This August marks eight years in business for J2H Partners. To mark the occasion, we sat down with Principal, Henry White, to learn more about his career, what led him to start J2H Partners, and what helps him recharge outside of the workplace. Learn more about Henry below.
Can you briefly talk about your experience before J2H and what you learned on the owner’s side?
Before J2H Partners, I spent 20 years working in corporate real estate for companies including SAIC, VeriSign, and General Dynamics. Each job came with different experiences and lessons learned. One of the essential things I learned on the owner’s side was to treat the money for a project as your own. Corporations want to limit the money they invest in real estate so that they can invest it into their business. Over the years, more and more corporations are treating investing in their real estate as investing in their people, which is great, but it still does not mean they have an open checkbook with unlimited funds. I also was taught early on that you could spend 50% of the money to get 90% of what you wanted. By investing the money in the right areas, you can add a lot of value for your user and give them amazing work spaces. Another important lesson has been that we need to keep pushing our clients on schedule, as delays can lead to issues if things don’t go based on the plan. They often do not realize the impact that delayed decisions have on time and money. Our goal is always to get in and out as quickly as possible so people can get back to their work in great spaces.
What led you to start J2H Partners? What excited you the most about starting J2H at the time?
Two years before starting J2H, I started my own consulting business. I started solo, but that was always a short-term plan. You need different people, perspectives, and experiences to succeed. When the other founders and I started J2H, the motivation came from working with project management firms and wanting something different – to go beyond expectations and provide more value. I wanted a team with diverse experiences and broad networks that could come together. We always say that we are better together than apart.
What excited me the most about starting J2H was the ability to help our clients and provide our experience to help their businesses. We always say, “We’ve been in your shoes,” and we mean that. It's not that anybody can honestly know what someone else’s experience is like, but we’ve all been owners and shared similar responsibilities. We can understand, relate to, and look at things from an owner’s perspective versus someone who hasn’t been on the owner’s side and doesn’t understand what an owner might go through. We take that firsthand experience and the empathy that goes along with it and leverage it in practice to help our clients.
Describe your role at J2H in your own words.
We do so many different things at J2H. My role is to help clients and maintain relationships with them so we can continue meeting their needs. I handle a lot of the operations and the finance side of the business, ensuring all the little details behind the scenes are taken care of and some, not so little. Keeping the ship running is a lot harder than it looks. There is always something else being added to the list to continue helping us be a professional organization. We’re a small company, so the executive role crosses over many functions. One day it’s leading our staff, the next it’s IT or finance, and the next it’s clients. I have always enjoyed variety in my work and there is not a day that goes by that I’m not working in multiple different areas of the company. It’s that cliche of “wearing many hats”, but it keeps my days interesting.
If you could go back and give your younger self career advice - what would it be?
It’s easy to look at what you don’t have. It’s harder to look at what you do have. You can find yourself constantly looking for the next thing, the next step, without appreciating the progress you’ve made. Don’t get me wrong, you must always move forward, but we can’t forget about the present or the past. I advise focusing on a few important things but being willing to adapt. It's okay if those things change from year to year. The idea is to have a vision but not make it too rigid. Don’t get stuck on the idea of having a fully baked 10-year plan – have a general idea of what you’d like to be doing in 10 years with a more focused plan for the next 2-3 years. That will allow you to adapt to the unknowns that will inevitably come your way and keep you motivated instead of overwhelmed by some big finish line you’ve locked yourself into.
What do you enjoy most about working in commercial real estate and being on this side of projects as an owner’s rep? (vs. What it was like being on the owner’s side before.)
I like the variety of people we are working with. I particularly enjoy helping those companies that sit more in the middle without a corporate real estate group, or the companies looking for support in their corporate real estate group. I like helping people grow and accomplish their goals. This role also forces us to remain creative and collaborative – we must leverage the whole team’s experience, not just my own. We lean on each other for ideas. I think we’ve been able to create more of a balance between professionalism, enjoying the work we do, and working for the people and doing the projects we love.
What is your favorite part about leading the J2H team and what have you found most rewarding about your job?
For me, it’s our people. My favorite part is watching our team grow and seeing their accomplishments. It’s like a family, different from your own, but you are responsible for caring for them and their professional/personal success. They’re your work family. You want to see them grow, improve and succeed.
What has been your favorite project to work on and why?
