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Congratulations to Willy Walker of Walker & Dunlop for receiving the Real Estate Club's 2020 Innovator Award!

Posted By Paige Riemann, Monday, March 30, 2020



The UW Real Estate Club presented Willy Walker, Chairman and CEO of Walker & Dunlop, with the 2020 Innovator Award at their last meeting. The Innovator Award highlights individuals who exemplify the programs focus on innovation, entrepreneurial spirit, and inspiring others. For more information on the history of the Innovator Award please click here.


Mike Brennan, Executive Director of the Graaskamp Center, Patrick Dempsey (MS 1988), Senior Vice President of Walker & Dunlop, and Jim Cope (MS 1989), Executive Vice President and Managing Director of Walker & Dunlop, presented the award to Mr. Walker. He then spoke to the Real Estate Club to discuss leadership and how he turned a family business into a commercial real estate finance powerhouse.


Mr. Walker began by describing his path to becoming Chairman and CEO of Walker & Dunlop. He imparted a very important lesson he learned about how to recognize if you are a leader, a doer, or a thinker. He said that it is important for students to recognize who they are and follow where their skills and strengths will take them. Mr. Walker went on to recount his experiences as a young man, including his time in Paraguay in the late 80’s where he headed a foundation for small loans to micro entrepreneurs. He went on to start a small airline in South America. It was through these experiences that he discovered that you learn from every single job you have. He counseled students that no matter where you are in your career trajectory, even if you don’t like what you are doing, you can learn from it.


Next, Mr. Walker related the importance he places on mentorship, and explained the imprint that his mentor, Jack Hennessey, has had on his career and life. He shared with the group a quote of Mr. Hennessey’s, “Get as many scars as quickly as possible” (1995). Mr. Walker believes this quote embodies innovation, because with innovation there will be risk, success, and failure along the way and that is okay. He advised students to try to find a job with a company that cares about mentorship and supports employees taking risk.


Eventually, Mr. Walker joined his family’s company, Walker & Dunlop. He began with the company in 2003 when they had one office with 43 employees. Since then, Walker & Dunlop was named #17 on Fortune’s 2017 list of “Fastest Growing Public Companies”, has been listed on the New York Stock Exchange and has grown by almost 800% since its IPO,  Mr. Walker indicated that the capital from the IPO helped tremendously with growing Walker & Dunlop into what it is today. Now the company has over 40 offices across the country and 800 employees.


He described to the Real Estate Club the amount of tenacity and hard work that goes into running a company, and how vital it is to have a great team. He aims to create a culture at Walker & Dunlop that encourages employees to reach their potential and wants them to know how much he cares about them. Mr. Walker takes pride that his company has been awarded Best Workplace by Fortune Magazine, 5 out of the last 6 years.


Mr. Walker pointed out the complications that can occur when with working with family,  sharing a personal story about what caused him to reevaluate and make his family a bigger part of his life. He concluded by divulging his number one piece of advice; take care of yourself. He says that he prioritizes doing something active every single day, and he encourages others to do the same. Fitness is a huge part of Mr. Walker’s life, he is a skier, cyclist, and has even participated in the Boston Marathon.


Walker & Dunlop is a 75-year-old company, but Mr. Walker’s innovation is what raised this family company to the next level, making him the perfect recipient of the 2020 Innovator Award. Thank you to Mr. Walker for sharing the lessons you learned and inspiring all with your entrepreneurial spirit.

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