Jim Wiley | Crain's Raleigh Durham

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Jim Wiley

Background:  

Founded in 2004 with a focus on transforming infill spaces into welcoming, distinguished homes, Beacon Street develops properties with attention to detail, history and architecture. Developments include Davis Park in Durham, the Bradley House in Beaufort, Moss Landing in Washington, Norfleet Point in Belhaven and Fairview Row in Raleigh. Beacon Street's next development, the Wade, will be located in the Hayes Barton district of Raleigh.

The Mistake:

Not facing the truth head-on.

We had a small project earlier in our career that happened to be prior to the recession. We have such a love for architecture and the desire to build quality that in the process of building it and having it be a successful project most of the way through, we didn’t “finish well.” It’s not that we didn’t finish the project. We did. It was beautifully done.

But the recession was coming, and we were not aware of how quickly things were changing, and because of that, we just didn’t finish the project with as much focus or strength or awareness of the truth.

Things were changing and we needed to react to that, and keep our senses up and aware so that we were making the best decisions possible.

We love the project. It’s fantastic and people love it. But we just did not react to what was happening in the market and, ultimately, the result of that was the fact that we lingered. And that took away time and energy and, ultimately, took away from allowing people to enjoy living in our neighborhoods.

You have to keep your senses sharp and aware all the way through.

The Lesson:

Not everything works out just like you might plan or think it will halfway through the project. You have to keep your senses sharp and aware all the way through, and face the truth as it comes to you. Pursue the best outcome and act on it quickly.

In that project’s case, we ended up needing to rent some of the last couple of condominiums that were left in there in order to see it through. But I think the story is less about what we did — meaning whether to rent it versus sit on it, lower our price, or wait for the economy to turn around — and more about the fact that, at every step of the way, you have to look at the truth of the situation and deliver the best product you can for everybody involved in the project.

In that project, it was really the timing of the finish where we needed to face the truth. The reality of the real estate industry is projects are roughly divided into thirds: there’s the beginning when you’re envisioning the project and trying to conceive something that really makes sense for homeowners and the market; and then there’s the middle of the project where you’re really grinding it out; then there’s the completion. So there really are these “finish strong” points that can happen in the beginning of the project, in the middle of the project or at the end of the project. The different stages really require you to make a plan, go down that path as hard as you can, but also require you to face the truth or realities of the market. You need to make the right decisions for a successful completion of a neighborhood for everyone involved.

The truth that we desire to pursue is not just the harsh business truth of whether or not we can complete this project at a given price. Or, whether the economy is having a negative effect on our project. It’s really the truth of what customers value the most.

For us now, we really make sure to finish strong by focusing on our customers, exactly what their needs are and how we can deliver financially for us, our investors and our customers. As a team, we’re calling on each other to take a step back, hyper-focus on the truth and make a decision based on what's best for not just us, but for our customers.

Jim Wiley is on Twitter at @JWileyBeacon.

Photo courtesy of Beacon Street.