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Setting your Sights High with Alex Williams – AiA

One important aspect present in real estate more than any other industry is the need to shoot above your station. Alex Williams, a Financial Analyst at CBRE Capital Markets and our guest today exemplifies this. As just an intern in college, he cold-called and asked to speak with the CEO to close a deal. In this episode, watch as Sam asks Alex about his experience shooting for the stars as an inexperienced young professional.

A huge thank you to Alex for talking to us about his career thus far. His experience is extremely valuable for other young professionals to learn how to further their skills and career.

This is our 8th episode in a growing sub-series of interviews with commercial real estate professionals. This Accelerators in Action sub-series tells the stories of CRE professionals at all stages of their career, from students to senior-level professionals. Their experiences will provide you with insights into how to take your real estate career to the next level.

Listen to this Episode – Setting your Sights High with Alex Williams

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Episode Transcript – Setting your Sights High with Alex Williams

Sam Carlson (00:00):

Making your mark in commercial real estate is a journey best traveled with grit, determination, and a mindset to take action. To most, success at the highest levels is a fleeting thought in an unrealistic expectation, but to others, opportunity boils down to focus, preparation, and a lifelong commitment to learning and improvement. Join me as I take you into the lives of those unwilling to leave their success to chance, and instead take complete control of their futures. These are action-taking, limit breaking, never faking, accelerators in action.

Sam Carlson (00:38):

All right. Welcome back to the accelerators in action. If this is your first time or your first episode of the accelerator in action sub-series, let me just tell you what you’re in for today. This is a part of our podcast, the adventures in Siri podcast is awesome. We do that with Michael and Spencer and the accelerators in action is a sub-series of that podcast that I kind of begged those guys to let me do. I said, “Listen, we hear so many cool stories and we’ll get emails from people and testimonials and just people doing really cool things in the CRA community and you don’t hear about them enough. People don’t get to hear the stories, the successes and these different things are happening. This podcast and this episode is a good example of that. This is dedicated towards people who are taking that next step in their career and doing really fun and exciting things and have something to share. And today I am joined by Alex Williams and he’s here, he’s got a really cool story and we’re going to get started right now. Alex, how are you doing my friend?

Alex Williams (01:47):

I’m doing well and I just want to say, thank you so much, it’s an honor to be a part of this and actually appreciate it.

Sam Carlson (01:53):

Man, I’m excited to talk to you. We’re going to have a good chat, a good discussion. I always kind of want to know, I guess getting started, tell people what it is that you do right now in commercial real estate.

Alex Williams (02:07):

I am an analyst with Seabury’s multi-family investment sales team down in Dallas, Fort Worth. I’ve been with the team for about a year and a half and I basically underwrite every deal that comes in and help out with the pitchforks who want pitches, explain the financial information and then if I [inaudible 00:02:25], I try to reach out to as many people as I can, hopefully one day bringing a deal, hopefully pretty soon here, and just try to help out our clients in any way possible.

Sam Carlson (02:36):

And you’re doing a lot you’re putting in the effort, you’re doing everything it takes to have that success I have no doubt that, that’s coming. In fact, I kind of want to go back a little bit and talk about your background because I think when… And people are different at different places of their career. They’re getting started their first couple of years, they’re maybe even changing roles inside of the… We see people changing roles inside of the real estate community all the time, or maybe they’re going to the next level, whatever that is, right? I kind of want to go back for you and talk about your background, where you’re from, why you initially decide… How you got into real estate. Let us kind of go back a little bit and start with, tell us about your background and how you got where you’re at today.

Alex Williams (03:25):

I guess I’ll start from the beginning. I was born in Ukraine named [inaudible 00:03:27]. When I was about seven years old, my mom picked me up and said, “Hey, we’re going to America and…”

Sam Carlson (03:39):

You were seven?

Alex Williams (03:41):

I was six and a half, seven years ago and hopped on a plane. My first time on a plane, spent a week in Warsaw, Poland, and then a week later I was in sunny shot, sunshine state of Florida.

Sam Carlson (03:54):

Wow. Well, that’s cool I guess you could have worse transitions from going from Poland to Florida?

Alex Williams (04:07):

Luckily, it was in spring so it wasn’t too bad, but it was the first time I actually had steak and I ate so much I fell asleep on my plate the first night in.

Sam Carlson (04:16):

Oh, that is so funny.

Alex Williams (04:18):

A little quaint restaurant in Delray Beach, about an hour North of Miami.

Sam Carlson (04:23):

And you got to Florida and is that where you grew up?

Alex Williams (04:29):

I did. My mom, she remarried when I was about 10, 11 years old, to a guy from Texas who did real estate and he adopted me, raised me as his own in Miami, Florida and I grew up ages 11 until college.

