The Boss: After taking others apart, Waddell Wright knows how to build a business
MARTIN B. CHERRY | NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL
By Adam Sichko – Senior Reporter, Nashville Business Journal
Feb 20, 2020, 7:28am EST
Waddell Wright is something of a jack-of-all-trades in real estate, with a Tennessee lineage that’s likely much longer than yours. He built his company from scratch, and his experience runs the spectrum: He has developed and also advised developers on their potential deals; he has managed construction and improved the financial performance of existing buildings. George Clooney once bought him a drink, but it’s his current favorite beverage that comes with a twist.
Tell me about your roots. We have a farm in Williamson County that’s been in our family since 1874. It’s 130 acres. I am sixth generation. My family was just recognized by the African American Heritage Society of Williamson County. Everybody lived on the farm, and everything that was raised fed everybody on the farm. They were selling donkeys, chickens, tobacco, the whole nine yards. I have one relative who founded a church and a whole bunch of other stuff around Edgehill.
Is it an operating farm today? One of my cousins has Angus beef on it. I keep beehives on one part of it. The challenge is, being a developer and understanding growth patterns, this is in the path of growth. So it's not the same farm anymore. Eventually, I'm going to end up selling it, because it's going to be in an urban area.
What got you into real estate? When I was in college, it was either become a financial analyst or [go into] real estate. A professor pulled me to the side one day and said, “I teach because I love it. My real job is that my brother and I own 400 apartment units.” When I was 21 years old, I got my real estate license. … I started doing the ugliest, nastiest properties: bank foreclosures, distressed properties in bad neighborhoods. Back then, my tenants were drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes and gangsters. … Now it’s these new attorneys from Vanderbilt. As long as you treat people as best you can … you usually don’t have problems. But sometimes, you get a few knuckleheads who want to try you. Definitely had to carry a pistol to collect rent, because a lot of cash was involved.
What did you learn by doing that? It made me a generalist in investments and property types. I always knew what went wrong and why that business failed. I would dismantle those businesses piece by piece, which really taught me how to put them back together.
Your family started one of Nashville’s first black-owned funeral homes. What was it like growing up in that business? My uncle used to push me into the morgue and turn the lights off. It was a very cruel sense of humor. Real estate was the other side of it: My grandfather and grandmother invested in properties all over, from downtown Nashville to downtown Chicago. In 1982, when Michael Jackson played in Nashville, he rented a limo from my grandfather — because he had a fleet of them for his funeral business.
What’s been on your travel itinerary lately? This summer, I’m going to golf in Belfast. As it turns out, they’re a sister city. Why not go and golf, hang out, drink some Irish whiskey?
Is that your favorite drink? Interesting story. I’ve got a close friend who’s Irish, and he would say, “Man, I think you’re Irish.” So I did the DNA kit for Ancestry.com, and it says I’m kin to James McLaughlin. James is my sixth-great-grandfather. He was an Irish slave trader. All his children were with his slaves.
What’s on your playlist? I’m an ’80s buff. I really have so many genres, from gangsta rap to ’80s to R&B to rock. George Michael is a go-to, and so is Elton John. … For me, what I’m feeling that day determines my music.
What’s your best celebrity encounter? I almost got in a fight with George Clooney’s bodyguard at a club in L.A. He’s this 7-foot giant who decided he would dance with this girl at the bar, right next to me, and he kept bumping me. I finally turned around and said, “Bro, please, can you take that to the dance floor?” He got into my face … and then sure enough, Clooney comes up and says, “Guys, guys, let me buy you a drink. Come on.” So I’m like, “Yeah, that’s cool, sounds good.”
And you said, “It’s OK, keep dancing!” No, I still wanted him to take his butt to the dance floor. But George did buy me a drink.
Where will we find you on the weekends? Usually on the couch, watching Netflix with my dog. Week to week, I have community meetings, board meetings. So when I’m home, it’s a bottle of wine and some Netflix. I just finished “You.” I also just finished one on Amazon that was kind of weird and kind of raunchy, but it was also cool: “The Boys.” Every superhero that you like — it’s them, in a bad nature. It’s like, whoa, did Superman just do that?
Title: Founder, owner and CEO
Company: W. Wright & Co. LLC
Address: 49 Lindsley Ave., Nashville 37210
Website: wwrightco.com (coming soon)
Education: Hillsboro High School; attended some college; several real estate licenses and certifications, including Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM) and Certified Property Manager (CPM)