Up Close With Bill Wolff
Industry veteran Fritsche Anderson's Bill Wolff has spent 40-plus years repping office tenants in leases of all sizes. It’s this same endurance that helped him compete in the world-famous 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance road race.
Bill graduated from Notre Dame in 1973 and went to work for Thomas Cook Bankers in NYC. At 22, they gave him a six-state territory and told him he was their man for Texas. Bill remembers looking over his shoulder to see if they were talking to someone else. He moved to Austin and began working on a new building JV with an up-and-coming Houston developer named Gerald Hines. Hines ended up hiring Bill to help lease the building, and to this day, Bill still is amazed Gerald hired a Yankee for the job.
After leasing the Austin National Bank Tower, Hines relocated Bill to Houston and assigned him to make tenant cold calls to fill Hines’ Galleria offices. Thirty days into his relocation, Bill dropped his card with the CFO of Houston Oil & Minerals Corp (HO&M). Bill got a meeting, though HO&M had no interest in the Galleria. Instead, they asked him about the Hines building to be built on the former Memorial Hospital site on Louisiana Street, and said they wanted to lease 600k SF for its HQ. The site was just a hole in the ground in early 1977, and HO&M wanted it ready for occupancy by the end of 1978. Mr. Hines said it would be no problem. Bill tells us he suddenly understood the meaning of someone turning white, because of the look on Hines’ SVP Clayton Stone’s face. HO&M moved into The Houston Oil & Minerals Tower at First International Plaza (now 1100 Louisiana) in 1980.
Bill is still helping clients pull off the seemingly impossible. Veterans Evaluation Services (VES) approached him in late 2014 looking for a site easily accessible from Midtown with plenty of parking, and hardened—impervious to hurricanes, flooding, power outages, etc. Bill ID'd the former Stewart & Stevenson HQ on the North Loop as the best choice. Fuller Realty acquired the building next door and demolished it to provide the additional parking, and VES moved into its new 75k SF corporate HQ in October 2015.
Despite Bill’s demanding work schedule, he still finds time for his lifelong obsession of sports car racing. 2016 marks his 40th anniversary as a racing driver. During the late '70s and early '80s, he raced in the Formula Ford class, the class for up-and-coming drivers at the time. In 1984, before a European trip, he contacted a friend who connected him to a racing team looking for drivers for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He says driving with world-class drivers on that classic track going 200 MPH at night is an unforgettable experience. These days, Bill is racing in Vintage Formula Vees against many competitors even older and “tough as nails.” He's still hoping to do the 14.2-mile/187-turn Nurburgring in the Eifel Mountains in Germany (described as either “God’s Gift to Racing Drivers” or the “Green Hell,” depending on one’s point of view) and Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium.
With such industry tenure, and working under greats like Gerald Hines, Bill feels he’s learned some valuable lessons. Here’s his advice for young and new tenant reps.
- Learn as much as possible about the business. Every contractor, building manager, landlord leasing rep, architect, attorney, engineer and client has a huge amount of information they're often willing to share. Be open-minded to learn from as many sources as possible.
- Look to collaborate. So many in our industry think of their co-workers as competition and try to shield information. Try to find an environment where collaboration is the rule, not the exception. Very often, if open to it, one plus one can equal a whole lot more than two.
- Don’t assume anything. Before he called on Houston Oil & Minerals way back when, all Bill's colleagues knew there was no business to be gained by making cold calls downtown. They thought cold calls were only for junior players with nothing better to do. They were all wrong.
- Have fun. There've been times when Bill was making money and not having fun. His view now is that if he's having fun, he will make money and be successful. The opposite, in the long run, is not necessarily true.