Our Team

Richard J. Felker

Richard Felker began his business career in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he owned and operated furniture/appliance stores. After 10 years or so, in the early 1970s, he moved into the real estate development business in Wisconsin, and for the last 27 years he has focused on real estate developments in the Phoenix metropolitan area. During his 40 years of real estate experience, Mr. Felker has developed over 100 projects valued at over $1 Billion. Those projects have included more than 1,845 apartment units; 128 apartment units converted to condominiums; 835 condominium units, 5,110 single family lots (consisting of lots sold to builders; custom lots sold to upscale buyers and single family/townhouse homes) and more than a dozen retail/commercial/office projects. His vision, ability to recognize current and future trends, extensive contacts with lenders, brokers and municipal and community leaders and his wealth of experience in all phases of residential and commercial development, financing, construction, and property management, combined with his ability to assemble and lead great teams, have all helped create the success of his investment/development entities, collectively known as The Empire Group. These accomplishments have led him to be the recipient of nine National Awards for Excellence for his projects, including recognition for Design and Excellence by the Pacific Coast Builders Conference, Professional Builder Magazine and the National Association of Realtors; Builders Magazine “Best in the West” Award, and the MAME Award.

Geoffrey Jacobs

Mr. Jacobs currently serves as a Principal with The Empire Group, LLC. Mr. Jacobs started his business career in the early 1990’s with a real estate company where he helped to plan mixed-use developments in mainland China. In 1998, he accepted the opportunity to work with Richard Felker, take responsibility for the commercial real estate operations of The Empire Group, and assume an ownership position in the company. His responsibilities include (a) acquisition, financing, planning, zoning, entitlement, development, improvement, and management of all of the Empire Group’s anchored and non-anchored mixed-use, retail, and office projects, (b) supervising the leasing of the company’s projects, including ground leases, build-to-suit leases, and space leases in company-owned shops buildings to such tenants as Staples, Ace Hardware, Fresh & Easy Markets, Circle K, Jack in the Box, KFC, and others, and (c) supervision of the sale of shopping center pad sites. In addition, Mr. Jacobs was responsible for the overall development, improvement, and operation of a series of gas stations developed by The Empire Group before he arranged for and completed the sale of the gas station operations. Mr. Jacobs is a member of the International Council of Shopping Centers. In 1991, Mr. Jacobs graduated magna cum laude from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in international finance. In 1992, Mr. Jacobs graduated from the Thunderbird School of International Management, where he earned his master’s degree in international management.

Randy Grudzinski
Head of Capital Markets

Mr. Grudzinski currently serves as the Head of Capital Markets for the Empire Group. Since entering the alternative investments industry in 2001, Randy has structured and raised over $350 MM for private investment programs, including approximately $150 MM for eight separate, Empire-managed partnerships. By focusing on the retail investment community, Randy has built lasting and valuable relationships with hundreds of registered investment advisors and investment brokers throughout the United States, as well as the 1200+ accredited clients that they and the Empire Group serve through Empire’s various investment programs. Prior to joining the Empire team, Randy was a Senior Managing Director with Advanced Equities, Inc., where he acted as external Placement Agent for Empire’s family of Phoenix-based distressed housing funds. Mr. Grudzinski was also a Senior Vice President with GK Development, Inc., a $500 MM value-added owner and redeveloper of retail real estate properties, and the President of InvestLinc Capital Services and InvestLinc Securities, which are the merchant banking and broker-dealer divisions of The InvestLinc Group, LLC, a boutique financial services firm. Mr. Grudzinski is a High Honors graduate of the JL Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University and acts as a guest lecturer at both Kellogg and the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business. Mr. Grudzinski also is a graduate of DePauw University and the London School of Economics – earning his Bachelor’s Degree in Economics. Mr. Grudzinski is a FINRA registered representative with Series 22, 24, 28, 62, 63, 79 and 99 designations.

