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Andrew M. Toft: Mountain Man

Andrew Toft, © 2017 Talia Kite Photo, taliakitephoto.com

Andrew M. Toft is a Denver attorney whose practice includes commercial and civil litigation, real estate litigation, commercial foreclosures and receiverships, commercial collections and loan workouts, post-judgment collection, creditors’ rights in bankruptcy, and Uniform Commercial Code Article 9 issues. He is an active member of the American, Colorado, and Denver Bar Associations.

Toft is a former president and board member of the TMA Rocky Mountain Chapter; held positions on a number of TMA Global committees and served on its Executive Board, including stints as corporate secretary and vice president of chapter relations; and has co-chaired the TMA Western Regional Conference and its Education Committee.

He holds bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln.

Q: How did you end up in Colorado?

Toft: This is where I always wanted to live. I was here in the early ‘60s on a family vacation. Even though I was just a little kid—first or second grade—I fell in love with the mountains. After I got out of high school, I left the Chicago area, where I was born and raised, and I went to undergraduate and law school in Lincoln, Nebraska, at the University of Nebraska. When I finished law school, I moved here without a job. It took me about six months to find work. I never regretted it. It’s a great place to live, and it’s a wonderful place to practice law.

Q: A lot of people move to Colorado for the skiing or the hiking. Are you into either of those?

Toft: At various times since I’ve lived here, I’ve done less or more of both. I skied, not a lot but a bit, when I was younger and up until our kids were born. My wife Suzanne and I in the past hiked quite a bit.

One of the activities that I’ve really enjoyed out here is bicycling. I rode quite a bit when I was younger, up until I had a particularly nasty accident. Then I didn’t ride for a number of years. But as our sons got older, they got me back into it. Our older son and I have done some of the long-distance rides here in Colorado—the Courage Classic; the Triple Bypass, which I was not able to complete; and the Copper Triangle, which is a ride that starts and finishes at Copper Mountain but takes you across three of the passes up in our mountains. That one I have not been able to complete either, failing both times on the far side of Vail Pass. But they are truly wonderful rides. You see the mountains far more up close and personal than you do when you’re just in a car. 

We’ve also done a little hiking more recently. Just last summer we hiked a couple times up in Rocky Mountain National Park, and we’ve done it in some other areas as well. You’re not going to see me on any of those outdoor shows, but I’ve been outside a bit.

Q: What else are you passionate about outside of work?

Toft: Learning. I’m trying to be a lifelong learner. I read almost constantly. I watch a lot of sports too, with two sons and an understanding wife, but I read a lot. I think that helps me not just in dealing with day-to-day life but the professional life as well because I read a lot of history, biography, and that sort of thing. Sometimes you find interesting arguments that you’d never really thought of. Some of my passion about history and reading came from my dad’s experiences in World War II and those of his brothers and one of his sisters, too. They were all in it.

Q: Do you just read World War II history or all kinds of history?

Toft: It started with World War II history. Dad was a Nebraska kid and volunteered for the Army Air Corps and was shot down on his second mission. He evaded capture in France for 2½ months and then was caught by the Germans. He passed through the hands of the Gestapo. He had to listen to the firing squads working in the Gestapo prison in Paris, where they kept him for a while. Then he wound up in a POW camp in northern Germany—extreme northeast Germany, right on the Baltic Sea—and was there until the closing days of the war, when the Soviet army liberated them. 

Listening to him tell those stories is what really peaked my interest. I also had an uncle at Normandy. I had another uncle who fought on Iwo Jima, and my aunt was in intelligence. With all of those experiences, World War II history is really where I got my start.

Q: And you expanded after that?

Toft: I read all kinds of world history. I became a Civil War buff. Growing up in Illinois, you learn to revere Abraham Lincoln. He is someone who fascinates me. Those are some of the areas that I’ve read a great deal about. 

Q: Have you been to the Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois?

Toft: I can’t say that I’ve been to the museum. There’s an old grain mill near where I grew up in west suburban Chicago. Abraham Lincoln spoke there once in, I think, the late 1850s or early 1860s. I’ve been able walk quite literally in his footsteps, which for me was pretty exciting.