Sam Carlson (04:45):

Okay, cool, so your stepdad, is he your stepdad? No, he’s your dad, he’s your adopted father correct?

Alex Williams (04:53):

He is, I call him dad, I speak to him every single day and he’s a close friend of mine. I come to him about anything for advice, he’s just been a hero in my life since I was a child.

Sam Carlson (05:04):

Awesome, so he influenced you to kind of go down the real estate route?

Alex Williams (05:11):

He did, he took me to the office one time and he works on the principal’s side of Essayan Office Properties and he took me in and we called him Mr. President and I wouldn’t ever know, he never really talks about work, but I’m just talking about a forum and he spoke to everyone. You have to have the janitor said to me, make sure you know every single person in this building because they’re all there and if you want to be a good governor and want to be successful you have to respect everybody and just the way he treated people and the way people treated him, I just do, I want to be a part of this culture or whatever it was and I don’t know, I’m thinking about real estate at the time, but the good part of it.

Sam Carlson (05:49):

That’s cool, so that, kind of sparked your interest. How did your career start and what was kind of the, you know, where I guess what was your first job and how did you get to where you are in Syria right now?

Alex Williams (06:02):

Well, first of all, I needed to go to college program that was, you know, a good real estate program. And I was between the University of Miami and Wisconsin and my mom wanted me to go to Miami at my house, live at home and get married by like 22 so I ran off to Wisconsin and drove the real estate program up there and from there, I mean, I took every class I could, the only class I could actually take as a freshman, the prerequisite was RMS hilarious. I took, I was like 18, 19 years old and I had to get out at 6:00 PM on Mondays and Wednesday in freezing weather to go learn about software and industry I knew nothing about, wow. So that was pretty fun, my teacher always jokes I was the only freshman to ever took that class but from there, I knew I didn’t want to be a little bit more like my dad and I knew he started out as a lease broker.

Alex Williams (07:02):

So I got connected with the team down at Atlanta, Seabury actually, and worked as a landlord rep intern for my first summer. That’s really where I got the first taste of that, I got torn off so things, they had me walking around from buildings to plan out sneaking in, stacking floor plans and just basically going up and down every floor, running down, which tenants are there, so they can call empty spaces and see what’s changed since the last house I did this rather much leases had a cup of cold calls or for nerve-wracking for me. But I’ve learned to appreciate them since then.

Sam Carlson (07:35):

Yeah, cold calling is, it’s hard, it’s not the funnest thing, but it’s kind of like when you’re getting your foot in the door, it’s a good skill to acquire, you know what I mean? The ability to relate and communicate with people it’s priceless. I mean, that gives you an advantage. So how was that just a small part of what you’re doing and was that a lot of what you did initially?

Alex Williams (08:01):

That was a very small part I think I was just an intern, but yeah, whatever. They had to call a couple different construction companies that were bidding on a major highway extension in Atlanta, because they had the perfect office space for which our company wanted it and I was calling secretary trying to get my name through the door and I ended up reaching one of them who actually ended up doing a deal inside with our team but really, I just, I can’t imagine how funny I must have sounded just get out of college, nobody, nothing like asking to see the CEO.

Sam Carlson (08:30):

Oh, that’s hilarious but you know, I mean you, so you asked to speak to the CEO when you were an intern?

Alex Williams (08:37):

I did this person I worked for, this is at CVRE and we have the perfect office space for you guys to sit.

Sam Carlson (08:46):

Oh my gosh and the deal closed?

Alex Williams (08:47):

The deal closed, I still stay in contact with that, Steve, Hey man, it was fun. It was that one phone call, I got it, I’m sure they could have done it in quicker than I could have, but it was kind of amazing that they gave me that opportunity.

Sam Carlson (09:05):

You know, it’s so funny because there’s so many people that win it doesn’t matter what they’re doing, whether they’re trying, like in this case you were an intern. So you’re trying to fulfill the duties that they had given you as an intern. But whether you’re trying to get a job, be the best at your job learn more. It is so much about just like picking up the phone, dialing the number and then being on it once they answer, or showing up or, just doing those small things that at the time you’re thinking, man, well, I’m going to make this call and it’s, nothing’s going to happen, you’re just kind of thinking everything that won’t happen not anything that could potentially happen, and what do they say luck is when opportunity and preparation meet, right? And I think you got lucky my friend.

