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Gateway's 'Oz'

The man behind the curtain avoids the limelight while making all the decisions

There is a certain pained irony in Roger Boyer's predicament.

Here he is, a man who friends say would just as soon light himself on fire as jostle for attention, standing squarely at the center of one of Salt Lake City's headline-making debates.

Nordstrom.

Boyer's Gateway development would like nothing more than to make a place for the upscale retailer, which has vowed not to remain at Crossroads Plaza on Main Street once its lease expires in 2005. City officials are debating whether to amend or suspend city ordinances that seemingly prohibit the move. And between them, at center stage, is Harold Roger Boyer — a strange place for the man his co-workers call "Oz."

"The thing I really respect about Roger is the fact that he does not, has not and will never seek after the limelight," said Jake Boyer, Roger Boyer's eldest son and vice president of The Boyer Co. "We've nicknamed him 'Oz,' because he kind of acts like the wizard behind the curtain. He doesn't want to be out there with all the publicity, but he's the one making all the important decisions."

Here is a man who collects turtle trinkets, an ode to patient determination; whose favorite books include "Undaunted Courage" by Stephen Ambrose and "The Agony and The Ecstasy" by Irving Stone; who will always stop to watch a John Wayne or Clint Eastwood film, because they were men who "got things done."

Boyer, 63, bought his last car — a Range Rover — not because it was glamorous, but because "we were in a car accident a few years ago, and now I drive a steel-encased box." He has lived in the same house for more than 25 years.

"I'm not saying we haven't remodeled," he said dryly. "But it's pretty modest."

If a man's actions are what define him, then Boyer may well fit the description painted again and again by his friends: a principled, hard-working, keenly intelligent businessman. A man devoted to his wife, Sara; their eight children and 10 grandchildren; and to his faith.

"He is a trusted friend and adviser," said Bernie Machen, president of the University of Utah, where Boyer serves on the board of trustees. "The university has a budget of $1.6 billion. As such, we are one of the largest businesses in the state of Utah.

"Roger has been very involved in our hospital activities as well as our capital construction projects. Being able to get his input and advice has been invaluable to me. He is trustworthy. He has integrity. When Roger tells you something, you can go to the bank on it."

Boyer was named after his father, Harold, a prominent attorney whose clients included The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Roger Boyer thought about following in his father's footsteps but decided instead that he wanted to cut his own trail.

"He'll claim he doesn't remember," said longtime Boyer Co. partner Kem Gardner, recalling a conversation he had with Boyer when Gardner was considering moving to California to pursue a legal career in the early 1970s. "But he said to me one day, 'Do you want to make the deals, or do you want to document them? Do you want to work for yourself, or do you want to work in a law factory?' He had the vision 35 years ago to say what he wanted."

That vision propelled him through the U.'s economics program and the business school at Harvard University. After interviewing with some East Coast mutual fund companies, he realized he was more interested in Main Street than Wall Street, and in 1968 he moved back to Utah.

"I didn't know where I was going at the time," Boyer laughed, when asked about "vision."

"The motivation I had was that I really wanted to live in Utah," he said. "I had seen so many of my friends at that time, especially, who couldn't find the kinds of jobs that would be stimulating and profitable enough to allow them to stay in Utah. So they were living in New York or someplace else, kind of getting caught in a velvet trap that made it difficult to come back. So I thought I'd get into a business where I could use some sophistication of business technique, in the place where I wanted to live."

First was The Ivory and Boyer Co., which he formed with his college friend and brother-in-law, Ellis Ivory. (Ivory is vice chairman of the Deseret Morning News board of directors.) After four years, Ivory's interests turned to residential development — he went on to found Ivory Homes — and in 1972 Boyer created The Boyer Co. with partner Kem Gardner.

"Thirty-five years ago, he knew that what he wanted was to develop a long-term equity portfolio," Gardner said. "He wanted to build to own, to develop a portfolio that would appreciate in value. He said he wanted to remain small but concentrate on quality projects. He said he wanted me to come in on it with him."

