As part of our Coffee Chat series, a Capstone employee will be interviewed each month and featured in our monthly newsletter, The Erudite. For the February issue, the editors of The Erudite sat down with William Davis
William joined Capstone right after graduating from the University of Alabama in 2006 – destined for a career in real estate. He started his career at Capstone as right-hand man for Mike Mouron, founder of Capstone. Within the first couple of years he worked throughout Capstone’s development, management and finance divisions learning from Capstone’s leaders, which has shaped him into his role today at CDP. Outside of work, William has a busy life with his wife and two young children that are very active in sports, admittedly not leaving him much personal free-time, but he enjoys it.
William Davis, Chief Development Officer
University of Alabama, 2006
Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Concentration in Real Estate Finance
Where are you from originally? I’m from Montgomery, AL. I grew up in Montgomery and lived there until I moved to Tuscaloosa for college and then after college I moved to Birmingham and have lived here ever since.
Did you live on-campus? No, Alabama did not have a live-on requirement while I was there so I lived off-campus all four years. My only experience in on-campus residence halls was when I stayed in a fair amount of them as I was growing up and attending sports camps. Looking back, I wish I had lived in on-campus housing but at the time there was not an abundance of good quality housing on-campus. But after seeing the quality of housing that my younger brother lived in when he attended Alabama, in terms of the unit, the building, and just seeing how much he got out of it, I really wish I had had the opportunity.
What drew you to the University of Alabama? I always knew I wanted to go to a bigger school. My fraternal twin brother went to Furman; we were kind of polar opposites, he was looking for a small private school. I was actually interested in studying building science (which Auburn has a strong program for) and/or real estate development. Despite bleeding crimson, I actually looked at and considered Auburn, but ultimately, I decided on Alabama. I grew up going to Alabama games, both my parents went to Alabama, I had always loved the campus and I had several friends there. It was a good fit and I don’t regret it for a second.
Were you involved in a Greek organization at Alabama? Yes, I was an SAE. I was Secretary my junior year and I was President my senior year. I actually had a room at the fraternity house but I ended up giving it to someone else because I liked the idea of having a room at the house but in the end I’m more of a homebody and like my space and didn’t really like the idea of sharing a bathroom with the entire fraternity and being up at all hours. I actually got to know Mike Mouron and Capstone through my involvement in the fraternity. It was SAE’s 150thanniversary when I was President, so we had a big celebration and Mike was on the alumni committee so I got to know him through that. Also, Mike’s youngest son, Lewis, was a fraternity brother of mine. So that’s really how I first got connected to Capstone.
Did you work during college? I worked primarily during the summers but I also had a t-shirt business that we ran during the school year. I spent most summers back home in Montgomery and I worked for two construction companies. I spent one summer in Tuscaloosa and I worked for a publishing company around classes. I primarily did telemarketing, which was not my favorite. But it did teach me a little bit about customer service, patience and courtesy.
I’d say the more exciting job I had during school was when a friend and I took over a t-shirt business that was kind of passed down through the fraternity. We would have social and swaps in our fraternity and we would create t-shirts for those events. We’d sell the shirts to the sorority houses and within the fraternity as well. We would design the t-shirts, take orders and collect payments, and work with the screen printer to have the t-shirts made. So that was a fun thing to do on the side. Were you in charge of designing or selling? It was actually just two of us, and we were roommates, so we just alternated — he would take one t-shirt and run it start to finish and then I would take the next one. We collaborated a little bit. It was before the days of all of the direct deposits, Venmo, and everything so we were having to collect checks and cash – it was a lot of work!
Do you recall what your favorite class was in college? My favorite class was GBA 490, my last class of college. It was really the culmination of all my business classes and was focused on crafting and implementing strategic plans. It was a pretty small class and we were put into teams. We were responsible for leading a company in a business simulation exercise. Our company was a shoe company and we were responsible for organizing our team, making strategic decisions on how much to spend on marketing, personnel, the quality of the shoe and how much we would price the shoe for. It was really challenging, but I enjoyed it because it was very applicable to real world business – I still refer back to what we learned in that class. Also, it was a class in my last semester so I only had like 9 hours left to earn my degree. So, I was able to balance the really tough and challenging class with an easier one – tennis!
Before working at Capstone, what was the most impactful job you’ve ever had? The most impactful job I had was actually my first job when I was 16. I always enjoyed construction. So, at my request, my parents helped me find a summer job with a construction company in Montgomery. We were building an elementary school in what was probably not the best area of town. It was a very humbling experience for me, being a 16-year-old with zero work experience. I had to be onsite around 5 or 6 am in the morning. We were in the very early site phase of the construction so we were digging footings. So, I was tamping, digging and cleaning out footings, helping with concrete pours, and as you can imagine the summers in Montgomery were hot, humid and exhausting. I wanted to quit like no other after the first day. I came home filthy and exhausted and I went to bed at like 6 o’clock that day. I complained to my parents that all my friends were sleeping in and having fun and I was waking up at the crack of dawn and going to bed as soon as dark hit during my summer. But I ended up sticking it out and I’m glad I did. It gave me a unique perspective and appreciation for hard work and perseverance, and the focus and detail that each trade had and how much pride they take in their work. It was a very rewarding experience, but I think I underestimated the physical labor part of it!
