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7 Questions with George Gordon Roberts
7 Questions with George Gordon Roberts
Name: George Gordon Roberts III
Current title: Principal
Current organisation: Horizon Multifamily
I completed a Ph.D. in Immunology and Microbiology at Wayne State University in 2005 in which I used genomic techniques which were still quite new at the time to discover how organisms adapt to change. I continued to contribute to several fields including microbiology, physiology, and proteomics. To add balance to my life, I began to transition my focus from empirical research to advanced data analytics so that I would be able to spend evenings with my wife and family. After my two wonderful boys, Lorenzo and Georgino were born in 2007 and 2008, I was motivated more than ever to find a way to break away from the 24-7 grind of a laboratory scientist. By 2013 I was able to land a data scientist position that provided the balance I sought.
In 2016, my sister, brother-in-law and I launched the family construction business. Once having engaged in the rough-and-tumble of entrepreneurship, I was forever changed. Through many other business adventures, I discovered the amazing feeling of being able to help people find safe, clean affordable housing through new construction, hard money lending, private equity investment, and direct ownership of apartments. I was hooked on apartment investing after witnessing an apartment community turn from a mood of despondency to a mood of faith and progress in a matter of months.
I spend much of the Michigan summer sailing Lake Erie with my family. There is nothing like a couple of days of life under sail to erase a week of the 24-hour grind! Like so many of those who are forced to spend a great deal of time away from family, the time apart only serves to focus my energy on spending quality time.
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader of a small or medium enterprise?
The pandemic timeframe has without a doubt, brought with it the greatest challenges of my entrepreneurial career. From having a major loan called due for my residential construction project, to originating my first hard-money loan at the beginning of the lockdowns and being told one hour before closing that “lenders are not allowed at the closing table”, the pandemic has been full of surprises.
Commercial real estate is a business where relationships are paramount. In-person contact was being restricted just as I was launching Horizon Multifamily. As an extrovert who naturally thrives on in-person contact, I had to find new ways to build a commercial real estate acquisitions team through less personal means such as Zoom and LinkedIn. With each challenge comes opportunity and I have come to enjoy the freedom that comes with the openness to e-communication brought by the pandemic. I have learned to love being able to connect electronically with the key players in out-of-state real estate markets and to build and nurture these relationships remotely.
Face-to-face meetings remain indispensable of course. I always look forward to planning the next Horizon Multifamily investor summit in a major market! Entrepreneurship attracts such an amazing cast of characters. The energy in a gathering of a group of entrepreneurs is truly electric – this is what keeps me charging forward!
2. How did you become a leader of an SME? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I came in the traditional way, as a founder. After starting Walnut Grove Homes, I was hooked on the adrenaline of doing business! It was clear that serial entrepreneurship would be my fate!
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I love to begin my day early with the Miracle Morning “lifesavers”, particularly exercise and affirmations. I incorporate exercise into my day by insisting on working out at least briefly each time I pass my exercise equipment – and I enforce this by putting my exercise equipment in my office. I try to come down from my home office around lunch and in the afternoon to keep my home life on track.
In the early evening, I enjoy helping my mathematically talented younger son, George IV with his homework and making sure that my older son Lorenzo is on track to reach his goals for the day. As an out-of-state real estate investor, I try to do at least 3 Zoom calls each week with key real estate players in my focus markets.
Exercise and spending time with my children are both essential and I incorporate both into my hour-long evening run in which I have my children ride their bikes alongside me. Silence is the life saver that I tend to save for the evening. When I find a tree fallen across the beautiful Clinton River I like to climb up and spend a few moments letting the water rush by me. No moment ever needs be wasted if you use it to silence your mind and recharge!
After my run, I am generally back to work until I turn in for the night, with email communication and planning the next day a key part of the night. Sleep is the number one greatest thing anyone can do to be a happier, more productive, and simply an all-around better person. I do my best to protect my sleep with a “buffer”. If I am not starting to wind down during the final hour of the day, I know that I am already late! The last 30 minutes of the night are reserved strictly for winding down.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Business is war, and those who survive are always fighting to get a leg up! No advantage in business lasts forever. No matter how unique or well-positioned you may be at this moment, the rent for your current level of success is always due!
Of all the ways one can become more successful, the most lasting way to do so is to build relationships! Whether it is with your team, your clients or with stakeholders outside your organization, this is where the rewards are to be found both personally as well as professionally. It is something that you can never afford to stop doing, consistency counts. Building relationships is like shaving – you can miss a couple of days, but you’ll look like a bum!
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
Make Your Bed by Admiral William H. McRaven
No matter who you are and no matter how much pride and effort you put into your enterprise - you will fall short! If you “never fear the circus” as he colorfully puts it, you will recognize these times for the character-building opportunities they present. You will realize that although pain is inevitable in life, suffering is optional. Although Admiral McRaven does not mention any particular philosophy, one cannot fail to see the thread of stoicism throughout. Once you embrace the fact that life is unfair, life takes on an entirely new dimension. Focus only on your character, thoughts, and actions, rather than where you currently “stand in the rankings” and you will be playing the game of life at a level that most people never imagine. In his inimitable style, he says “get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward”!
I can’t help but to list a few of the other titles that have made my journey possible: How to Win Friends and Influence People (focus on relationships!), Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (always build your character and sharpen that saw!), Leadership by Rudolf W. Giuliani (respect the power of statistics and be prepared for any challenge)!
6. How do you build leadership capacity in an SME?
I believe in building a culture where accountability and standards are matched by humanity. Ideally, I want the love and commitment to the team to be so strong that my fellow leaders would rather die than let their compatriots down!
To truly accomplish this, it takes a daily commitment to relationship-building as well as fun! To be effective though, it needs to be genuine. If team building is relegated to a once-a-year activity, if it isn’t part of the organization’s DNA, the team can sense that. It won’t be effective.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader of an SME so far?
Seeing an apartment community turn from a place of despair to a place of hope. A place where thoughtful leadership has helped residents to see themselves as empowered citizens. A place where our valued residents see that they are part of an apartment community that truly cares about their lives. I have seen the power of positive property management, where a great property manager can help and counsel people who are going through a difficult time. Humanity is an important part of sound business practice. You can be firm while still showing love.