Remembering a Great One: Tributes to Ken
The housing industry lost a giant recently, a giant who made a difference in the lives of hundreds of friends and colleagues and thousands more he never met. Ken Baggett, CohnReznick’s former chairman and co-CEO, leaves behind an incredible legacy. Rather than our usual content this month, we want to spend time remembering Ken through those who knew him best. Please read a few of what would be thousands of memorable moments, both professional and personal, and tributes that only those who knew him best can share.
Before the Atlanta office was even established, in 1995, I was on a panel with Ken at our annual affordable housing conference. There would have been nothing weird about that, except Ken was an accountant with a competing accounting firm. But David Reznick put the panel together, and If you had to pick a leader in our housing practice, it was absolutely David.
I thought, “Has Reznick lost his mind? Why would we invite another accounting firm where we are supposed to be showing our technical superiority?” Little did I know, Mr. Reznick, in his infinite – which I really do believe is infinite – wisdom, was recruiting Ken to open an office for us in Atlanta. So, Ken was at this conference and here he comes, limping toward the stage. He had recently busted up his knee skiing, and I just kept thinking, “This is so weird.” Thereafter, though, Mr. Reznick’s plans were revealed, and that’s how Ken joined us.
Ken was responsible for not only the success of the Atlanta office but also for us opening a California office and me being out in California. But that’s the vision Ken had – to open an office all the way across the country. Ken made a difference in housing and at CohnReznick and we’ll miss him.
You can find CohnReznick’s statement on Ken’s passing here.
Please read on for more tributes from his friends and notable housing leaders in their own right. Noel Khalil, chairman and CEO of the Columbia group of companies, shared his feelings with Affordable Housing Finance here.
Mike Godwin, CEO, Ambling
Ken Baggett was a great friend to many. I was fortunate to spend countless hours with Ken talking about things like affordable housing, finance, tax credits, and leadership. However, the memories that I will forever treasure have nothing to do with any of those things. We enjoyed a rare friendship: the type of friendship we would relate more to a brother or sister, only better. We both loved to laugh and to interject humor into the communication equation as much as possible. Ken was a genius at using humor to defuse a tense situation, oftentimes even making fun of himself.
Ken loved to compete at most anything. But most of all Ken loved the verbal jousting that often goes on between close friends. One night after a few drinks, and for reasons neither of us can explain, Ken and I got into a debate about our waistlines. This resulted in a $500 bet on which one of us would lose the most weight over the next six months. At first, neither one of us took this very seriously. But in true Ken Baggett fashion, he sent me an altered picture claiming to have already lost 20 pounds. Not to be outdone, I hired a personal trainer. Soon the game was on. Lacking confidence in winning this bet the traditional way, I began using other tactics. This translated into me sending Ken a case of candy bars. Several weeks later, my assistant walked into my office one Friday morning requesting that I come sign for a delivery. Much to my surprise, the delivery was an entire truckload of Krispy Kreme doughnuts! Some 100 dozen, if my memory serves me correctly. However, when the time came for the weigh-in, Ken presented me with the $500 check which I promptly got framed and, to this day, still hangs on my office wall.
On a more serious note, Ken Baggett was one of my dearest friends and I will miss him greatly. I have often argued with other close friends that I was Ken’s best friend (which everyone knows that I was). Ken had a way of making everyone feel that way. We could all strive to be a little more like Ken Baggett in this regard. It was one of his greatest attributes in my opinion. I love you, Ken Baggett. You will be missed.
Bryant Coats, CEO, RHG
Ken and I met in 1983, and we struck up a close relationship as two Alabama rednecks with similar inclinations to tease and pick at folks, including each other, unmercifully. My wife says my teasing and picking doesn’t always translate, but Ken’s humor and obvious underlying regard endeared him to his “targets.”
An excellent word to describe Ken is “infectious.” Whether it was as a coworker with Ken at CohnReznick, a client, or a friend, you wanted to be a part of his team. I cannot tell you how many affordable housing developers, professionals, and friends have commented over the last few weeks and months that they would not be where they are today without the help and support of Ken.
It was interesting to watch Ken grow his practice in large part by creating clients. In the late ‘80s and ‘90s, Ken encouraged many folks to get into the affordable housing business. These folks became an extremely large client base that was particularly loyal because their beginnings and ultimate success were directly related to Ken’s advice and counsel. During the last several months, I had the pleasure of spending a lot of time with Ken, sometimes reflecting on the past and encouraging him to celebrate his success, but he never took credit, always giving it to the folks he had around him.
Great leaders attract great talent, which is why Ken was so successful. Ken was one of my closest friends, and a void has been created in my life, but I look forward to the day when I see Ken again and he greets me with his favorite comment: “What’s happening!”