Capstone was your first job, right out of college, right? Yes, the fall or winter before I graduated I sent out some letters, trying to be proactive, network and put some feelers out there for what I was looking to do – which was something in real estate. My father has a real estate company in Montgomery, primarily residential brokerage, but he does some development and I think he had always hoped that one of his sons would take on the family business. At this point in my life I didn’t really know what I wanted to do but I knew it would be best for me to get some experience and exposure, with the potential of going back to Montgomery at some point and maybe bring a different flare to his business that he’s had in operations for several years. So, I put some feelers out with commercial brokers and developers and met with several people. During this outreach, I reached out to Mike Mouron. He said his son, Lewis had gone to bat for me and uncharacteristically said, “you really need to talk to this guy” and Mike thought man, if Lewis is saying this, maybe I really do need to talk to this guy. So, I met with Mike but nothing really came of it immediately. Later on, that summer after I graduated, I was in Chicago with my dad visiting a family member and while there, Mike called me and asked if I could come meet with him. I said absolutely! So, Mike offered me a unique position to work closely with him. Basically, he said he never had someone working directly under him as sort of his right-hand person. He said there are so many things that come across his desk each day that he can’t tend to so he would like to have someone take things, keep them organized and work alongside him. And, in full transparency, he said this might fall flat and it might not work but if I was willing to give it a try, he was willing to as well. Despite how naïve and unexperienced I was at the time, I look back on those initial years very fondly and am forever indebted to Mike for giving me the opportunity.
My office was next to Mike’s so he pulled me into all types of meetings. I got exposed to all departments at Capstone – finance, development and management. I got to see a little bit of everything and I really would not trade those first couple of years for anything. Ultimately, someone in our finance department had to take an unexpected leave so I moved to the finance side and worked with that team which gave me exposure to the financial closings, legal documents, proformas, etc. After a year or two, Bruce McKee came to me and invited me to join his team as he was moving back to Birmingham and he had a need for another development manager on his team. Shortly after joining Bruce’s team, we were selected at Bowling Green State University and Montclair State University which were both large projects on very aggressive schedules – think that was when I really started to get grey hair! Bruce said, ready or not here’s your project! So, it was off and running on the development side and we fortunately haven’t really slowed down since.
Wow, that’s great! So, you saw every side of it and got to work with a lot of great people at Capstone. Yes, I have been very fortunate to have some great mentors along the way between Mike Mouron, Rob Howland, Bruce McKee and Jeff Jones, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of the thought leaders and senior leaders among Capstone. To see their different leadership styles and how they handle themselves was really influential and has helped shape my growth at Capstone.
Do you have a mantra or word that drives you? I think this goes back to our principles of integrity and how we conduct ourselves. My son received the integrity award at preschool and I asked him what integrity meant and he said “doing what’s right even when no one is watching” and I thought that was somewhat unique, especially coming from a 4-year-old! I think you should treat others how you want to be treated and always do the right thing, no matter if you’re going to catch backlash or if it’s going to cost you money. Our reputation and our integrity are more important than any of that so always keep integrity at the forefront.
What do you like to do in your free-time? My free-time now is kind of a misnomer just because most of my “free-time” is comprised of my children’s activities. My daughter, Celia, is involved in ballet, dance, gymnastics and soccer and my son, Penton, plays baseball, basketball, golf and tennis. So, most of our afternoons and weekends are consumed with carpooling to sports and other activities, which I’m good with and I really enjoy. When we don’t have sports activities, we enjoy going to the lake or the beach as much as we can. Otherwise, as I can, I’ve am trying to learn how to play golf – it has been a tough game to pick up when you don’t have any experience, much time, or much patience!
What do you enjoy most about working on college campuses? The most rewarding part for me is the move-in process and seeing the parents and students faces when they move into the buildings for the first time. Based on those first expressions and knowing that we will hopefully play some role in their college experience and hopefully provide them an environment where they can excel and prosper is very rewarding. I think if you read all the studies about the importance of having an on-campus housing experience and the positive impact it has on graduation rates, it is real and there are demonstrative results with providing that on-campus housing experience. As most can attest, I am a process person, so really enjoy the process and the journey to reach that culminating point. I’m also a pretty competitive person so I enjoy being able to roll up my sleeves along with our university partners to overcome challenges to deliver the highest quality project that we can. We haven’t had an easy project or a project without challenges yet (still waiting…), but I enjoy the challenges and helping our university partners meet their goals. The cherry on top is when we’re able to provide a meaningful role in providing resident financial assistance like through our scholarship fund Step Stone. It is truly rewarding to see how that might tip the scale to help a student live on campus versus off campus and have that experience. When we get a thank you card from a student resident telling their story of the impact the scholarship had on them and their college experience, it makes all of the hard work worth it.
What do you think might be some new challenges or innovations that come to the higher ed P3 industry in the next 10-20 years? I think we will certainly see advancement in all things technology – on-demand living, different construction methodologies more geared to technology, etc. Beyond technology, I think we’re going to see the higher education P3 model expand for uses beyond housing. We’ve been watching the maturation process of P3s from grow from student housing which Capstone helped pioneer in the mid 1990s to eventually include more auxiliary services such parking, dining and retail and now continuing to mature and include more of academic spaces like what we recently completed at our project at Fusion on First for Arizona State University which has 75-80,000 sf of academic space all in a P3 arrangement. Especially as universities get more constrained with their balance sheets and more capital comes into the space we will likely see more growth in the space with the opportunity for life science, energy, infrastructure, etc.
Is there any advice you would give to a campus as they evaluate a P3? Find a good, experienced partner who can give you reliable information. I wouldn’t look at any of any one P3 as a one-off deal either – it truly is a marriage that will go through good times and not so good times, so you need a partner you can trust and who can successfully navigate and overcome obstacles with you.
If you could choose to do anything for a day, what would it be? I honestly value the simple things and I think the pandemic has helped me realize this. So, if I could create a day I would start with a finding a new breakfast spot around town with my children then I’d try to work off that donut or whatever it was and go for a family walk or play tennis outside then in the afternoon, I’d enjoy being on the water like going out on a boat on the lake with family and friends and then at night I’d like to go out to a nice dinner (that I likely researched in advance) with my wife and our friends.