Problem Solver: Bob Waun, BBA, MSF
When Bob Waun (’90 BBA and ’92 MSF) was in search of a new focus for his real estate development work, he was challenged and motivated by the work that billionaire businessman and mortgage magnate Dan Gilbert was doing in relation to revitalizing Detroit.
After serving from 1993-2002 on the Birmingham downtown development board, he saw parallels — and possibilities — in downtown Pontiac.
“I hoped I could do that,” he says.
And he did. Long struggling since its heyday as an automotive industry powerhouse, Pontiac was ripe for renewal. Drawing on his unique blend of finance, real estate and community activism, and with the underpinnings of his Walsh education, Waun led an effort to revive the city as a principal in Pike Street Properties, the Indian Hill Company and a new enterprise called Dirt Realty, LLC. The latter is a specialty real estate brokerage with projects in Michigan, Miami, Chicago and Costa Rica. A Maine location just went on hold because of COVID.
“I know the city of Pontiac and the potential it has for investment,” says Waun, who also lives in Pontiac again. “For the last eight years, that has been my project.”
After attending another university, Waun moved to Royal Oak, got a job in the mortgage and savings and loan industries, and “made so much money that I told my mother I wasn’t going back to school.” Mom had the last word, so Waun resumed his studies by enrolling at Walsh.
After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1990, Waun started a career that took him to firms such as Wells Fargo and Americor Mortgage. He has played a major part in completing financing for more than $700 million in real estate projects, with a focus on second home and condo financing, and credits Walsh with helping him succeed.
“Accounting is the language of business,” he says. “If you can understand accounting in business, you are miles ahead of people with simple MBAs.”
When the Great Recession hit in 2008, Waun had to retool his career.
“One of the many valuable things I learned at Walsh was creativity,” Waun says. “Finance is really all about problem solving.”
That dovetails nicely with his company’s commitment to “problem-solving through place.”
“We look at broken properties that can solve large societal issues by creating better places that can fix those issues,” Waun says.
Pontiac was fertile ground to put those problem-solving skills to the test. Waun and his partners tore down more than 1,000 blighted structures and acquired and redeveloped dozens of others. He also is on the board of New Detroit, which is devoted to creating racial equity along economic and cultural lines.
Waun works closely with other Walsh graduates. He also frequently finds himself collaborating with peers who hold degrees from places such as Harvard and The Wharton School.
“If they only knew I was a college dropout and then went to night school,” Waun says. “But the name Walsh is a really sophisticated school name. You start looking at the Walsh alumni and you find CEO of this and CFO of that, because of the practical, real-world education Walsh provides.”