John W. Bell, III, CEO, Director and Principal. John has over 30 years of experience in retail and real estate development. John has a consistent record for developing and managing businesses into growing profitability. His company’s successful retail operations complement his real estate development expertise. John has managed and guided BPG from its inception to today where BPG now has over 20 properties in five states with a capitalized value approaching $100 million.
1992 to present – The Columbus Group, Inc. and Affiliated Companies (CGI) – CEO, Director and Principal. CGI is an investment and management company. CGI’s investments are primarily in real estate, retail and financial institutions and services. In retail, CGI is Jos. A. Bank Clothier’s largest franchisee with thirteen stores, a Lilly Pulitzer licensee with three stores, and a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse franchisee. In financial and administrative services, CGI has a controlling interest in Commerce Services Corporation, a financial and property administrative service firm founded in 1992. In real estate, CGI is a principal of BPG that has over 20 property holdings in five states.
1991 to 1994 – Director of Real Estate and Franchise Development, Jos A. Bank Clothier’s, Inc. John was responsible for growing the store base by 40% during his tenure.
1983 to 1991 – Various management and executive positions, Bell’s Traditional,s Ltd. (Bell’s), Bell’s was a high end classic men’s and women’s clothing store founded by John’s father John W Bell, Jr. This store, which was formed in Asheville in 1963, was the foundation for the growth of the entities above. John was instrumental in expanding Bell’s from one store to five stores in three states. Bell’s operated until 1991 when it joined Jos. A. Bank Clothiers and converted stores to Jos. A. Bank franchise stores.
John W. Bell, Jr. (Bill), Chairman Emeritus, Director and Principal of BPG and its affiliate CGI. Bill has over 57 years of experience in retail and real estate development. In 1963 Bill founded Bell’s Traditional’s Ltd. (Bell’s), an upscale men’s and women’s clothing and gift store. This store was opened in Asheville, North Carolina’s Historic Biltmore Village, one of America’s first planned communities (life-style centers) built by George Vanderbilt in the 1890s. HistoricBiltmoreVillage is located at the entrance of Vanderbilt’s famed Biltmore Estate – America’s largest home and North Carolina’s largest tourist attraction. Bill was a pioneer in the preservation and the re-development of HistoricBiltmoreVillage. Through the years he became a substantial property holder. In 1965, Bell’s contracted with the Biltmore Estate to operate the retail business on the Estate, primarily gifts, commemorative Biltmore House items and decorative accessories. Bell’s operated this business until 1985 when the contract expired and the Biltmore Estate decided to expand into this business. Bell’s eventually grew to five stores in three states and operated until 1991 when it joined Jos. A. Bank Clothiers and converted stores to Jos. A. Bank franchise stores.
John August Batt, Jr. (Jay), Director and Principal of BPG and its affiliate CGI. Jay has over 28 years of experience in financial services, real estate and retail. From 2002 to 2006, Jay was on the New Orleans City Council representing District A. Currently, Jay is serving as the Deputy Chairman of the Republican Party of Louisiana and has been Past President and Past Chairman of the Board of the Allstate Sugar Bowl Committee where he continues serving on the Executive Board.. Jay also serves on many Greater New Orleans based boards and foundations including the City Park, the Florida Parishes Bank, and as Chairman of the Board of Trustees for Crimestoppers.
In 1928, Jay’s grandfather, Harry J. Batt, Sr., founded New Orleans’s Pontchartrain Beach, the largest amusement park in the country prior to the opening of Disneyland. Eventually Jay’s father, John A. Batt, ran the company until 1983 when he decided that it was in the best interest of the Batt family to sell the park to a developer. Subsequently, the Batt family focused on the management of their substantial real estate holdings that had been acquired over the years. Jay attended the University of The South in Sewannee and graduated from Tulane University.
John Fenner French (Fenn), Director and Principal of BPG and its affiliate CGI. Fenn has over 25 years of experience in financial services, real estate and retail. Fenn is a graduate of The University of the South and the Freeman School of Business at Tulane University (MBA), and holds a broker license with the State of Louisiana. Fenn’s grandfather, Darwin Fenner, was a partner of the firm Fenner & Beane of New Orleans, the country’s second largest brokerage firm at that time. In 1941, it merged with the stock brokerage firm Merrill, Lynch, E.A. Pierce & Cassatt of New York. The combination of the New Orleans firm with the New York firm led to the largest brokerage firm in the country, Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith. Darwin Fenner served on the board of Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith until the early 1970s.