Alex Williams (10:07):

I did anyway, next summer, I actually ended up with my father and got a little bit tasty off the investment side that was pretty cool. Came back to college to a couple more and then finally we got the opportunity of a lifetime, I’ve been talking to Cushman for about two years in Chicago, trying to land a spot where their tenant rep seems as an intern because when my dad started out at 10 reps, our Lou and John Cushman in Houston got that internship, absolutely loved it and then I ended up meeting some HFF Eastville guys and I’m like, man, I really like investment sales, I think I want to pursue that a little bit and they told me the same thing like, you know leasing, you know one of the principal’s side, you got to get your model and skills up.

Alex Williams (10:51):

So I came back to school, my seat I had about two classes left to take to graduate. I came in from high school, lot of classes and instead I maxed out both semesters taking the rest of the real estate class we had and some heavier finance classes and from there I graduated and that just time off to travel.

Sam Carlson (11:15):

That’s cool, so they said, if you want to come play with the big boys and in effect, you got to dial in those modeling skills.

Alex Williams (11:26):

Yeah, and coming out, I realized I would be a little bit of a disadvantage so I decided maybe to take a little bit of time off and went traveling my best friend throughout Europe and Southeast Asia and at the same time try to practice my interview skills and my modeling skills.

Sam Carlson (11:44):

So your interview skills, how did you practice your interviewing skills? What was the preparation? The path there.

Alex Williams (11:52):

You know, I want like wall street Oasis, and I talk to people and just trying to basically create a database with all interview questions, but I don’t think any of it prepared me for when I actually came back, in a couple of interviews and I think Dallas as my city is because my dad’s from here. And they said, Hey, if you want people to take you seriously modeling skills, and then you have to move here. So December 2018, I packed up my car here and moved down here and I didn’t know a single person and I started on my little journey to find a job on investment sales team here.

Sam Carlson (12:26):

That’s awesome. So how did, how did that kind of, I mean the cool thing is, you kind of burned your boats. What do they say? Like burn your ships. You know what I mean? You came to Dallas because that’s where you wanted to be. What was the process of getting in that got you into the job that you’re at right now? Correct?

Alex Williams (12:44):

It did, so my father is decently connected in real estate, but he said, look, if you want to, if you want to get a job, you’re, you have to go out there and find one, be a lot happier if you did it yourself. So basically drove with me and dropped me off and said, good luck, gave me a couple of thought I should talk to and that’s about it and I reached out to one guy at HFS. He gave me a couple names, talk to him, give me a couple names. And within five months I met with over 160 people in Dallas.

Sam Carlson (13:15):

That’s what I’m talking about.

Alex Williams (13:17):

That was, I mean, it was a grind I cold-called every single day, I tried to schedule as many coffees, one cause drinks, you name it. I had stacks of stationery with my name on it and I just, I just kept trying to find a job and funny thing is the team I work for now they originally told me, I reached out to them my first month here. They said, there’s no chance we’re going to hire you, our last guy went to go be a vice president of a private equity firm. He’s got four or five years of modeling experience you’ve got no chance. So to me that was a challenge I just thought, Oh I’m going to talk to everyone I can and in the meantime, let me get my modeling skills up and at the time I didn’t think there was any real resource out there I mean, there was like breaking into wall street.

Alex Williams (14:03):

There were a couple others, but there really wasn’t anything. I just want to try to it really getting through a model of tests. And then I talked to this guy, what was it, a small private equity shop around here and he’s like, Hey, they said the same thing to me at my job, we don’t hire anyone who’s under an MBA and I went on YouTube and watched a guy called the models and that’s how I learned.

Sam Carlson (14:24):

So who was the guy building models?

Alex Williams (14:27):

It was a dispenser of a venture CRA, and this is exactly what I needed so I started watching that kind of playing with the bottles on the side while calling people every single day, this was probably three months into my job search and then you guys came out with the class and I jumped up on it. I mean, I did that, went through it and my first modeling test was for Cushman here and like I aced it.

Sam Carlson (14:55):


Alex Williams (14:56):

And I was like whoa, I mean, just the amount, the amount of my skills went up in what a month or so since I started taking a course, I’ll just fast, cool and I felt prepared by this time I had a couple of interviews actually received two offers at that point, but I was talking to the team I’m on now and I’m like, Hey, I can do this. I have the skills I’m ready for whatever you guys throw at me. There’s still got one more job offer and then they actually gave me the job.

Sam Carlson (15:24):

So, I mean, just it’s so interesting because there’s, it’s always perspective, right, and when you, get told no, I mean, cold calling, first of all, we talked about this a little bit. That’s no fun, but cold calling when I, I’m not going to put words in your mouth, but I’m guessing there’s there was a level of desperation. Is that right?

Alex Williams (15:50):

Oh, absolutely. I mean, I had some money saved up from internships, but I needed a job.

