Leonard Henry is a GSE Underwriting Senior Analyst at Walker & Dunlop. A graduate of Babson College, Leonard has a passion for finance that led him into a rewarding career in the housing industry. We sat down with Leonard to learn more about his journey and collect his valuable knowledge to share with young professionals beginning or considering a career in housing.
1. How did you begin your career in the housing industry?
My career in the housing industry started when I attended an info session for Walker & Dunlop at an MLT (Management Leaders for Tomorrow) career prep seminar during my junior year in college. I stumbled into that info session not actually looking for a job. Like many others, I also did not know that roles such as underwriting existed. Any positions beyond brokerage or even being a real estate agent were non-existent as far as I knew.
At the time, I was already pushing towards an internship in an advisory position for the upcoming summer at one of the Big 4 accounting firms, but I always knew that at some point in my career, I wanted to enter the real estate space. Shortly after that conversation, I interviewed and accepted an offer to intern at Walker and Dunlop in their Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Department.
2. Who was your greatest mentor in the industry and what did you learn from him/her?
My greatest mentor in the housing industry to date has been Ernest Benjamin, who was my supervisor during my internship at Walker & Dunlop. In working with him, I learned patience and diligence, and that learning all the nuances of this industry takes time. In him, I was also provided with an example of an African American male in the housing industry: someone who looks like myself, thriving in the industry in a role that many people know nothing about, but is still an integral part of the business.
3. Why should young people consider a career in the housing industry?
Young people should consider a career in the housing industry because, although Mark Twain said, “They’re not making it anymore,” in regard to buying land, new houses are being built on that land everyday. Housing is a necessity for everyone, so that means although we live in a society where things are changing constantly, including the security of jobs, this space is a breeding ground for opportunity. This industry also provides high-earning potential, as well as the ability to be entrepreneurial. The best part is, a house is a tangible asset, and our work directly affects the lives of individuals and families across the nation, if not the world.
4. Where do you see the greatest opportunity in the housing industry and how would you encourage young people to tap into it?
Although I may be biased, I see huge opportunity in underwriting positions because there is always a need for people to investigate the deal and the credit of those behind it. The best part is, it’s impactful and the earning potential is high! My biggest insight is for young people to be ready to play the long game in this industry. I know most young people are looking for immediate gratification, but real estate is a long game that can be very rewarding.
5. How would the housing industry be different if its workforce reflected more diverse backgrounds?
The business world has always been characterized by who one knows. The housing industry is a prime example of this and tends to ride on the backs of relationships. With that being said, the industry has stereotypically not been the most diverse, and although this has begun to shift in recent years, it still has a way to go. As each more diverse individuals enter the industry, young people from diverse backgrounds are provided with a reference point for success. This can open the doors to more deeply rooted relationships that get deals done, further spreading the abundance of wealth that this industry has to offer.
More diversity in the workplace makes for a richer work environment. It means greater representation of cultures and experiences that previously had little to no representation. It also means having more people that understand the psychographics of the neighborhoods and communities that our jobs in the housing industry impact directly.