University of Arkansas

Walton College

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Episode 79: Brian Shaw Discusses His Start in the Real Estate Industry and Gives EPIC Advice To Current Students

July 08, 2020  |  By Matt Waller

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Brian Shaw is the CEO and Principal of Cushman & Wakefield | Sage Partners in Rogers, AR. Brian first became interested in studying real estate in high school, and chose to study industrial engineering. However, Brian decided to study in the Sam M. Walton College of Business in pursuit of the strategic business side of real estate. He then went on to earn his MBA at the University of Denver with a focus in real estate and construction management. Brian discusses working in an ever-changing industry, his vision for the Pinnacle area in Rogers, and provides EPIC advice to current Walton College students.

Episode Transcript


00:08 Matt Waller: Hi I'm Matt Waller. Dean of The Sam M. Walton College of Business. Welcome to Be EPIC, the podcast where we explore excellence, professionalism, innovation and collegiality, and what those values mean in business education and your life today.


00:29 Matt Waller: I have with me today Brian Shaw, who is CEO and Principal of Cushman and Wakefield Sage Partners. He graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1992, and he has an MBA from the University of Denver in 1995 that focused on real estate and construction management. Thank you for joining me today.

00:53 Brian Shaw: It's great to be here, thank you for having me.

00:56 Matt Waller: So Brian, how did you know you wanted to go into real estate?

01:00 Brian Shaw: Started back when I was in high school, when I was 15 years old, before I could even drive. I always wanted to work for some reason, even when I was young, just always kinda wanted to have a job, and so I took a job when I was 15 at a company where my grandfather had founded, my father was running at the time Willis Shaw Express. So I grew up in Springdale, Willis Shaw Express is located in Elm Springs, north of Tiny Town.

01:24 Matt Waller: I remember it well, because when I first moved here in '94, back then they were the largest reefer carrier in the US.

01:33 Brian Shaw: Correct, yeah, they were a refrigerated transport. Actually, when they first started, it was Willis Shaw Frozen Food Express. My grandfather started the company, and then got into basically refrigerated transport. Del Monte Foods was a large customer of theirs early on, and at some point in time, Del Monte Foods purchased Willis Shaw Express. Along those times even though it was owned by a larger conglomerations, my family ran the company and my father was the CEO and president of the company, but just the long history in the story. But anyway, back to how I got into real state, that's a side bar, I guess. So I went to work for Willis Shaw Express when I was 15. I ended up working in the shop part-time and helping basically the mechanics work on trucks every day, and it was, "Go get me this wrench, go get me that wrench, climb under here, help me with this." To about, after I was there, probably a month and a half, it was just a summer job, but they had trusted me enough to go out and get the truck off of the back lot, go get me number 4833 and bring it in. And so I was... Didn't even have a real driver's license, but I'm driving trucks across the parking lot. [chuckle]

02:45 Brian Shaw: No trailers hooked to them, but the 18-wheeler, the tractors and bringing them into the shop. So anyway, how does that lead to real state? You're probably wondering, how does this connect, but two of my really good friends that same summer, their father was building buildings in Springdale, warehouse buildings a gentleman by name of Joe Edwards. And so they were buddies of mine and they were working for their dad, and they were out getting tans and working in construction and talking about how much fun that was, and I'm climbing under trucks and coming home with my fingers, grease under all my finger nails and I said, "That seems like a lot more fun to do." And so the next summer, I asked if I could go to work for him, for Joe Edwards in the construction.

03:29 Brian Shaw: He was still building buildings and so in Springdale and so I worked the next summer in construction, and then really all through high school and through college, I worked several years for him, and some other contractors through high school and college, every summer, I just loved being around construction and watching buildings go up, and I was fortunate that we worked for the owner who was building the buildings. And so basically we would work for whoever was on site that day, if it was the concrete guys or the plumber or the sheet rocker, or we would just kinda go help whatever crew was out there. So I really kinda learned the ins and outs of construction from an early... In my teenage years basically. And so I just really enjoyed watching all the pieces of the puzzle come together.

04:14 Matt Waller: And so you enjoyed that, but was there any second thoughts ever about, "Well, maybe I should go into trucking."

