Dell Loy Hansen: At the Helm of a Modern Business Empire

Dell Loy Hansen is quick.

When he comes into a room, he knows exactly with whom he wants to talk, where he wants to go, whose hand he wants to shake. He’s quick to laugh, quick to say what he wants to say. Asides, jokes, witticisms—those come quickly to him, too. And when it comes to business, Hansen’s mind is at its quickest.

Love of business is threaded deep in Hansen’s fibers. He started off as a boy from rural Utah who came to the big city—Logan—and became a home builder. Now Hansen is the owner, partner or principal of more than 45 companies with a total of nearly 4,500 employees, running 4 million square feet of office space with five downtown buildings and 76 apartment complexes across seven states. He is also the owner of Real Salt Lake (RSL), Utah’s Major League Soccer franchise.

There is no venture, no stage in business, that Hansen is disinterested in learning. And his aptitude for doing so is well documented.

“I would characterize Dell Loy [this way]—he is, at his root, intense,” says former governor Mike Leavitt, a longtime friend of Hansen’s, under whom Hansen served nine years on the state’s Board of Business and Economic Development. “If you could measure bits per second into and out of a mind, his happens at an astonishing speed. … He is able to calculate and envision three-dimensional equations in his head and see a picture at the same time. There is a lot of wattage with Dell Loy.”

“He’s brilliant when he sees a spreadsheet. He can look at a financial statement and pick it apart,” says Steve Johnson, CEO of Hansen’s Broadway Media. “He has an amazing ability to see the strengths and weaknesses in a financial statement.”

Organization, efficiency, innovation and intensity—these are words that are high on Hansen’s list of priorities in running a business. They also happen to be words that people have used to describe him. Everyone has a story about Hansen: RSL’s chief business officer Andrew Carroll describes the time Hansen couldn’t sleep and decided to read all 53 RSL partnership contracts, or the time he sat up at 6 a.m. to read Nordstrom’s quarterly reports, for fun.

“Dell Loy can take a balance sheet or a contract and make it sing to him in a way that another person might look at a piece of art and gain understanding from it,” says Leavitt. “[He] does love business. I think he loves the continuity of it, the mix of artistry and science. I think he loves the innovation that it creates. I think he likes what it does for people. It’s a place where you can work hard and succeed.”

Continuous Improvement

Dell Loy Hansen was born in Southern Utah. His father worked for the Soil Conservation Service, and his mother was a schoolteacher. Going to the “big city,” Hansen says, meant seeing such bustling metropolitans as Cedar City, Dugway or Randolph. It wasn’t until his seventh-grade year that his family relocated to Cache Valley, where Hansen’s family finally laid down roots.

“I’ve maintained that my core roots are Cache Valley,” says Hansen. His love for the area is strong. He seems to know every family from the area—in the Utah Business offices alone, to everyone’s astonishment, he’d built one employee’s childhood home, personally knew another’s father, and inquired after the family of a third.

In college, Hansen began building houses. It seemed like a good way to make a living, until the savings and loan crisis of 1988. “The housing market imploded in 1988,” says Hansen. “In October of that year, having worked all year to lose $100,000, I said, ‘I’m not a home builder anymore.’ So I closed the business.”

Instead, Hansen says he realized that the government was “selling the world for 40 cents on the dollar” and decided to look into what they were selling. A month later, with a few of his long-time friends, he bought his first three apartment buildings in Salt Lake City and formed Wasatch Property Management. Twenty-eight years later, those three apartments are still part of the Wasatch Property Management portfolio.

“We’re an operator, not a price speculator,” says Hansen. “We view our strength as operating and improving operations continuously. [That’s] our theory. Not to move it up in value and sell it, just to keep operating it and operating it well.”

Operating a company to Hansen’s standards takes a lot of organization and efficiency. He is not a hands-off owner. He has set days when he looks at the financials of every business: commercial real estate on the 10th, RSL on the 15th, venture companies between the 15th and 18th of every month. Hansen wants exact, up-to-date figures, and he isn’t shy about asking for them in the way he prefers them to be organized. It’s his directness, his lack of artifice, that Johnson says makes it easy to work with Hansen.

“There’s no sneakiness about him. He’s very direct,” says Johnson. “What he says is what [he] thinks and what [he] feels. [He says to me], ‘When I say I’ll do something, I’ll do it. I’ll never turn my back on you as long as you’re being straight with me and you give me all you’ve got.’ … If you give him great information and you talk about what you’re doing, and give initiatives and make progress on those initiatives, he’s powerfully supportive.”

Hansen is also never content with maintaining a status-quo—a lesson he says he learned early, from days when he had a molding plant for Logan-based ICON Health and Fitness.

