A successful shareholder and advisor to real estate syndication firms and startup technology companies, James Huang has helped to consult, raise capital, and connect with private equity investors from Main Street to Wall Street. However, he is best known for his remarkable ability to persevere. During the global financial crisis of 2009, James lost everything, but instead of conceding defeat, he bounced back stronger and better than ever. The experience taught him the most important aspects of life — empowering, helping, and giving back to others. Since that time, he has worked tirelessly to assist countless trade organizations and entire communities.
In September 2020, James was named president of eXp Commercial, the commercial division of eXp World Holdings, Inc. and one of the fastest-growing commercial real estate brokerages in the world. Having launched and managed several companies from start-up to profitability, James brings invaluable operations experience as he oversees, builds, and runs commercial and ancillary services to support the growth of eXp Commercial domestically and globally. As he connects leaders with the goal of creating bigger and better companies, James continues to place the greatest emphasis on working to inspire others.
We had the opportunity to speak with him to learn more about his background, career journey, and current role at eXp.
Let’s begin with your background. Have you always been interested in real estate?
My original plan was to join the medical field, but in 1992, I got into Wall Street finance and then fell into real estate. I worked at one of largest companies in the country, helping with acquisition and disposition. When I realized we were buying a lot of assets from Marcus & Millichap, I told my boss that I wanted to work there, and I went — without a paycheck. It was well worth it because they offered the best training programs and produced top-notch brokers and agents. I enjoyed being there, making calls, building relationships, etc., but my “aha” moment came when I realized that I could start putting deals together to syndicate old properties, and that’s what I did.
When did you launch your first company?
In 2004, I left Marcus & Millichap to create a boutique regional commercial real estate firm called BRC Advisors. As with any new venture, the early days were challenging. At first, no one came, and I wondered if I’d made a mistake. Fortunately, we had a great company culture and wonderful friends, so people began to join and refer other people to us. We ultimately grew to 180 brokers, five offices in Southern California, and two satellite offices. Today, BRC is run by one of my partners and is still doing well.
How did you manage to come back after the economic crash of 2009?
I was pivoting all the time to figure out new ways to bring business in, and renegotiating, keeping my vendors and team together. My partners and I created private money lending and fix and flip, and even started subleasing space to bring in more revenue and people. Then, in 2015, I got involved with several different multicultural groups, and I’ve remained close friends with many of the leaders because of our shared goals to create opportunities without boundaries for everyone. Through my involvement in these groups, I was able to partner with a legend in the commercial industry to set up a top 10 firm and create a new franchise operation.
Is this what led you to eXp Commercial?
Yes, but eXp Commercial did not start right away. Through my volunteer work, I met some people high up in the company and tried to merge my commercial firm with eXp. Even though they declined, they still wanted me to build a commercial division of eXp and manage the ancillary services, which is the financial capital market, valuation, asset management, and creation of funds and products. eXp accepted my terms and presented me with a great offer, so I joined full force and asked my mentors and several other leaders to come out of retirement to help me set it all up.
You mentioned your volunteer work. Tell us a bit about that.
I learned a lot from several diverse groups of people who not only gave me insight to real-life problems but also helped me realize what needs to be done to fix them. After the market crash in 2009, I really began to focus on what I needed to do, and I now volunteer as much as I work. That’s how I’ve built many of my relationships. Active volunteering is not just being a member but taking leadership positions. It’s important to lead not by title but by inspiration.
How does your volunteer work tie in with your current role at eXp?
In 2009, I realized my passion for diversity and inclusion, which I wanted to bring full circle. Money doesn’t measure me because getting more people involved and creating more diversity and inclusion in commercial real estate is what really matters—to hear and know different opinions. My goal is to recreate the perception of commercial real estate by creating opportunities, giving back to our communities, and helping to solve problems. I want to help people learn, give them good mentors, and advocate to help them get positions with larger companies.
Let’s end with your latest news — the exciting new platform, eXp World.
It’s the “metaverse.” eXp was built on a virtual platform, which was unheard of in the commercial real estate realm; however, the pandemic accelerated the way things were done. Because of the shift, people’s habits changed and they no longer wanted to meet face-to-face. eXp, through Virbela, has created an interactive avatar-based virtual platform that allows nearly 80,000 eXp agents in 19 countries to network, collaborate and close transactions from anywhere in the world every day.
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