My Mentor Told Me

Editors note: This column is an ongoing series of vignettes recalling the sage counsel and advice received by SEC members and candidates from their mentors that have made a difference in the way they do business. Please feel free to jump in and tell us how your mentor changed your business life. Send your insights to Bill Stonaker at

Bill, I see all the upside to your deal. It makes sense. Now, what if the whole world goes to heck in a hand basket, how are we going to get out of this deal? What is my downside? What is your exit strategy?

In 1992, Bobby McAlpin, the CEO of Folsom Properties in Dallas was looking at a large residential/commercial deal with me. He could see that Keller, Texas was poised for tremendous growth. But we were just coming out of the most damaging depression our real estate industry had ever seen. Bobby made me see that I always needed a way out. That is no different than the military training I had used in Viet Nam. Now, I always look for the exit strategy.

-Bill Stonaker, S.E.C.

A problem well defined is a problem half solved.

When I was in engineering school, professor after professor drummed into our heads that before working on the solution to a problem, you first had to clearly and precisely define the problem in writing. Putting it down in writing is critical. If you cannot write the problem on paper (or on your computer) then you don’t really understand the problem. I have carried that concept into business and I find that by typing the parameters of the problem and setting out the objective in writing, that the answer will often jump off the page at me. It really works.

-Virgil Opfer, S.E.C.

Don’t put more in your mouth than you can chew and swallow at one time. You will choke, son!

V.R (Pete) Stonaker, my father who had more common sense than anyone I ever knew, was talking about my schedule. My work, kids’ schedules, school, and the sports I was participating in was running me ragged. This was his way of telling me to slow down. Anyone that knows me knows that I didn’t take his advice too seriously – but I am still trying.

-Bill Stonaker, S.E.C.

There are diamonds in your own back yard.

A successful developer partner and mentor of mine and I were talking years ago about my wanting to develop a project in California so I had an excuse to escape the Arizona desert in the summer time. His advice was sage and worth remembering.

“The further the distance you have to travel on a project, particularly if its on a regular, ongoing basis, the more problems you might have and the more difficult it may be to make the project profitable. A project in your own back yard that doesn’t appear on the surface to be nearly as attractive may be infinitely better in the long run when taking into account the travel time, costs and lack of day to day management control.”

“So, my advice is don’t spend lots of time and money searching the country for good development projects. Just open your eyes. There are always diamonds in your own back yard…you just have to dig around awhile to find them”

-Phil Corso, S.E.C.

Every deal must have an individual business plan. Break the deal down as if it is its own business.

Ron Bowden, CCIM, SEC, was talking about his experiences as a lender and then as a manager of other peoples’ money in real estate deals. Ron has literally looked at thousands of real estate proposals. You can show Ron an idea and he will brainstorm with you all day long. But, if you want him to seriously look at your deal for his investors you had better have a plan that makes sense.

-Bill Stonaker, S.E.C.

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