“If you’ve got a part on a treadmill that was $1 the first year they paid you, you knew that the second year you had to build it for 95 cents,” says Hansen. “It never went up. The next year, you had to do it for 88 cents. The last year, you had to do it for 80 cents. So, in three years, it’s never going to get more expensive. You have to do it faster, better and less expensive, every year. Every time you did it, you had to build the same quality—it had to be equally as good.”

Faster, better and less expensive—that’s the model of efficiency Hansen wants to see in each of his ventures. He wants to know his employees are being efficient and innovative in all they do. “What are you doing more efficiently? What are you doing that’s substantially better? That’s the axiom of all of these companies,” he says. “We want to make a bigger pie, but you have to bake it better. We have to find a way to be more efficient, faster, better, less expensive all the time, because we all want a better life. The only way it gets better is if we increase our productivity. Productivity doesn’t mean working harder, it means working substantially smarter and with better technology and better operational organization.”

That’s not just a philosophy. Craig Martin, general manager and vice president of stadium operations at RSL, says he has reduced Rio Tinto Stadium’s operating costs by nearly 40 percent in two years. The percentage is even higher, Hansen asserts, if the RioT’s new solar array—a 2,020-killowatt system of solar panels, which will offset 73 percent of the stadium’s total power needs—is taken into account.

“It’s just trying to lower the amount of foam on top of the beverage,” says Martin. “It’s coming in and analyzing what you can serve it up with, and trying to find the best analytical way to still make it all work with less expensive alternatives.”

Efficiency and Conservation

Efficiency is nearly a mania with Hansen. “I’m massively efficient. Not a little,” he says with a laugh. “I think everything can be done more efficiently.”

When it comes to trying new innovations to promote efficiency, or the better running of his companies, Leavitt says that Hansen is always quick to move ahead—regardless of what outside prognostications may be.

“There is a bit of contrarian in Dell Loy, where he will move before others to the next square on the board. When he senses [change is] coming, he does not wait to be the last guy out,” says Leavitt. “He moves in advance. Occasionally he’ll move earlier than others ideally would, but he’s rarely late.”

For Hansen, efficiency isn’t just a business philosophy. He wants to see efficiency being embraced in all aspects of life—which feeds his longstanding commitment to environmental conservation. Waste and inefficiency have no place in business, Hansen thinks, and so they definitely have no place in polluting the world at large.

“The belief that we can leave a better world for our children than we found it is often not followed these days,” laments Hansen. “I don’t believe in that. I think that we have the ability and the proactive challenge to create better outcomes for our kids than we had. I think it’s both possible and likely.”

But Hansen isn’t interested in small-scale, hands-off projects. He has a specific dislike for lip-service environmentalism. “When you decide to be [environmentally responsible], you have to be very technically oriented. It’s not simply saying ‘I’m going to save a plastic bag,’” he says. “I tell environmentalists: I recycled plastic bags for a long time. I took all the plastic and saw where it went. They shipped it to San Francisco; they put it on a boat. You know where they took it? To South Korea. They put it with coal and burned it in a generator and burned it for electricity. It’s three times as toxic as coal! It’s their fuel—and three days later, that soot is right back over San Francisco.”

Instead, Hansen supports solar energy. He won’t take someone else’s word about his projects—he wants the data himself, at “internet speed,” he calls it.

“To show how wild we are about conservation, we built our own water meter, because we didn’t think anyone else was good enough,” says Hansen. “I went to Ningbo, China this year, where they built our meter—and we now have the meter that’s accepted as the industry standard.”

Hansen also spearheaded the solar project for RSL, achieving the largest solar offset for any professional sports stadium in the country. The project was initially conceived of as a small project, but grew until it became the fourth-largest solar array placed on any sports venue in the United States. Besides offsetting nearly three-quarters of the stadium’s power, it will save RSL some $300,000 a year.

“It was fantastic,” says Martin. “The whole thing morphed from trying to utilize some dead space on the back of our large video screen, putting solar panels on there to essentially power the video screen. It essentially morphed from that into a 2.02 megawatt system with carports that cover three of our five parking lots and a good portion of the lower roof structure that we’ve built.”

The RSL project only whet Hansen’s appetite for solar. Already, another project is underway in Logan, for Conservice. “They’re building a new 90,000-square-foot, energy-efficient, employee-friendly building. We’re going to power 80 percent of that business from solar that we self-generate,” says Hansen.

In one of his apartment complexes, Hansen has done his utmost to see how far his conservation philosophy will go. In building the structure, Hansen says they designed a sub-surface water system that drains the water from five to 30 feet underground “that really is muck.”