The company began as "The Boyer Co." instead of "The Boyer and Gardner Co." because Gardner — an aspiring politician — didn't know how long he would be a part of the business. It remained The Boyer Co., according to Gardner, because Boyer was the "visionary, the man who has made the company what it is."

"I don't minimize that it has been a partnership," Gardner said. "We've split the losses and the responsibilities. And I've brought in a lot of deals. But Roger has always been the stabilizing influence. Guys like me, we can get flighty."

The company, which started in Boyer's basement, has grown to include more than 15 million square feet of real estate. The portfolio includes One Utah Center in downtown Salt Lake City, Brickyard Plaza, Summerwood Estates in Bountiful and various projects at Research Park at the U. The company has developments in seven states, from Texas westward.

Through it all, Jake Boyer said the thing he's learned to respect most about his father is his ability to maintain balance between work, family and church obligations.

"He's got incredible balance," Jake Boyer said. "There was never a time that I can recall that he didn't show up to something he was supposed to be at. I never thought of my dad as a workaholic, or a guy that couldn't be there because he was working on a deal."

The younger Boyer does remember one very valuable lesson his father taught him.

"Nothing was ever handed to us kids," Jake Boyer said. "I remember when I was 16 and I wanted to buy a car, the total cost was $4,000. I had $3,000 saved up from my janitorial job. Roger set up a $1,000 loan that had interest attached. Looking back on it, that was so great, because he wanted to teach me that money isn't free."

Rather, it is something with which Roger Boyer seems simply to have reconciled.

"The one thing money can do is offer the ability to sleep when the wind blows at night, the comfort of knowing you can weather the emergencies and the storm, that you can help your family when they need it," he said.

He declined to discuss matters of net worth or charitable giving, saying only that he was "comfortable enough" and that his causes were those that had become important to him and his family for personal reasons.

If The Boyer Co. has grown and brought in its share of winnings, it also has lost.

"He built a number of stores for (regional retailer) Grand Central, and then they went under," Ivory said. "Fred Meyer came and took over some of the stores. But one store he built in Brigham City sat there empty for, oh, 20 years.

"Another was a land development deal in Park City. I told him he was crazy to get into land development. But he did a lot deal by the Park City Golf Course. We were up there playing a round one day, and we looked up at that hill. I asked him how it felt to drop a million dollars on that hill. He looked at me and said in this very quiet voice, 'How about two?' "

Oh, and then there's that other little project, The Gateway, where the jury apparently is still deliberating. In addition to the Nordstrom controversy, Gateway's detractors continue to whisper that it is on the verge of insolvency. Boyer representatives decline to disclose the retail center's balance sheet but maintain its retailers continue to report improved performance while pointing to a fairly constant roster of lease deals. The latest include Hollister Co., an Abercrombie-like clothier, and Applebee's restaurant.

"Sometimes, people may think, 'Oh man, how could you have gotten involved in The Gateway?' " Ivory said. "But they forget that it is only one project in Roger's big portfolio of projects.

"Some people say Gateway won't ever make it, but I say there will be a Gateway 20 years from now, and there also will be a downtown, and that's because of two entities: The (LDS) Church (which, after the sale of Crossroads Plaza closes, will own both Main Street malls) and the Boyer Co. They're going to make sure these projects don't fail. They're not flaky. The church will handle the malls. Roger will see this project through, and it'll be a success — with or without Nordstrom."

Now into legitimate retirement age, Boyer said he'll keep coming to work until he can't do it anymore. He'll show up in the morning, play tennis at noon, go home at dinner time. In the meantime, there are deals to be done, and Boyer intends to do them.

"I don't like to think of retirement," he said. "I'm sure I'll slow down along the way, but I'm enjoying what I'm doing. Our company has never been busier with fun projects than what we're doing right now, and I like to be a part of that. I'm a deal junkie. There's just something about it I love — the art of the deal."


E-mail: jnii@desnews.com