04:21 Brian Shaw: Yeah, at times I would... My dad had a good career and really enjoyed his job, and so yeah, there were times when I would see the trucks going down the highway and just being around the trucking industry growing up, there were times when I thought that would be interesting. But I actually remember my father coming to me when they were selling the company for the second time, I was a senior in high school and said, "Hey, would you ever have an interest in this company? We're thinking about selling it." And you're 18, 17, 18 years old, and at the time, I really liked construction. I said, "No, I think construction is what I wanna do." And he said, "Okay. Well, just thought I would check." I don't think he would have changed his plan, if I would have said anything different, but being around construction, got to see the plans for a building and really got interested in Civil Engineering during those times when I was in around construction, would be in the owner's office and see that plans and I would flip through them and just got really interested in how those plans translate to how a building gets built.

05:23 Brian Shaw: And so I originally started at the U of A, University of Arkansas as a civil engineering major, but really kind of realized as I was working in the summers, construction and I started really being more inquisitive about Mr. Edwards and who I was working for and, "Why are you building these buildings and tenants pay rent in these buildings? And why does that make sense? And how does the bank play into that?" So I really got interested on the business side of real estate, I decided to change my major to the business school.

05:49 Matt Waller: Brian what is a class that you took while you were in the business school that's memorable to you that you still remember?

05:57 Brian Shaw: Yeah, I remember a strategy class, probably a senior level class, and just found it fascinating how... In business, how you can pick a strategy and come up with a strategic plan, I remember and really, we're talking about going through strategic plans that I still use it today in our company. As you kinda look forward into the future and how you can kinda plan a direction of a company. But it's really being intentional about are you gonna be a low-cost, high-volume provider or are you gonna be a more specialized, maybe higher cost, but the expert in or have the best product? Like a Rolex compared to a Timex. And so I think that before that class, I really didn't understand that in business. But it really was fascinating to me how you can pick a strategy and the resources you have to employ and the decisions you have to make to go in the direction of whatever strategy you take. And it's analyzing your competition. What's out there in the marketplace? What are the opportunities? It all comes back to making that decision of who you wanna be, what type of company you wanna be, and then putting the strategy in place and executing it.

07:07 Matt Waller: And you were continuing to work in the summers in construction?

07:12 Brian Shaw: Yes. So yeah, really all through college. And then when I graduated from University of Arkansas, I actually went to work for Joe Edwards in full-time, and he had a project he was about to start and it was... It was a manufacturing plant. They were gonna build in Springdale. They re-manufactured jet engines. So anyway, that plan was in place. It got delayed right after I went to work for Mr. Edwards. So that project got delayed for a year. So he said, "In the meantime, I've got a secondary business that I'm running. Basically, a public warehousing distribution business. Why don't you go over there and run that business for me? You're a recent college graduate." So he basically threw me in the middle of running the secondary business and it was a lot of fun and I enjoyed it and learned a lot on the ground.

08:00 Matt Waller: What an experience at a young age.

08:02 Brian Shaw: It was. Actually, he put me on the job to kinda be a consultant. He said, "That company's not making much money. You go over there and figure out how to make money." And so I started trying to analyze it. I was there three or four days and the manager quit is actually what happened. And then he said, "Well, here. You be the manager."


08:18 Matt Waller: Yeah, implement your great ideas.

08:19 Brian Shaw: Yes. Exactly.

08:22 Matt Waller: So after you got your MBA, how soon after that did you go to work for Cushman & Wakefield Sage Partners?

08:29 Brian Shaw: Actually, right out of my MBA. I did a project, a class project, for a local company in the Denver area. I was at the University of Denver. They ended up hiring me as an intern for my last semester, and then they hired me full-time. It was a company called Prime West, they were based in the Denver area, and they did office buildings and industrial buildings kind of all around the Denver Metro area. So I was a project manager. Got to be involved in multi-story office buildings, which is a really great experience, again, just kinda threw me into it and said, "Here's your project." And I had worked with the owner and basically, the Chief Operating Officer of the company kinda hand in hand.

09:07 Matt Waller: Now, the work you did in the summers while you were an undergraduate surely made a big difference in your ability to get a job.