“This mushy clay actually isn’t helpful. It’s like quicksand underneath your buildings,” he says. “So we’ve taken that sub-surface water and drained it to the bottom of the property and put it in holding tanks. We use that for our irrigation water. Not only are we not using canal water, we’re using sub-surface water for the irrigation of our property. When we use culinary water, we use less than one-half of 1 percent of the city water used in the city … We’re hyper efficient. We’re 16:1 relative to what’s happening around us.”

The building also has a robust recycling program, where each apartment is given plastic, glass, newspaper and trash bins, as well as a screw-on lid food bin solely for food waste. The recycled products are taken to their respective bins, while the food bin is composted. The compost is then used in a community garden.

“We’ve created a lack of waste. We only take to the landfill, for 36 apartments, four yards of trash,” says Hansen. “That is a quarter, if not 15 percent, of what normally gets to the trash and goes into the landfill.”

For Hansen, environmental conservation is just another version of efficiency—it just makes sense to do things smarter, better, and to make things less expensive, where resources are concerned. “I think we’ll drive electric cars 20 percent in the next 20 years. I think we’ll have much more efficient natural gas. I think there’ll be more hybrids,” he says. “And I want to be at the forefront of making that easier. I want to have plug-ins; I want to have solar as a statement. We’re committed to it in our mind.”

Big Tents

Everyone around Hansen makes sure that it’s known he doesn’t do his environmental conservation, or charity initiatives, for praise. Indeed, few people outside of those working with him seem to know how much Hansen supports charitable initiatives—but to those around him, it’s just how Hansen is.

“He doesn’t make a big thing out of it, but he is a very generous man,” says Leavitt. “They are a generous family, to lots of important causes, many times unstated.”

Hansen says he has a goal, every year, of giving 30 percent of his income away to charitable causes. But he is wary of publicizing his charitable initiatives, regardless of the figure.

“Don’t do this because you think somebody will like you. That is the dumbest thing on earth to do,” says Hansen. “You better do it because you believe in what you’re doing, because people will see it way differently. They’ll say it’s grandstanding. It will not be the way you think it is. So one, be quiet about it. And two, know that no good deed goes unpunished.”

Hansen laughs as he relates a particular anecdote: he served on the board of the Cache Education Foundation when he was 26. Frustrated by the bureaucracy, red tape and the lack of funds actually being allocated to teachers, Hansen decided to see what he could do to streamline the situation. He offered to pay half of an executive director’s salary and to put them up in his offices. And he began a program called Tools for Schools, where teachers in Cache County can write in and ask for anything they need, up to $1,000. And then, simplest of simple solutions—they fund 100 percent of those requests.

One year, Hansen granted a science teacher’s request for frogs for a dissection project. His furious daughter came home the next week wearing a “Cut Class, Not Frogs!” shirt.

No good deed goes unpunished.

Still, Hansen takes it all in stride. Furthering education, he says, is a person’s duty. “I’ve been a firm believer, from the time I was 26 years old, that we can’t tax ourselves enough to create the education our children deserve and require,” he says. “And yet there are those who can’t pay more—and there’s those that can pay more and should pay more. So we’ve spent a lifetime developing what we call charitable support trusts. We’re involved in 22 charitable support trusts that have a life beginning 30 years ago in this. My challenge is people don’t need to be old to do this; they just need to care to get involved early.”

Everything, Hansen says, goes back to a desire to foster a better community. He calls it the “big tent” philosophy—community should be one big tent, where everyone is welcome. He thinks of that with his apartment complexes, of his companies, of RSL.

Hansen wants RSL to remain deeply embedded in the community. In the six years since Hansen started his involvement with the team, the RSL brand has gone from housing one team with five coaches to, next year, running seven teams with 20 – 24 coaches. A $30 million training facility will soon also be underway. The system Hansen has set up includes youth teams and grooming teams, the way that a European system runs. He’s hopeful that in time, Utah will foster the next Lionel Messi.

Hansen invites anyone to take a look around an RSL game, to look at the RSL community. The fan base is widely varied, from the drum-thumping, song-singing, rabid Latino fanbase that sits at one goal end to the anarchist group that sits nearby, to the season ticketholders who stand all game long to show their support. RSL’s goal song—written by the drummer of Rancid—is one of the only original goal songs in all of MLS. The fun, the melting pot, the sense of overarching community, where anyone wearing a jersey is accepted as family: that’s what Hansen wants to see.

“You can be totally church-going, saluting, or you can be an anarchist and be in this family. If you get any essence that I rail against in life, it’s small tents, or exclusive tents. What I want is a group that represents and allows everyone in—be it a church, be it a political party, be it anything. Everyone’s invited. That’s our theory of life, is the big tents,” says Hansen. “Real’s a big tent. We talk a lot about that. This belongs to the community. I’m just simply a short-term caretaker.”