Stan Van Vleck is head of the 12,000 acre Van Vleck ranch, a family business that dates back to 1856. (Photo by Wes Davis)

The Way We Work: Stan Van Vleck

A glimpse into the daily life of Stan Van Vleck, attorney and owner of Van Vleck Ranch

Back Article Feb 14, 2023 By Jeff Wilser

This story is part of our February 2023 print issue. To subscribe, click here.

The real-life “Yellowstone” is happening right here in Sacramento County. Kind of. “At first I didn’t like it (Yellowstone), because we don’t go killing people on the cattle ranch,” says Stan Van Vleck, head of the 12,000 acre Van Vleck ranch, a family business that dates back to 1856.

But what the Paramount television series gets right, says Van Vleck, is that it’s tough for a family ranch to make it to the next generation. What’s cattle ranching really like? “It’s a seven day a week job, 24/7, with an average of 1 to 2 percent return on investment,” says Van Vleck, adding that when a kid goes to college and learns about business, it’s natural for them to say, “Why are we doing this? High risk, low reward? It’s the inversion of what should be happening.”

So he’s diversifying. Van Vleck, who’s also a partner (and former chairman) at Downey Brand law firm, has worked to expand the business into commercial real estate. This took a decade and it had to be juggled with cattle ranching, but Van Vleck says, “We’ve doubled the size of our operation.”

Here’s how he pulls it off.

2AM - Wakes up in the middle of the night. “I don’t sleep well. I’m up two or three times throughout the night.”

4AM - Wakes up again.

6:30AM - Knocks out emails, takes vitamins, drinks lots of fluids. (But not coffee. “I’ve never had a cup of coffee in my life.”) Van Vleck is an intermittent faster, so he skips breakfast. He’ll then focus on any urgent issues involving day-to-day management of commercial real estate or ranching. 

8:30AM - Thirty minutes of yoga. Then it’s swimming, lifting weights, or a 10- to 20-mile bike ride. “I love the endorphins,” says Van Vleck. “It gives me the power and the feelings and the endurance to be able to do what I love.”

10:30AM - He’ll then focus on a project that requires a longer-term strategy, like deciding on the next commercial real estate acquisition. “Is it industrial, medical, food service?” (Van Vleck is now invested in all three.) 

11AM – Maybe a call to help a legal client, or a call with an expert in the field he’s exploring. “There are a hell of a lot of people who are much more astute in commercial real estate than I am,” says Van Vleck. “I see people who are really successful at what they do, and then talk to them, learn from them.” 

12PM - More analysis of potential investments, such as deciding on the where. “I thought we were going to maybe do something in Colorado, but now I’ve decided not to because we’ve done a deeper dive into their taxes.” (He’s now researching Idaho.)

1PM – Now he can finally break his fast. “I’m pretty rigid with what I eat,” says Van Vleck, who follows a guideline of one-third protein, two-thirds vegetables. 

2PM – Responds to more emails, takes more calls, often on the cattle ranching side. A ranch manager handles the day-to-day, but there is still a constant flood of decisions that must be made: “How many animals can we run on the ranches that we have? What’s our feed source? Should we be buying animals?”

4PM – Second workout of the day, or third if you count yoga. This is often weight lifting, and Van Vleck knows it’s a lot of exercise. Then again, “If I’m addicted to something, that’s what I want to be addicted to.”

5PM – Back at work to close out pressing issues, such as corresponding with real estate tenants. Van Vleck happily gives his personal email and phone number to all tenants, telling them “I’m accessible 24/7.” 

6PM – Van Vleck loves to cook dinner for his wife, Nicole, considering it a mix of “chemistry and creativity.” Cooking helps him “transition into a different mood or a different mindset.” 

7:30PM – Maybe a bit of TV, like “Game of Thrones” or “Yellowstone.” 

9:30PM – Thirty minutes of yoga before bed (his second yoga session of the day), this time with more of a focus on “stretching for relaxing.” 

10PM - Heads to bed — and knows he’ll wake up in just a few hours.

How he stays up on the news:

Apple News for a quick survey of what’s trending, and he has been faithfully been reading The Economist each week since 2006.

How often he recalibrates goals:

On at least a quarterly basis, which he says keeps you nimble and moving forward. “Because if you’re standing still, you’re losing pace.”

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