Sam Carlson (15:55):

Yeah. So, you, kind of burn the bridges, come over to Dallas Fort Worth and dude, did you say 140 cold calls and coffee meetups and different things?

Alex Williams (16:07):

Oh, I can’t even imagine the number of cold calls, but total meetings till people I met with all was just over 160.

Sam Carlson (16:13):

That’s what I’m talking about because here’s the reality I mean, there’s opportunity that is out there every when people look or try and find a job, the first thought that they have is like, where are jobs posted? That is like the last place that you want to look because by that time you’re competing against everybody else that is looking for that perfect opportunity as well. Getting your foot in the door is more an exercise of identifying, okay, you sat, I’m guessing you sat with your dad he gave you a couple of opportunities and then listing those out and then making a plan that you can control because there’s nothing worse than being at the whim of other people. You know, something that you can control is the amount of calls, the amount of meetings you take, the amount of, you know, questions you ask, Hey, are you hiring?

Sam Carlson (17:10):

You know, that’s, that’s a pretty straightforward question, but you have to ask those questions and I just think that so many people just live in early defeat. Like they give up too quick, too early. What if you had not made it through, did you say 161? Let’s say it was 160, okay. What if you didn’t make it to a hundred and past 150, you’d still be, you’d be like, Oh, maybe I, I need to go do a different thing. There’re no jobs in this you know what I mean? So it’s so cool that you, I mean, you have that sticktoitiveness so is that something that you learned from your parents? What, kept you going? I mean, cause 160 meetings is not a small number.

Alex Williams (17:59):

It’s not and I would certainly say I was getting and, but the funny thing is there’s a couple of times where I really want him to give up and I have a meeting with someone where I’m like, I feel like this guy didn’t have as much respect for him as I have for myself and that’s what motivated me more than anything to prove those people wrong and a couple of them, I met with a couple of times, you know.

Alex Williams (18:22):

I had that first meeting and they were like, yeah, like you went traveling for six months, like who does that? And why don’t you get a job right away? What are you doing here? Like, you don’t know anyone here and I come back three months later and be like, Hey, I met with all these people, you know, about my modeling skills up, like got my interview skills up and they were very impressed by that and proving those people wrong and convincing them that I am the person that I think I am, I think really motivated me and kept pushing me through those times when I thought like, man, maybe I’m not cut out for this.

Sam Carlson (18:53):

Right. But yeah, if, if you were to go and, you know that second or third or the fourth person, they would have asked, well, Alex, how many calls or meetups or how many people have you inquired? And you’re like two, they would not have been impressed but I guess I’m guessing by the time you got to a hundred, you’re like, I’ve talked with a hundred other shops. I’ve got my modeling skills up. I’m not quitting until I get to the end goal. At that point, it’s almost like you’re undeniable. You know what I mean?

Alex Williams (19:26):

It’s funny how much it switched I mean the first couple of months people were like, man, like this is going to be tough for you and I said, those last six weeks, it was incredible but I received multiple job offers. I was getting people reaching out to me to interview and people have heard about me and other people started wrecking it all switched cause now it’s like, wow, like it went from, I hope you get a job to, Oh, you’re definitely going to get a job somewhere fast.

Sam Carlson (19:51):

There’s I mean, the reality of tangible skills, like modeling a tangible skill, right? That’s something that you can learn. It’s something that you need is like, you know, it’s a minimum requirement for the job that you were going after but the thing that you can’t, that’s not tangible is determination is, the ability to, just never give up. And that is a huge, it’s a tribute, the fact that you’re at where you’re at today and I have no idea I mean, I have no doubt that you’re going to do big things, the fact that where you’re at today and how you got there, man. Talk about a cool story and I think anybody that’s listening because you know, you have people that are well advanced in their careers and some people are just getting started. Maybe they’re, you’re where you’re at, where you were at two years ago.

Sam Carlson (20:40):

You know, I’m hoping that this might give them another, another gear. Another level of, Hey, I can do more no opportunity is closed off to me so long as I take control of it and I think that’s the place where they always say you only fail when you quit, right? Cause we don’t lose we learn and I think from your perspective, it’s really funny if you start shifting the tables of, okay, you’re at 50 interviews or not interviews, but meetups, a 100, at some point, it’s like, you can’t deny me. You know? And I’m guessing that as you got further past, towards like 150, you were like, okay, it’s just a matter of time now and now I can almost be choosy. That was at the Headspace you were in then?

Alex Williams (21:32):

That’s, that’s exactly what it was and it’s what pushed my team to give me an offer. It’s like, Hey guys, I know I’ve called you every week for the past five months but if you don’t give me an offer from across the street, well so that’s a [crosstalk 00:21:43]

Sam Carlson (21:43):

Did you literally call them every week?

