experience only served to whet his appetite for more business ventures.
His next investment was in Melin, a hat company that specializes in highend, luxury ball caps. He had a friend who knew the owners were looking for investors, so he met with them. While some of his investments have been about the business, Foster admits this one was all about the product.
“The owners were so passionate about their products,” Foster said. “They saw an entertainment event where Jay Z was all decked out in luxury brands, but was wearing a simple ball cap. They had this vision for a luxury brand of hats that celebrities like Jay Z would wear.”
This investment triggered his more robust ventures. Foster created AIM Strategies, LLC, an investment company that manages all of his investments. His investment strategy is to find businesses with people who have the drive to succeed and partner with them to help them flourish and grow.
“Yes, I hope to make money off of these investments,” Foster said. “But I also want to help people grow and get better in their capacity, improve their position, and help them thrive."
INVESTING IN THE FUTURE From that point forward, the majority of Foster’s investments have been in real estate, restaurants and businesses that can have a positive impact on Topeka. This includes Back Napkin Restaurant Group, which owns both The Rockhill Grille and RND Corner Grill; Liberty Group, which restores and revitalizes historic buildings; and the Cyrus Hotel, which will change the landscape of downtown Topeka.
He has also recently purchased a ranch outside of Maple Hill that is being renovated into a dude ranch/retreat called Prairie Fire Ranch. They have built 12 cabins and have renovated the guesthouse and dining area. Foster sees it as being a venue for corporate retreats, weddings and family outings, and hopes to have it operational by the end of the year.
It takes a talented team of individuals, experts in their fields, to guide these business ventures toward successful outcomes, Foster said. Each business venture would be a full-time job for him if he didn’t have talented people at the helm.
I can’t commit the time it requires to make these ventures successful because my commitment is to AE,” Foster said. “It is critical that I have really great people working on these projects with me so they can handle the day to day details.”
Even though he enjoys working with each investment opportunity, Foster admits he has does have a favorite.
“Hands down, the Cyrus Hotel is the most fun for me,” Foster said. “It is amazing that I have a chance to literally change the face of downtown with this hotel.”
INVESTING IN COMMUNITY Foster’s philosophy of helping people grow and improve goes beyond business and into the community as a whole. While his investments stretch into Lawrence and Kansas City, Topeka is where his heart is. That is why he has chosen to make such a significant investment in downtown. He firmly believes that Topeka is the best place to live and raise a family, and he wants to be part of its growth.
“We are on the cusp of something great here,” Foster said. “People are moving here from all over the country because they recognize all of the potential Topeka has to offer.”
Foster also believes that the heart of a community is its businesses, and that they have a key role to play in growth and quality of life. By investing time, money, ideas and enthusiasm, local companies create a stronger, more vibrant community.
“As a business owner here, the better Topeka gets as a whole, the better business is for me and everyone else,” Foster said.
On a more personal level, Foster admits he has some selfish reasons for investing in Topeka.
“I want my kids to want to stay here and build their lives here,” Foster said.