The Time is Always Now

Small Town Texas Lady Sheena Paul Tells Us How She Found Her Way to Managing $1 Billion in Real Estate Assets.

Breaker Sheena Paul’s development work has been called “some of the most ambitious” in city history by The Dallas Morning News. She was named both a Real Estate Forum Magazine Woman of Influence and Profile in Power Rising Star Winner in 2015. At the age of 31, she is the COO of World Class Capital Group, presiding over approximately $1 billion in assets and more than 9 million square feet in 17 states (as well as entitlements on another 20 million square feet).

How does a small town girl from Victoria, Texas do it? We wanted to find out...

In this interview we probe Ms. Paul’s unique brain with random questions and unearth, once and for all, the secrets to her success. Does it all hinge on her strange practice of making oatmeal with coffee instead of water? We think it must...

What is something you consider overrated?  

Checking off all the boxes that you think you need to check before doing what you want to do. Everyone always asks me the same question: “how did you go from being a lawyer to running a real estate company??” When you have the drive, commitment, and passion—that’s the right time. You don’t have to spend x number of years at a bank or firm or have y number of contacts to start doing what you want. The time is always now.

How would you describe your position?

At World Class, I touch everything the firm does. I’m basically a Do-Everything-That-Requires-a-Decision-Officer.

What’s your weekly routine like?

Exercise is an important part of my life.  I have to come to work ready for the day. The key is a morning workout. I’m a quiet morning person.  No music. No TV.

Oh, and I also make oatmeal with coffee instead of water.

Wait, what?

Haha, yeah. Rather than using water, I use coffee. I just started doing that on my own.

You run World Class with your brother, Nate Paul. How far back does that partnership go?

Nate and I both studied at the McCombs School of Business at UT Austin.  We competed in case competitions together throughout college, which is sort of where it started. The funny thing is that, honestly, I was kind of done with them. But Nate asked me to do one last competition.  He said “this one is really fun because if we win in the US, we get to go to Thailand together.”  A trip with my brother across the world? I agreed.  

We won the U.S. and then went to Thailand which is the top world competition.  There were forty or so teams there from all over the world. We were known as the “crazy Texas team,” and nobody really thought much of us.  People were surprised when we won the gold and brought the trophy back to Texas.

Sheena and her brother/business partner Nate.

Sheena and her brother/business partner Nate.

Any lessons from your parents that translated to your success?  

Our parents weren’t in the real estate investment business (my father was a doctor), but they were both very entrepreneurial.  They encouraged my brothers and I to always think through the ideas we had.  Dinner table conversations were always about business ideas, big and small.  The answer was never “no, that can’t be done,” it was always “how would you do that?  How could you get it done?”  

How did you start World Class?

When we started the company, it was both Nate’s idea and his vision. We were both in college at the time. He saw an opportunity in the student-housing market to buy apartment complexes and condo-convert them. Our very first office was in the basement unit of a small student-housing complex in Austin. Our investing strategy is still the same today as it was then: “Identify opportunity, create value.”

How do you get that first deal done?

Our first deal was not exactly family and friends, but more like Austin-based families.  They invested with us because they believed in the deal fundamentals.  The first deal was about rolling up our sleeves and figuring out who was going to go with us on the ride.  

Our investing strategy is still the same today as it was then: “Identify opportunity, create value.”

Tell me about how you launched the NY office.

I left my law firm in 2013 and my apartment became WCCG NYC. Step one was finding office space and hiring our first employee.  It ended up being a paralegal that was working for one my friends at another law firm.  I saw that he had a desire to learn, good judgment and strong fundamentals, having worked in a challenging environment.  He first started as my assistant and now, three years later, he’s still with the company as our Strategic Projects Director.  Now we’re about ten in NY and sixty in Austin.  

What is the deal that you’re most proud of to have worked on?

The Dallas deal. Harwood. It was really my baby for a year and it continues to be.  There’s a lot of creativity in that deal.

We bought the asset from C3, a Special Servicer.  It had been foreclosed on.  At the time it was the headquarters for KPMG in Dallas and we knew that KPMG and an major law firm would be moving out at the end of their lease. The building hadn’t been given much attention since the mid-1980s. It was really a sleepy Class-B office tower that was struggling to attract new tenancy due to the lack of attention and love.  We brought in 3 companies:  OmniTracs, ActiveNetwork, and Lanyon which are software companies out of California.  We wanted to bring new life to the building so we tailored unique spaces for those three companies’ personalities and cultures.  When you’re in those spaces, you feel like you’re in San Francisco, with very progressive tech-companies, which is what they are. We carried that vision throughout the lobby and created a WiFi-powered community workspace on the second floor of the building.  The idea behind that was to bring the brilliant people working in those three companies together in a space where they could see one another and cross-pollinate. 

717 Harwood in Dallas, literally Sheena's shining accomplishment.

717 Harwood in Dallas, literally Sheena's shining accomplishment.

What are the challenges/advantages of being a female executive in the field?

Well, I have had situations where my counterpart in a deal meets me in person and says “oh so you must be the interior designer.”  And I, politely, say, “no, I’ve actually been the person you’ve been negotiating with for the last six months.” That kind of thing does happen. But I think the biggest challenge comes from being younger, not necessarily being a female.  When you put the two together though, the difficulty multiplies.  While that’s challenging, you also have the opportunity to show what you can do and what you’re made of.  Once people understand, they love the story that someone like you exists. You have the possibility to maneuver that lack of presumption to your advantage.

Who currently inspires you?

Besides my own family and my New York entrepreneurial network/family, there is a mentor/partner who is an IBM fellow, Ravi Arimilli. What he does with his life is “imagine.”  Whenever we’re both in Austin or New York, we get together and we just ideate.  His career and passion is to dream up solutions using technology. That can be from ideas like the Watson computer technology to new modes of transportation.  “If you could imagine a solution, what would that solution look like? That’s inspiring to me because his approach to the world isn’t “what is,” but “what could be, what can be.

"Once people understand, they love the story that someone like you exists."

If you could trade places with one person for a single day, who would that be?

I don’t think it’s one person. I’d like to trade places with anyone who is over 90 or 100 so that I can get inside the brain of someone that old. Once you’ve lived that long you’ve seen so much change, especially as rate of progress continues to accelerate over time.  What you see in a lifetime also grows because of that rate of change. I’d like to take that sense of confidence or knowingness that they have and use it in my current life.

What excites you the most?

Waking up every day and figuring out how we’re going to architect our future.

While eating coffee-oatmeal?

Yes!

By Isaac Simpson

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