09:14 Brian Shaw: Yeah. Yeah. I think any time a student can spend that summer time in a field that they're interested in, you find that you may love it, you may find that you don't. But that gives you some experience and knowing kinda what direction you wanna head. And so I worked as a Project Manager for Prime West for about four years, I think, in the Denver area, and then moved back to Arkansas in 1997. I went to work for a commercial real estate firm that was based in Little Rock at a small office in Springdale called the Erwin Company, and was with that company until about 2005, and that's when we started Sage Partners.

09:51 Matt Waller: Who did you start Sage Partners with?

09:53 Brian Shaw: Two other partners, Mark Saviers and Tommy Van Zandt. All three of us, interestingly, had worked in commercial real estate in other markets, with bigger companies, commercial real estate firms. So we all have that out-of-market experience and connections. And so it made us a little bit unique in 2005 as the commercial real estate market here was really just kind of on the cusp of becoming what it is today.

10:20 Matt Waller: So it is interesting. I mean, you graduated in '92, but before you started college, you already had an idea that you like construction and real estate. And not only that, but you've stayed in it the whole time.

10:36 Brian Shaw: I guess it's in my blood somehow. I can't get it out.

10:39 Matt Waller: Obviously.

10:40 Brian Shaw: No, I think the element that I love about the business. One is the tangible aspect of the business. You can drive down the highway and you can see the results of your work. And so just to be able to look and see those buildings that came up. It may have been I helped just someone buy the land, but there's all different aspects of commercial real estate, or we helped them lease the building, or we built the building, but that's part of it. And the thing I love about it is there's just so many stakeholders that get involved in a commercial real estate transaction, from the tenants, the occupiers of the space, to the contractors that built it.

11:18 Matt Waller: So you've also... I mean, you've been in construction and real estate through 9/11?

11:25 Brian Shaw: Yes.

11:25 Matt Waller: Through the great recession?

11:27 Brian Shaw: Yes.

11:27 Matt Waller: We've had a long run here of good things going on. Having worked in through those difficult times, how do you use those learnings in your management and leadership going forward?

11:40 Brian Shaw: Yeah. We try to be disciplined and help our clients be very disciplined with their investment decisions and how to structure a transaction or ownership of a property where you can survive, that you're ready for those downturns when they happen. And don't get too over-extending. Several people did leading up to the great recession. And the banks got really involved during that time. They had to take lots of properties back. Fortunately, we grew our business during that time, because I think we were known as some of the experts in the market and some of the ones that were giving good advice leading up to that downturn. We told lots of clients, when the market really heated up in '05, '06, '07, we advised them not to do certain things along the way. We felt like it was too aggressive and too risky, but I think a lot of people remembered that. And so came back to us when the times were tough and the banks came to us to help them kinda move their properties. And so, really, we kinda grew our business rapidly coming out of the downturn.

12:42 Matt Waller: Wow. So now, Walmart's home office has been known as being very low cost.

12:49 Brian Shaw: Correct.


12:53 Matt Waller: And they're going to be building a world-class office park for their home office in Bentonville, and I see they're already moving dirt.

13:04 Brian Shaw: Yes.

13:04 Matt Waller: But it's one of the biggest construction projects in Northwest Arkansas' history probably, right?

13:11 Brian Shaw: Yes, it will be.

13:13 Matt Waller: So tell me what you think about that?

13:15 Brian Shaw: I think it's awesome, number one, for Northwest Arkansas. And I've grew up in Northwest Arkansas, so I've been around the Walmart story and I mean, what they've achieved is amazing. And they did it with... In the early days, I mean the culture and the buildings that they were in were very understated and just... But that's what it should have been during those times, to help grow them in that time period, when it was really low-cost to the customer, was number one. And so however they could save money, they saved money and passed it on to us as consumers. And now I think they've had to try to evolve and that it's a competitive marketplace for talent. And so I think for them to maintain and attract the best talent in that industry, those types of employees wanna be in really cutting edge office space with lots of natural light, walkways, trails, nice places to eat and just a really nice work environment 'cause that's the employee that they're competing for and who they're having to compete with for the future.

14:24 Matt Waller: So, I've been in your offices which are in the Hunt building there in Rogers, just really nice office space, beautiful area. And that area you're in is changing so much, there's the Walmart AMP is there which has wonderful outdoor music and events. There's a lot of building going on up there.