My favorite project was for General Dynamics, where I had worked before J2H. I helped them develop a master plan that would support their submarine manufacturing business. It was a complex project and involved making decisions that weren’t necessarily intuitive. It was a unique type of project that you wouldn’t see every day and required thinking outside of the box. I enjoyed being able to present new ideas that had not been thought of before. With all of that, my favorite part was working with people from my “previous life.” The people we work with both inside and outside of J2H are what make our jobs fulfilling.
What challenges have you faced in your eight years in business? What is your biggest lesson learned?
Collaborating with individuals you hold in high regard can be challenging at times. Striking the balance is key. Having the willingness to step back and embrace different viewpoints has proved beneficial. I've embraced active listening, reduced the inclination to take things personally, and embraced compromise. That same need to compromise also applies when choosing between taking on interesting projects and maintaining profitability. This balance is closely intertwined with our company's financials, ensuring ongoing growth and financial stability. Although no formula can provide an exact answer, we look to choose projects that enhance our expertise as well as contribute to the company’s bottom line.
When you retire one day, in two sentences or less - what does your legacy look like for those still at J2H?
I would want my legacy to be that we are known for having great people and that I had a hand in helping to build that good reputation – a reputation that will outlast me.
If you were to advise anyone looking to start a new business or someone who already owns a business, what would it be?
Having a structure for the leadership team and decision-makers is essential from the get-go, as it can be challenging to make decisions in difficult situations. Know what you are getting yourself into but remain flexible. Sometimes you need to be willing to be the leader and other times you need to be the support person. It requires great teamwork and communication.
When you were a kid, what did you say you wanted to be when you grew up? Do you remember why?
I wanted to be in business. I was always intrigued by the business world. I remember playing games with fake money, acting like I ran a business. I don’t remember saying I wanted to be a businessman – I probably said fireman, or Batman, or something like that. I’m still figuring out what I want to do when I grow up (as we all are), but most importantly, I think staying curious is vital.
How do you like to unwind after a long day of work?
I coach my kids' hockey teams. They are teenagers and still happy having me there. I have a coaching background, and they appreciate that. A nice glass of wine with my wife Beth doesn’t hurt, either.
What is something your colleagues don’t know about you?
I’m not sure whether or not they know this, but I hope they truly know how much I care about their success and how important that is to me. I don’t just mean business success – seeing our team grow in their personal lives, for example, getting married, following their passions, and being happy, is amazing.
What is one of your biggest pet peeves?
Making decisions led by emotion. Decision-making that happens without taking a step back to see things from a different perspective. There’s nothing wrong with emotion – it means you're passionate and care about the outcome – but self-reflection and seeing things from others' perspectives is also important to making rational, balanced choices. You need to keep a cool head and recognize what things are and aren’t worth getting upset about. That philosophy is rooted in some of my experiences. I lost a son to pediatric cancer, which led me to believe that life is too short to sweat the small stuff.
What inspires you outside of the workplace?
Whether it's kids or adults, helping people is what inspires me most. Seeing others accomplish things they didn’t think were possible keeps me going.
What’s the weirdest/most unique thing we might find at your desk?
Looking around, I don’t have anything too weird or unique. I have a photo of my youngest son sitting in a diaper box. My wife sent it here because we were having issues with receiving mail at the office in the early days, so I asked her to send me a blank envelope to see if it would arrive, and she put that photo in there. It’s still on my desk today.
What is one of your most significant accomplishments or something you’re most proud of outside of work?
My family. Seeing my kids grow up to be respectful and happy. They respect money and understand the importance of hard work. They don’t choose the most expensive thing. We have an ice rink in our backyard, and they know what we sacrificed as a family to have that now. It provides them with a place to share with their friends, which is a unique experience. Its purpose is to give them a chance to play pond hockey on their own, with their friends, outside of the structure required of being on a team. My kids often would prefer an experience as a reward, rather than to buy something. That said, a good Xbox gift card is never rejected. They understand that other things – like spending time with family – are important. I am proud of who they are.
If money were no object and you could do anything - what would it be?
I would invest a lot of money into research to be able to find a cure for pediatric cancer.
Who has inspired your life the most? And why?
My parents. They both came from a very blue-collar background and raised me to understand the value of hard work and taking responsibility for myself. My grandparents all worked very hard jobs to support their families. I’ve had a job of some kind since I was 13 years old. Initially in the skate rental shop, then as a skate guard, and eventually, at a much younger age than I probably should have, a Zamboni driver. It gave me a lot of joy to take on responsibility and help people. It still does today and while some of that is just who I am, a lot of that is because of them and how they raised me.
What is your favorite quote or saying?
Be curious, not judgmental. From both Walt Whitman and Ted Lasso.