Maureen Mercer, Executive Director, Georgia Affordable Housing Coalition
Ken Baggett leaves a long legacy of service and success over his many years in the affordable housing arena here in Georgia as well as across the country, touching and changing the lives of countless people. As the founder and president of the Georgia Affordable Housing Coalition, Ken was able to bring the LIHTC industry in the state together to speak with one voice, advocating for policy and legislation that would benefit the program, Coalition members, and the residents of LIHTC communities, ultimately lending his expertise and experiences nationwide. From the Coalition’s start in 1996, Ken recognized the importance of a positive working relationship with the state agency, and in Georgia, we are proud of our mutually respectful and effective two-decade long partnership with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, a critical alliance which Ken helped create and continued to nurture.
Caring, affable, and oh so smart, he was truly one of a kind, an incomparable mixture of warmth, wisdom, and wit. He loved people and wanted everyone to succeed, generously offering his wise counsel to the many who sought him out. Both an optimist and a visionary, Ken was an extraordinary man and he will be profoundly missed. The mark Ken has made on our hearts will remain forever and he will be always be remembered with affection and gratitude. We will continue to honor him with the work that we do.
John Rucker, Managing Director, Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Inc.
In 1987 Atlanta developer Chuck Smith asked me to attend a meeting so that I could learn about a new product. He wanted me to write him a debt commitment letter required by the state. I met him at Ken Baggett’s office where Ken outlined the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program using a marker and an overhead projector.
During those early days of the program, Ken spent countless unpaid hours mentoring and teaching developers how the program worked. It was during those early days that Ken became my dear friend. Over those 30 years, we worked hard and played hard. We traveled and vacationed countless numbers of times and hosted innumerable dinners all over the country. We laughed and cried together. Boy, did we laugh! I will truly miss him.
Chase Northcutt, President, RHG
It’s pretty hard to put into words what Ken meant to the success of our company and to me in my career. With us being a nonprofit, he encouraged us to start a housing group back in the late ‘90s. I was fresh out of school and the rest of our group had no experience in affordable housing. With his guidance and input, we’ve now developed or acquired approximately 6,000 units. In various ways, Ken had a hand in every one of our projects and was on our board at the time of his death.
Ken was a lot of fun and will be dearly missed. We are both Auburn graduates, so I could always count on him to help in the endless banter with Georgia and Alabama fans. I went to see him at the hospital a couple of weeks ago, and he gave me a “War Damn Eagle.” I will miss him.
Ken Blankenship, CFO and Partner, Prestwick Development
I have so many fond memories of Ken. However, most of my stories are probably not printable! I’ve always thought the path he took to becoming a CPA was extremely comical. When I first met Ken in the fall of 1974, he was an architecture major at Auburn. Ken could not draw a stick man, much less design and build a model of a new building. After the fall quarter of 1974, his professor made a strong suggestion that Ken give up his dream of becoming an architect and find a new profession. Neither of our grade point averages were anything to write home about, so Ken began to look for courses that would allow him to ramp up the average. His mom and dad had laid the law down to do so, or maybe coming home was an option. Some of his fraternity brothers, and I’m talking about the not-so-bright ones, were doing well in the business school and so Ken thought business school and accounting seemed to be a good choice. His grades soared the next quarter and a star was born. He was a natural-born CPA.
Risa Lavine, CohnReznick Chief of Staff, Principal
We had just finished our Owner’s Meeting and Ken suspected (correctly so) that he had a prominent presence despite not being there. I may have mentioned him a couple times during the meetings. He emailed me after the meetings saying that he’d been receiving a ton of emails of appreciation and well wishes. I am having a tough time putting my emotions into words but this email reply I sent Ken in June 2018 came back to me.
I hope it is obvious how much you mean to all of us and, some, much more than others. But, all of us know we sat in that privileged room at our Owner’s Meeting enjoying a whole lot of professional success and some of us knowing even greater joy because of the relationships we have formed over the years. So, yes, we took a moment at the Owner’s Meeting to thank you for being a bold and courageous leader who was visionary enough to help ensure we became CohnReznick. Yes, we took another moment to thank you for being our partner and friend, a mentor, a coach, a pain in the ass sometimes and the same person who taught us that together we are capable of anything we set our minds to. Yes, maybe we honored you when we celebrated our PYRAMID honorees. You demanded we always find ways to shine a brighter light on those who really make a difference while standing up to the naysayers. And, yes, maybe we stood together with our heads bowed to pray for you and Missy and your family. Because you are loved by so many who owe you the biggest debt of gratitude. You are respected by more who see more clearly how your leadership shaped so many other great leaders and, when it is all said, we honor the legacy you helped to nurture and create. You have done a lot of crazy and sometimes stupid shit in your life but we have loved this journey we shared and that wild decision you made so long ago to join Reznick Fedder and Silverman. And, I think it goes without saying how much I love you, our friendship, our partnership and the unique place you have held me in my heart as “my person.” Sending love and gratitude.