14:47 Brian Shaw: A lot of dirt flying right now. [chuckle]

14:49 Matt Waller: Yes. So tell me a little bit about Hunt Ventures and just what is going on up there in Rogers?

14:55 Brian Shaw: Yeah. Hunt Ventures was obviously started by JB and John L. Hunt, and as Mr. Hunt was kind of less involved in the trucking company, he really got interested in real estate and development, and got into this piece of property that's in the middle of the Pinnacle area, next to the Pinnacle Country Club. When he first got involved, there was not much out there but really, he had a vision for that area and it's really what it's becoming today, just a place for people in Northwest Arkansas to work, to enjoy life, to play. And so really, I think he would be so impressed with kind of the vision and what Mrs. Hunt has done with that property. And so we're fortunate enough to be able to be involved with it, and so we help market all of the property and then we help develop it as well.

15:46 Brian Shaw: The idea of an 18-hour community is what developments are really kinda shooting forward today. And so as you come into work in the morning to be able to have opportunities for spouses and children to come meet you for lunch, places to kind of enjoy, outdoor areas, to restaurants close by, or outdoor areas to sit. And then as you finish your work day to be able to go to a concert, to be able to go to Topgolf, to go to a restaurant and those activities that'll keep you in an area for an extended time period, so that's what the vision is to create in the Pinnacle area.

16:20 Matt Waller: So as I mentioned at the beginning, the values of the Walton College include excellence, professionalism, innovation and collegiality for students. Do you have any recommendations for them in terms of... Well, we often say, "Be epic," that's kind of our tagline.

16:39 Brian Shaw: Right?

16:40 Matt Waller: Do you have any... Based on your own experience, you're from this area, you've come out of our school, what advice do you have for young students here?

16:50 Brian Shaw: One thing I love about our area that I think as a student, you can... It's so collaborative, Northwest Arkansas. And so whether you're competing with someone else, I mean, I work with our competitors all the time, we have to, kind of in our business. But I think even other companies that compete, if there's an opportunity to work together, you work together. And so I think that's a culture, part of our culture that students hopefully can get a taste of that, that's in our business environment, but I think the excellence piece of it, I really like. And really trying to be an expert in whatever field you get into and there's lots of opportunities. And I think to be an innovator and to be looking for areas to change, that's every industry today, we have to be innovators. If not, you'll get left behind. And I think, finally, you know integrity? I think is something that is in the thread of our culture here in Northwest Arkansas. I know that's really a big part of the Walton College as well. I learned picking up some of those values along the way as well.


17:56 Matt Waller: Thanks for listening to today's episode of the Be EPIC Podcast from the Walton College. You can find us on Google, SoundCloud, iTunes, or look for us wherever you find your podcasts. Be sure to subscribe and rate us. You can find current and past episodes by searching BeEpic Podcast, one word. That's B-E E-P-I-C Podcast, and now, be epic.


Matt WallerMatthew A. Waller is the dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business, Sam M. Walton Leadership Chair and professor of supply chain management. He is also the host for the Be EPIC Podcast for Walton College.


Walton College's EPIC values -- Excellence, Professionalism, Innovation and Collegiality -- are the heart of Dean Waller’s podcast. Since the beginning of the series, Waller has interviewed business professionals, industry experts, CEOs and Walton College students to bring listeners first-hand accounts directly from the entrepreneurial world.


Waller is an SEC Academic Leadership Fellow and coauthor of “The Definitive Guide to Inventory Management: Principles and Strategies for the Efficient Flow of Inventory across the Supply Chain,” published by Pearson Education. He is the former co-editor-in-chief of Journal of Business Logistics. His opinion pieces have appeared in Wall Street Journal Asia and Financial Times.


Waller received an M.S. and Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University and a B.S.B.A., summa cum laude, from the University of Missouri.

Walton College

Walton College of Business

Since its founding at the University of Arkansas in 1926, the Sam M. Walton College of Business has grown to become the state's premier college of business – as well as a nationally competitive business school. Learn more...

Be Epic Podcast

We're sitting down with innovators and business mavericks to discuss strategy, leadership and entrepreneurship. The Be EPIC Podcast is hosted by Matthew Waller, dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. Learn more...

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