San Diego Daily Transcript: Up Close Profile

RPC Tax Advisor’s founder started company amidst adversity

By ERICA BOURIS, Special to The Daily Transcript
Thursday, August 25, 2011

For Ken Sullivan, it was two hardships that happened at once that motivated him to start RPC Property Tax Advisors, LLC more than 20 years ago. In the late 1980s, as the savings and loans crisis was in full force, Sullivan lost his job at a major local firm where he had been serving as a regional manager. Around the same time, his father passed away. While this would be a challenging time for anyone, it caused Sullivan to reflect upon what he really wanted to achieve professionally.

“I recalled my father beating the corporate rat race and chasing a dream by starting his own company, only to pass away from a heart attack a few months later” said Sullivan.

Then opportunity came in unusual form.

“I literally was perusing the Wall Street Journal when I came upon an article about a company in Illinois that teaches people (for $10,000) how to open their own tax appeal business. While the quality of the instruction was iffy and materials hardly applicable to California, I nonetheless had invested in making a go at becoming a property tax appeal expert.”

Fast forward more than two decades and RPC Property Tax Advisors is an established and thriving business. Sullivan views the services he provides to businesses – property tax assessments and appeals – as a critical part of organizational success that “have a real impact on a company’s bottom line.”

Particularly in San Diego, when prime commercial real estate can be very expensive, a company may shy away from choice properties in order to save costs.

But according to Ken, “if a business cannot afford the cost of locating to a prime location because of lease or rental rates, that may adversely impact sales revenue and operational efficiencies.” Short-term costs savings may hamper business efficiencies and growth and many of the clients who seek the services of RPC Property Tax Advisors do so to figure out if certain prime real estate may be within their reach, based on a new, expert property tax assessment.

While RPC Property Tax Advisors, LLC is primarily focused on tax issues, Ken is a seasoned observer of the local commercial real estate market. Ken believes the biggest questions right now are “just how long the commercial real estate downturn will last.” In his opinion, different property types are likely to wallow in the downturn longer than others and all are affected by several interrelated factors.

“Retail space is tied to consumer spending, consumer confidence, reduced home equity credit availability, credit card availability, job security and how people acquire consumer products. Office occupancy is tied to employment, telecommuting, service out sourcing, technology providing greater efficiencies with fewer people, etc. Industrial space is directly impacted by decrease in manufacturing and distribution.”

RPC Property Tax Advisors is also keeping an eye on the effect of a slew of short term commercial real estate loans coming due in the months and years ahead, predicting that this too will impact commercial property valuations.

Such economic volatility impacts property tax assessment firms such as Sullivan’s as these fluctuations in market values mean that “commercial property tax service is highly sought after, as businesses see opportunities to reduce property tax assessments and generate property tax refunds.”

In such an environment, Sullivan’s challenge is to continue to “serve our corporate clients at the highest levels of satisfaction, even while facing the challenges of working with county property tax staff with increased workloads and staff cutbacks.”

As founder of the firm, Sullivan is a leader. Yet he feels that most days, “there is very little managing to be done.” He credits a team of” smart, innovative, motivated people” who thrive when they are given the independence to do what they do best.

Away from the office, Sullivan enjoys spending time with his wife Diane, and two children in their Point Loma home. Time spent surfing and vacationing in Mexico help ensure that this busy executive can recharge and be ready to face the ongoing dynamism of commercial property tax issues in San Diego’s ever-changing economy.

-Bouris is a San Diego-based freelance writer.