Michael E. Woolf
General Counsel

Michael Woolf has been a lawyer in Arizona since 1974. He was an undergraduate of Arizona State University where he graduated with honors in 1971 with a business degree. In 1974 he graduated from Arizona State University Law School, cum laude. Before being employed by The Empire Group as in-house counsel in 2006, Michael was a shareholder in the Phoenix law firm of O’Connor, Cavanagh, Anderson, Killingsworth, Westover and Beshears, PA and an owning shareholder in the Phoenix law firm of Mariscal, Weeks, McIntyre and Friedlander, PA. During his professional career, Michael has been a transactional lawyer with an emphasis on documenting business transactions, real estate financing, and all aspects of commercial, retail, and residential real estate, including extensive experience in construction, development, sales, brokerage, leasing and community development documentation. Michael has been honored by Phoenix Magazine as one of the top lawyers in Arizona. During his long history of representing Empire entities while with the above law firms, Michael has also represented national and local developers, homebuilders, lenders and real estate brokerage companies as well as many local non-real estate oriented businesses. Michael is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Homebuilders Association of Central Arizona; has been a member of numerous committees formed by the Arizona Department of Real Estate to recommend changes to Arizona real estate statutes and regulations; is a member of the American Bar Association, Arizona State Bar Association, Maricopa County Bar Association; and is a member of the International Council of Shopping Centers.

Cindy Thimmesch

Ms. Thimmesch began her Finance career working in the hotel business for various legendary properties such as the Willard Inter-Continental and the Arizona Biltmore.  Honing her skills in budgeting, forecasting, and process improvement, her specialty was working with department managers in developing skills to achieve financial performance while maintaining operational standards.   Beginning in 1998, Ms. Thimmesch served as the Vice President, Controller and later the Vice President of Investor Relations of Visitalk.com, an internet startup dedicated to providing VOIP and Video/Data Conferencing through a permanent directory.  During the course of Business, She assisted in the raise of $45 million from Angel Investors. She coordinated SEC filings, Private Placement Memorandums, and Annual meetings for shareholders.  Additionally, she worked with Ernst & Young in implementing back office and front office integration in call accounting and financial systems.   Ms. Thimmesch worked as the Controller for Geoffrey H. Edmunds and Associates from 2004 – 2008. Projects she was involved in ranged from The Scottsdale Waterfront, a luxury 198 condominium development, to the  Ranch Cottages at Talking Rock, 48 cottages designed for luxury high country living. During her tenure at Geoffrey Edmunds, the financial operations for some projects were entirely in house:  from cash flow management, risk management, work in process, Sales tax, financials, property management, loan administration to home closings.  Others she coordinated in conjunction with various joint venture partners such as Opus West, Harvard Investments and the Pivotal Group.   Most recently, she was the Controller for Green Street Communities, an infill real estate developer and home builder.  There, she developed specialized Asset reporting for investors along with various dynamic cash flow forecasting tools that allowed for multiple scenario analysis.  Ms. Thimmesch also created budgeting and forecasting models designed to ROE needs.  Ms. Thimmesch earned a business degree with Honor from Michigan State University and holds her Master’s in Business Administration from the WP Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.  She is also a Certified Managerial Accountant (CMA).

Shelby Duplessis
VP of Land Development

Ms. Duplessis recently joined the Empire team as Vice President of Land Development. Prior to joining Empire, Ms. Duplessis served as a Managing Partner at CMX, a Phoenix based Civil Engineering Firm for 12 years, until its closure in 2009 and more recently at Bowman Consulting, a national Civil Engineering Firm, which she served as a Senior Project Manager for nearly 6 years. While with these firms she managed the Peoria office, which consisted of 50 plus employees, along with multiple projects and consultants.  In addition Ms. Duplessis chaired several internal departmental committees including the Community Foundation.  Ms. Duplessis has more than 18 years of experience in civil engineering, zoning, entitlement and land development. She is responsible for team management; client, project and municipality coordination; public presentation and relationships; and civil design.  Ms. Duplessis has had significant involvement with capital improvement projects for various municipalities, including the Cities of Phoenix, Avondale, Peoria, Laveen, Surprise, the Town of Gilbert, and is very knowledgeable in their processes.  Shelby received her Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from Arizona State University in 1997 and received her Professional Engineer License from Arizona in 2001 and her Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), Professional Accreditation in 2008.  Along with these accreditations Ms. Duplessis has continued her professional affiliations with Leadership West as an Alumni of Class XX, and now serving on the Board as Education Chair, member of the National Society of Professional Engineers, City of Peoria Historic Preservation Commissioner, previously as a member of the City of Peoria Board of Adjustments and APS Corridor and Line Siting Committee, and graduate of the Leadership in Engineering Administration Program (LEAP), American Council of Engineering Companies of Arizona in 2007 and City of Peoria Leadership Institute in 2009.  Her areas of expertise include land development, project management, facilitation and understanding of municipal capital Improvement projects, infrastructure design and improvements, cost estimating/bidding, value engineering, ROW acquisition and coordination, General Plan Amendments, property zoning & annexation, master planning, property due diligence, 404 and environmental coordination and memos of understanding and development agreement preparation and coordination.  Her notable developments in Arizona include Prasada, Desert Ridge, Sonoran Mt Ranch, Sonoran Foothills, Vistancia and Dynamite Mt Ranch.