Q: What else keeps you busy outside of work?

Toft: I’ve also done a fair amount of volunteer work of different types. Before I got married and before we had kids, I was very involved as a volunteer for the Boy Scouts. Then after we had kids, I, along with another dad from the elementary and middle school where our boys went, helped rejuvenate the Cub Scout pack at the school. That took quite a bit of time, but it was also a very rewarding experience because we gave kids something here in the city that they would not have otherwise had. 

I also had done a lot of volunteer work at the boys’ school, both on the PTA and what we call the Collaborative School Committee, which helps set policy for the school. The entire time our boys were there—which, combined, was about 12 or 13 years—I did that every year. It was very gratifying to try to help students and to help the teachers and the administrators give greater direction to the school.

I volunteer for the Colorado Bar Association as well. I do a lot of work right now, for example, on the Legislative Policy Committee for the bar. That’s one of the most fascinating things I’ve done in my career, testifying in the legislature and helping to write legislation. It’s great fun.

And then, of course, there are Suzanne and the boys. They’re an incredible part of my life.

Q: How long have you been married?

Toft: Our next anniversary will be number 24.

Q: And how old are the boys?

 Toft: Hunter is 21. He’s a senior at the University of Washington in Seattle. Connor, our younger son, turns 17 today, March 13. He’s a junior at Denver East High School.

Q: How did you gravitate into turnaround/restructuring work?

Toft: I’m not sure that “gravitate” is the right word. I would say that I kind of got sucked into it. In 1995 I was employed as in-house counsel by a privately held group of companies. In February 1995, the primary owner and four or five of his entities filed what was then the largest bankruptcy in Colorado history.

I had done some bankruptcy work prior to that, but all of a sudden I was on the inside of a very, very large bankruptcy. We had five different debtor counsels for the different entities and the individual. We filed in February 1995, and I continued to work either for the bankruptcy estate or the liquidating trust after the liquidating plan was approved until November 1997. I got a very intensive inside view of the bankruptcy process from that.

It also permitted me to meet many people in the bankruptcy and restructuring industry—the lawyers involved in the case, both for us and for the creditors’ committee—and many of them became friends, many of them became colleagues, and many of them were TMA members—and some still are, along with me. That’s how I wound up getting involved with TMA, or one of the reasons, I should say. 

Q: It must have been something that you enjoyed since you stuck with it.

Toft: I did. It was an exceptionally educational experience. One of the things that struck me was that even in the adversarial setting that we were in—and I was very clearly viewed as one of the debtors’ lawyers, even though I wasn’t bankruptcy counsel—I never had a conflict with any of the creditors’ lawyers. No one ever questioned my integrity, and I was always treated fairly. Like I said, some of these people became my friends. I think part of it was that the people were so good to work with, even though the process could be a little difficult at times. I really enjoyed the people I met in the bankruptcy bar

So when I opened my own office, I gravitated toward some of those people. We stayed in touch. I began to do work for entities where some of them wound up, and I started getting referred work. The contacts just built from there.

Q: What have been some of your favorite cases along the way?

Toft: I had a case relatively early on after I opened my own practice. It was really relatively small in the overall scheme of things compared with the type of cases that TMA members generally handle. There was a guy who was running a storage business in one of the more rural parts of the metropolitan area. His wife had just passed away. He was an older gentleman, and he had gotten into a dispute with some of his partners. The lawyers who were representing him brought me in to try to work out a resolution to the case and help him keep his business, but also to turn it around.

Over the course of 18 months, we were able to do that. We got the litigation resolved outside of bankruptcy. We never had to go into bankruptcy. This gentleman was able to keep his business. We were able to work out a resolution not only with the people who were suing him but also with his lender as well. Several years later, he was able to refinance his business, and he constructed and opened an entirely new section of storage facilities. 

