Steamboat Springs Ben Spiegel is the kind of boss who tap dances at the employee Christmas party. He's also the kind of arts supporter who throws a bash for "Cabaret" and then tap dances on stage after his wife unexpectedly tosses his shoes to him.
Ben Spiegel loves to tap dance.
The president of Spiegel & Son, a custom painting and finishing business in Steamboat Springs, also loves his employees, his community and a laundry list of "phenomenal" people he has met across town.
"He thinks with his heart," said Eric Conner, a close friend of Spiegel's who has worked with him since he started the business in the mid-1990s.
Spiegel, 34, spoke effusively about nearly everything. He is the fourth generation of his family to run a painting business. Spiegel & Son, which Ben ran with his father, Delbert, before Delbert Spiegel retired, has expanded from eight employees in Steamboat to 52 employees in Steamboat, Phoenix and the Vail area. He would like to open an Aspen branch.
He never had planned to take up the family trade. Spiegel, who is from Sioux City, Iowa, spent his youth doing ballet, tap and jazz dance, spending a few summers tap dancing in shows at Bally's casino in Las Vegas. He got his bachelor's degree in music education at Morningside College.
But in the early 1990s, his sister and her boyfriend (now husband) moved to Steamboat. Their parents followed after Spiegel's mother lost her job at a hospital in Iowa. Spiegel had nothing else planned after college, so he came to Steamboat in a $700 pickup with $20 in his pocket and a maxed-out credit card.
Spiegel said he started the company partly because he couldn't find work that offered a decent wage.
"We went door to door, asking for jobs," Spiegel said.
Conner went with him.
"It's taken a long time" to build the business, Conner said. "Him and I being 23-, 24-year-old guys trying to sell paint jobs to guys who have their own planes. : That's a pretty big success, to know what we're doing and to be confident enough in our abilities and to not let anything hold us back."
A dozen years later, the multimillion-dollar company and its partner company, Architectural Design and Windows, handle major contracts around town. Spiegel & Son has done work at sites including Marabou and Vista Verde Guest Ranch.
A hands-on boss
Conner, who now runs the Steamboat office as Spiegel focuses on Vail, said employees love Spiegel, who prefers to have his hands on paint rather than paperwork and said he tends to stick to the field.
"I have more impact" there, he said. "That's what instills great ethics in the guys, is having the boss right next to them."
Spiegel also goes out of his way to make work fun and invest in employees, Conner said. When the staff approached him and asked for benefits years ago, Spiegel found a way to provide them.
He's also concerned with making sure his staff has housing.
"One time, I was trying to buy a piece of property, and I told Ben I wasn't sure I could get it," Conner said. "He said, 'What do we need to do?' and he gave me a raise."
In addition to his office and shop off Elk River Road, Spiegel plans to build a shop and 18 employee-housing units on 13th Street. He also co-owns the Redstone Motel in Hayden, which rents rooms monthly to workers.
Life and art
Spiegel hadn't planned to stay in Steamboat, but then he met Sharon. Spiegel invited her out for a cocktail after choir practice. They married nearly 10 years ago and live in the Steamboat II neighborhood with their children: Ashley, 8, Alex, 6, and Logan, 4.
He has immersed himself in the community and joined the board of the Steamboat Springs Arts Council this past year. The company has donated work and money to the council, the Strings Pavilion and various other nonprofit groups and events.
His passion, Spiegel said, is the Arts Council. For example, the company paid thousands for an ad in Luxe magazine (and is hoping for a complimentary one next year).
"Steamboat is very gravitated toward sports; arts are not the thing that's on the tip of everyone's tongue," he said. "My goal is to take the Steamboat Arts Council from a nonprofit to a moneymaker."
Arts Council Executive Director Marion Kahn said she adores Spiegel.
"Ben brings that great performance background, and he's unlimited," she said. "He's a go-getter. Whatever he puts his mind to, he'll do. He thinks in win-win terms - not only how is he going to close the deal, but how is it going to be good for you."
He has implemented his own ideas, she said, such as an art tour at Three Forks Ranch in Savery, Wyo. Spiegel and his staff have worked hard to arrange the September fundraiser, through which about 30 people will travel to the ranch, eat lunch and then take a look at the art collection, which is worth millions.
Kahn said she was thrilled about the event - and lucky to work with Spiegel.
"He's incredibly creative in his thinking," she said. "He's also really smart in his business. What's wonderful to me is he's so committed to the arts and this community and willing to work."
Kahn said Steamboat and the Arts Council were lucky to have him in town.
"We're beyond grateful."
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