Timothy Finley, Senior Advisor, is a retired chairman and chief executive officer of Jos. A Bank Clothiers where he served for nine years. During his tenure, the company tripled its size and completed its public offering. In addition, he served as president of Fred’s Inc., Castleberry Foods, and Otasco, all major enterprises. He also founded the Finley Group, a leading restructuring firm and was a partner at Deloitte, Haskins and Sells. Mr. Finley has served on the board of directors for Cole National, Cannon Mills, Baker Shoes, Jos A Bank, Pic n Pay Shoes and Venture Stores.
Mr. Finley has a degree from Ohio University and has been a lecturer at several Universities
Linda Bishop, Chief Accounting Officer and Corporate Secretary, has over 35 years of experience in accounting and has been with the ownership group for over 25 years. She manages the accounting function for the ownership group’s retail operations and investment activities.
Linda has a North Carolina real estate license and as such, is the Qualifying Broker Manager for the Biltmore Property Group.
James T. Gunn, Executive Vice President of Finance, has over 35 years of experience in real estate, primarily arranging financing for commercial real estate projects. His experience includes holding senior management positions for two major national banks. Jim also continues a principal for Vista Commercial Mortgage Group, LLC. Such position enables him to utilize Vista’s correspondent relationships with mortgage lenders in order to provide the best possible acquisition and long-term financing for both existing properties and future acquisitions.
A native of Asheville, NC, Jim has an undergraduate degree from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a MBA degree from East Tennessee State University.
Morgan D. Bromley, General Manager of Knoxville, has over 12 years of experience in real estate, construction management and retail. Morgan started with the company in 2001 as a Sales Associate in the company’s Knoxville Jos. A. Bank store. In 2006 Morgan was promoted to Store Manager of the company’s second Jos. A. Bank store to open in Knoxville. In 2008, Morgan moved to Asheville to assist in the development of the company’s 80,000 square foot mixed-use center in BiltmoreVillage. In addition to being an investor in this project, Morgan served Asheville as Director of Construction until moving to Knoxville in 2013 as General Manager of Knoxville. Morgan graduated from the University of Tennessee with an economics degree.
Charles D. Frazer, General Counsel, has over thirty years of legal experience, specializing in real estate, retail and corporate governance matters. Chuck was Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Jos. A. Bank Clothiers, Inc. for its entire 20 plus- year existence as a publicly held company. He also served as Jos. Bank’s corporate Secretary. Chuck’s legal career began as an associate at Frank, Bernstein, Conaway and Goldman in Baltimore, Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Law and Towson University.
Guy L. Forcucci, CFO and Senior VP of Development, Mr. Forcucci, in addition to serving as a Tax Partner with Deloitte in charge of North and South Carolina, had the honor of becoming a member of the firm’s national tax advisory committee. As CFO, In-House Counsel and minority owner with a start -up company, Wilton Connor Packaging, Guy was instrumental for all finance matters including: business planning and budgeting, strategic planning and process improvement, and in the development of key initiative matrices. He was responsible for negotiating loans and related covenants while managing all accounting, financial reporting and tax compliance matters. He is experienced in negotiating and drafting contracts with customers and suppliers as well as leases for the facilities which exceeded over 1.5 million square feet. During his time with WCP, the company grew to $50 million in sales with offices in North Carolina, Arkansas, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Beijing. Guy’s primary focus with BPG will be on providing advice and counsel in the arena of choice of entity, capital raises, establishing internal legal policies, reviewing real estate transactions, corporate acquisitions, accounting processes and controls, and corporate governance.
Guy, graduated from Niagara University with a BBA and received his Juris Doctor from the University of Buffalo. He is licensed to practice law in North Carolina and New York and is a North Carolina licensed CPA.
Benjamin W. Mitchell, Director of Administration, is a native of Georgia and has more than a decade of experience working with attorneys, contractors, developers, retailers, and local governments. Moreover, Ben grew up in a family of contractors and is familiar with building practices. Ben has been associated with BPG since 2013.
A graduate of The University of Texas at Austin, Ben majored in Government and served as a Business Law Teaching Assistant in the McCombs School of Business. After college, Ben attended Mercer University’s Walter F. George School of Law, where he served as President of the Second Amendment Society and was selected by the Dean of Students to interview faculty candidates. Ben worked directly with the City Attorney for the City of Asheville prior to his graduating from law school.
Ben is a member of the District of Columbia Bar and holds real estate licenses in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.