Kirk Larson

Mr. Larson currently serves as the Vice President of Construction for the Empire Group.  Kirk began his career in the multi family business in 1983, and worked as a framing carpenter until 1988, when he enrolled into Arizona State University, and was accepted into the College of Architecture, graduating in 1991 with a B.S. in Urban Planning.  Upon graduation Kirk went to work for Del Webb Corporation, and worked at several capacities developing master planned golf course communities throughout the Southwest.  Mr. Larson earned an MBA in 1996 graduating with honors, and eventually became a Vice President, and Principal with Tucson Land L.L.C., where he ran the Arizona operations.  In 2008 Kirk obtained a commercial general contractors license, and built custom homes, office developments, health clubs, federal government projects, and eventually made his way to Saudi Arabia working as a consultant on mixed-use master planned developments.  Over the last 35 years, Kirk has been involved in seven [7] master planned golf course communities developing over 10,000 single family lots in the Southwestern United States, and Saudi Arabia.

Byron Crowe
Managing Director of Capital Markets

Mr. Crowe currently serves as Managing Director of Capital Markets for the Empire Group. Since entering the alternative investments industry in 1996, Byron has structured and raised over $2B for private investment programs. Prior to joining the Empire team, Byron served as CEO of Paulson Investment Company, LLC and President with Advanced Equities, Inc., where he acted as external Placement Agent for Empire’s family of Phoenix-based real estate funds. Mr. Crowe was also Founder and Executive Vice President of LaSalle St Capital Markets, Inc. which provided the Capital Markets services for LaSalle St Securities, LLC, a regional Broker Dealer with over 500 registered representatives. Mr. Crowe is a graduate of the University of Iowa earning his Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting. Mr. Crowe is a FINRA registered representative with Series 7, 24, 55, 63, and 79 designations.

Paul Nunez
Director of Investor Services

Mr. Nunez serves as Director of Investor Services for the Empire Group. In this role, Mr. Nunez is responsible for investor services, operations processing, and oversight of various service providers. Prior to coming to Empire Group, Mr. Nunez has extensive experience within Financial and Investor Services and has worked within the financial services industry for over 15 years. Mr. Nunez has also worked as a Relationship Manager for Cole Capital where he was responsible for building and maintaining relationships with advisors and assisting them with their real estate investment needs. Mr. Nunez’s previous experience also includes positions with Charles Schwab and The Vanguard Group. Mr. Nunez received his bachelor’s degree in Business from Northern Arizona University was previously FINRA registered with Series 6, 7 and 63.

Lauren Broeman

Ms. Broeman has worked in Commercial Construction and Manufacturing accounting and finance for over 25 years. She has acted as Consultant and Controller for multiple remote clients engaged in building, manufacturing, publishing, and construction industries. For 16 years she acted as Treasurer, Controller, and CFO for Homes & Son Contractors. Her financial management allowed her to capture a yearly gain of $100K in interest revenue for the company. As controller for building and construction companies, Lauren has expert knowledge in capital expenditures, cash flow projections, budget and revenue forecasting, as well as extensive experience and knowledge of construction procedures and cost mitigation. Her audit expertise reclaimed $65K in payable sales tax for one of her remote clients, experience she used in her very first project with Empire, the annual year-end Fund audits. Ms. Broeman joined The Empire Group of Companies at the end of 2014. As Controller, she gathers, reviews, and balances all financials for 40+ companies and prepares them for review by CFO and outside tax accountants and auditors. She performs budget vs. cost analyses for special construction projects and budget reviews for all land development.

Shona Peterson
Accounts Payable/Receivable

The bio for Shona Peterson is currently being updated and will be available online soon.

Tracy Grewe
Land Development Coordinator

The bio for Tracy Grewe is currently being updated and will be available online soon.

Renae Penuel

The bio for Amy Shepherd is currently being updated and will be available online soon.

Andy Smith
Amy Shepherd