Follow Your Heart

I spent over 10 years in the federal government contracting space and 15 years before that developing software. I was successful at it. I was able to work with hundreds of talented, passionate people. We built great teams and provided our country with great technologies to support important missions.

But some changes in my personal life gave me the opportunity to reflect on some childhood experiences. One of the most influential men in my life (like so many other boys) was my grandfather. He was a general contractor in Baton Rouge and worked on many small and medium-sized projects. His career was waning as I was growing up and he was mentoring my cousin, who was starting his own firm.

I worked with my grandfather one summer and was able to drive around Baton Rouge with him in his pickup truck to work on various projects, provide estimates for potential customers, and check in on various crews. My biggest joy was when he’d point something out: “You see that parking deck over there? We built that 10 years ago, when you were just six years old.”

The permanence and impact of construction made an impression on me.

I loved writing software. I was good at it. But as I moved from C to C++ to Java to C# and beyond, I realized much of what I was doing was ephemeral. This is not to say that software isn’t important; that’s a silly conclusion. But, as I got older, the joy of learning new technologies was tempered by the realization that a new one would be coming around the corner. And, importantly for me, what I was building simply wouldn’t last.

So, here I was. Fifty years old with an accumulated skill set that the market saw as valuable. And opportunities in the DC area are always plentiful. But I had a nagging feeling that I wanted to do something different; something that might last a bit longer than the usefulness of my ability to build TSR apps (inside joke for the old coders out there).

So, when my best friend suggested I relocate to Alabama to help him launch a real estate investment fund (where we would buy, build, and improve large real estate assets), I jumped at the chance. Well, that’s not entirely true. Actually, it’s a lie. I fretted over the decision for a long time. I had several “safe” opportunities in DC to lead other contracting firms. I had a reputation for helping 8A companies “get to the next level” and that’s what many 8A firms want to do.

Eventually I decided that returning to my hometown (Birmingham, AL) on a shoestring budget (moving into my friend’s basement) was a roll of the dice worth taking. I had ongoing financial obligations, including two kids in college, and knew my knowledge of real estate was a thin as my knowledge of Rust (inside joke for the young coders out there).

We recently announced a special investor distribution and acquisition of $24.7 million in properties. We have another $150M of off-market opportunities in our pipeline today. And we were able to build it during a global pandemic. No one knows the future, but I’m loving driving my own pickup to sites under construction. I love being back home where my parents and so many of my old friends live. I love seeing my best friend envision the transformation of a property and then bring it to life, in a way that elevates both the property and the surrounding community.

I cannot predict if the financial future will be better or worse for my choice. I’m still not where I was related to income. But my quality of life and satisfaction in my career is substantially higher. Ultimately, I am helping build something that lasts and that matters to me at a core level.

We all face crossroads in our lives. Sometimes the “easy” road is the right choice. Other times, it’s better to “follow your heart” even if that path is less certain and more challenging. I share this only because I know some of my former friends and colleagues are facing similar choices today and I hope my story might provide some encouragement.

With much thanks to everyone who I have worked with, who have mentored me, who have invested in my success, and who have supported me with encouragement during difficult times.

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