Inspired in part by their determined mom, Brian Yeager and his sister, Michelle Yeager-Thornton, have set out to create a new way to build community—one apartment and family at a time.
Growing up in central Ohio, the siblings saw firsthand the hard work and determination it took their single mom to raise them. She continues to inspire them today. When they look at the kind of communities they are working to create for individuals and families through their company, it’s her spirit that often comes to mind.
“Our mother, at her core, is still the most giving, self-sacrificing individual. She was always setting this example of doing for others, giving selflessly, and helping how you can,” Yeager-Thornton explained. “That’s how we were raised.”
After the siblings graduated from The Ohio State University, they started their careers in property management and as residential realtors, buying apartments and assets at the bottom of the market.
In 2010 they founded The Champion Companies, a real estate investment, development, and management firm with headquarters on Columbus’ north side. Today, they own and manage about 5,000 market-rate apartments in growing, thriving suburbs, from Hilliard to Westerville.
One of the ingredients to their success is focusing on their individual strengths, with Yeager working closely on growth and development while Yeager-Thornton focuses on operations.
“We figured out very early on in those years of selling houses and managing properties that our skill sets are different but extremely complementary,” said Yeager-Thornton, who serves as Chief Operating Officer. “It’s been the rocket fuel that has helped propel us.”
As the company has grown, it has put a targeted emphasis on giving back to the community that has accelerated its success.
In 2014, they established the Champion Cares Foundation, a Donor Advised Fund at the Foundation. Through their fund, they regularly support organizations that focus on children and basic needs.
“Those struggling with food insecurity and who aren’t sure where they are going to lay their head every night, those are the people we really want to help lift up,” Yeager-Thornton said.
The company provides support for local nonprofits including Children’s Hunger Alliance, the YWCA Family Center, Habitat for Humanity-MidOhio, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio, Reeb Avenue Center, and Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Ohio. In 2020, the company invested $2.5 million into building a new Boys & Girls Clubs facility in the Milo-Grogan neighborhood and helped fundraise a total of $12.5 million collectively from community and corporate leaders for the effort.
“We are inspired and motivated to support our community’s underserved neighborhoods with help from fellow leaders, team members, and even our residents,” Yeager said.
“ We feel it’s our purpose to empower people and make a difference in the lives of others.”
Brian Yeager, President and CEO, The Champion Companies
Yeager and Yeager-Thornton are passionate about bringing their associates along on Champion’s philanthropic journey, providing opportunities to volunteer with various organizations and developing its T.E.A.M. Impact Program, which enables Champion team members to donate to the Champion Cares Foundation directly from their paychecks. More than 90 percent of associates utilize this program.
In an effort to involve residents, the company also launched Round Up Your Rent, giving individuals and families the chance to round up their rent $1 every month with Champion matching each $1 donation.
As the company continues to grow, the siblings hope their philanthropic footprint will, too.
“I’m proud of what we’ve done philanthropically, and we need to do more of it,” Yeager said. “We want to be leaders in our community in that way, and I think the best thing a leader can do is lead by example.”