To be able to help somebody who was not only down business-wise but also down in his personal life and help him keep a business that he had built—in hindsight, I’d say that’s probably the most satisfying one that I’ve worked on. Most of my work is on behalf of creditors, and I’m quite good at that. But you tend to be trying to inflict stress in that circumstance. In the other one, I think I was really able to help a guy out.

Q: The impact of the whole thing came down to this one individual, so you were able to see it on a more human level.

Toft: Very much. It helped, of course, that he was a good guy. That’s probably the most gratifying case I’ve had in this type of work.

Q: Any other favorites?

Toft: As I said, most of them have been cases where I’m trying to inflict stress to help get my clients paid. I’ve had some circumstances where we’ve gotten very significant payouts for my clients. I have a number of cases going in bankruptcy right now, or ones that I recently got out of because Chapter 7 trustees were appointed. But we’ve been able to bring misconduct on the part of the debtors to the court’s attention. From my perspective, that’s always gratifying, and my clients appreciate it very much. While I can’t really say in those circumstances that I’m helping to turn around a business, I’m helping to enforce my client’s rights.

Q: You touched a little on this in the beginning, but what role has TMA played in your career?

Toft: I think that’s been a significant aspect of it. I have been able to build a network of colleagues and friends from coast to coast that I never would have had without being a member of TMA and being given the opportunities that I’ve had within TMA to network with people and to participate in TMA activities. Whether it was planning a conference or being part of the board of trustees or being the corporate secretary for a while, it has permitted me to meet so many people that I have become friends with, people who I can go to as a resource, and people who sometimes come to me as a resource.

It has been very, very gratifying, and I don’t think I’d be as good a lawyer or as good a professional today were it not for TMA. I know that sounds trite, but in my case, I firmly believe that. The opportunity to work with judges from around the country—who I will probably never have an opportunity to appear in front of—on panels, to hear what they have to say, to get insights from them as we work through presentations or as part of TMA governance has been an experience that I didn’t think I would have, but it’s been one of the best parts. 

Q: What other advice would you have for someone who was new to the industry or was thinking about getting into it?

Toft: Find a good mentor who has experience in the bankruptcy, turnaround, and restructuring industry from whom you can learn. Also, develop your leadership skills from the beginning. By that I don’t mean constantly putting up your hand to do what some people perceive to be leading. What I mean is, if you’re asked to do something, take the opportunity to do it and do it well. Do things that will permit you to meet people and grow your own network.

For young TMA members, don’t volunteer for something just to say, “I can sit next to a judge.” Do it with an open mind and open ears and work with the judges that you have the opportunity to meet because it’s a wonderful experience. Sometimes you get some real pearls of wisdom by just listening to them talk amongst themselves. 

Obviously, the most critical thing is to do a good job in whatever your engagement is, no matter how big or how small. But people who just know you as a colleague have to be able to realize that they can rely on you. That’s something I think you have to start working on at the very beginning, because it builds the trust that somewhere down the road may lead to an engagement. I think it’s something that is critically important, but I don’t think it’s necessarily something that people focus on as early in their careers as perhaps they should.

Q: If you could start your own career over, would you do anything differently?

Toft: I love being a lawyer, so I don’t think I would change that aspect of it. I might focus earlier on what I really want to specialize in. I’ve wound up doing predominantly commercial litigation, real estate litigation, some construction litigation, and then, of course, bankruptcy litigation. I wish I had had a focus earlier in my career, particularly in the bankruptcy area. I did some of it, but it’s taken until probably the last 15 to 20 years for me to really focus on it. I enjoy it. I feel like I get decisions faster in Bankruptcy Court than I do in some of the other courts in which I appear. The bankruptcy cases really make progress, and I enjoy that aspect of it.

So, I probably would focus a little more on my area of practice. I would take my own advice and would learn how to lead, whether it was putting up my hand to volunteer or leading by example more than I did when I was younger. If I could go back with my knowledge after the years of practice I’ve had, I’d start out as a much better lawyer. 

Q: What might people who know you only in your professional capacity be most surprised to learn about you?

Toft: The moustache is fake.

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