Sam Carlson (21:46):

Did you literally call them every week?

Alex Williams (21:48):

I did, that is the amount of times my boss, my boss. And I would just like kind of laugh and I’d be like, well that’s all right. Thank you guys for a little bit. I mean, this team was like it for me. Like I even worked for these people and I’m going to do it and I had kind of given up and I’m like he’s still talking to me, so why not? And I think what I was when I was interviewing you and Christian across the street, I felt like they may give me an offer, even though they kept telling me no so I, I just had every client I knew that they would say, Hey, I really want to work for this team, is there any way you can find a good word for me? That week they got so many calls that they were just sick of it, it will just give you the job.

Sam Carlson (22:35):

Well, you know the intro to this podcast is these are people who are action taking limit, breaking, never faking. Right? And so when we talk about people who we want on this sub series, I’ll ask Spencer or Michael, or team, team members who would be a good fit for what we’re doing and they’re like, Alex, I’m like, Oh, okay, cool, who’s this Alex Guy? And so, you know it that, that attitude and that commitment you have to taking just taking things head on that will disseminate through success in the rest of your career. So talk to me about, I think, I think we’ve got a lot of really cool things that people can actually take control of and take action doing. Where’s your career going from here? What’s your goal? What, what do you want to do Alex?

Alex Williams (23:36):

You know, I think at the current time I’d like to own a three big apartment building in DFW. That’s kind of short term, but I know, I feel like my career has always been evolving. I mean, to be honest my original career goals, like I want to be the manager for Walgreens at one point cause it was like the whole available man, if I could do this, like I get frequented all I wanted was just like my little childhood dream and I want to be race car driver and then in real estate, I’m like, I don’t know anything about it. I thought it was like flipping homes at first. Oh, that’s what my dad did at one point and so that was my goal and I’m like, okay, I want to be an office leasing broker and I’m like I kind of like the number size.

Alex Williams (24:15):

I want to be a little more analytical, I like to go in, I like to go in investment sales and you know, the cool thing about investment sales is I, I want to run a couple hundred deals now and I can see how all these different owners, underwrite things and who are the successful owners. What separates them from the rest? You know, can I kind of go out there and start investing money myself one day? I think that maybe something I’d like to do one day. I know I got a couple of like-minded guys on and CVRE here I wanted the same thing so we’ll see maybe dip our toes in that, buy a local deal around here and see what we can do with it.

Sam Carlson (24:53):

That’s awesome. Well, this has been awesome. I usually like to end these podcasts with a piece of advice or maybe an experience that taught you something, something you can share with people. I mean, if you haven’t learned that massive action is key to success in life, then you haven’t been paying attention. But aside from massive action, is there any piece of advice or anything you’ve learned in your career in your life that you would want to share with the listeners?

Alex Williams (25:28):

I think a good piece of advice is reach for the stars and if someone tells you, you are not capable of doing something or you don’t belong somewhere, ignore them and ask yourself why you’re not successful because you’re lacking maybe thee set of traits that you can go out there and get, or because they don’t like you or something. I think this team would seem like an impossible task for me and I didn’t give up and I realized it would take the same amount of work to get a job on a different team, a smaller team so I just went all in I mean, if you can do that, if you can put all your effort, just go for it.

Sam Carlson (26:04):

I totally agree with that. By the way that that kind of sparked something that I learned several years ago and that was, it’s not why you’re not going to be you, be able to do something it’s who do you need to be to do the thing, right? In your case, you needed to have modeling skills. Okay? You didn’t need to be anymore, you didn’t need any more sticktoitiveness or determination you had that, but who did you need to be, to have the success that you now are having and will continue to have? I have no doubt. So Alex, this has awesome, buddy I appreciate you, thank you so much and to anybody that’s been listening, hopefully, you’ve gotten a few nuggets here because I know myself personally, I find myself motivated when I see other people doing stuff. And Alex, you have given me that motivation so I thank you, my friend and to our listeners, we’ll see you on the next episode.

Speaker 1 (27:06):

Thank you for tuning in to this episode of accelerators and action for show notes and additional resources, head over to www.adventuresandcrm.com/audio series. Would you like to learn real estate financial modeling in a matter of weeks and do it with 0 guesswork? If so, the ACRP accelerator is for you. The accelerator is a step-by-step case-based program designed to teach you exactly what you need to know and in the order, you need to know it. So you can gain both the knowledge and experience to take your career to the next level, to see if the accelerator is right for you. Go to www.venturesandcre.com/accelerator.