Sunday, September 7, 2008

Shaun Michael Walker

Shaun Michael Walker

Shaun and I met during our senior year of college at the State University of New York at Geneseo. We treaded in similar circles for most of our collegiate career, but it took an introduction by a few mutual friends before we finally got to know each other. Immediately I realized that Shaun and I had a mutual passion for entrepreneurship and real estate investing. As I recently read in a Ken Blanchard book, “On the entrepreneurial path, few people come into your life without a reason.”

After graduation, Shaun and I began as I joke, “Our heterosexual life partnership.” We founded our real estate investment company, Nor-Walk Enterprises, and are currently living together and working full time on that venture. I’m still not sure exactly what I bring to the table, so I’m glad I have Shaun! He has a brilliant mind for management and business systems. For the last two years he has been a managing partner of a2z Family Storage, a multi-million dollar self-storage business located just east of Rochester. Having been recognized for his work at a2z with a nomination by his peers, Shaun is awaiting response from the New York Self Storage Association on his application to join their Board of Directors.

It is an honor and a pleasure to feature his unique story, personally and professionally, to you. Enjoy! ~JWN

VIP: What is your definition of success?

SMW: Success is sleeping easy at night knowing that today I took a step in the right direction. There is nothing I truly regret and I choose to learn from every experience.

VIP: Over the last year and a half you have increased occupancy at the portfolio of self-storage properties you manage from 55% to about 90%. What has been the ongoing secret to that success?

SMW: The previous owner and manager was not running a customer centric business and because of that she had a terrible reputation. For instance, there were no set office hours, she often didn’t answer her phone, and she seemed to generally disregard the fact that it’s the customers who pay the bills. I can’t tell you how many people have complained about her during the last two years.

The turnaround began by first building a customer driven business and then building a strong support system which could scale and handle more customers. In other words, I focused on ensuring our service was good, and then I focused on increasing business. What good is advertising if your customers are going to be disappointed? The biggest challenge for me personally has been the systems side of the turnaround. It took some time to get the right people, doing the right tasks, with the right resources, and the right focus. This by no means happened overnight and needless to say I am very proud of all of us on the team at a2z Family Storage.

Shaun with his best friend, Baird King, at SUNY Geneseo's 2008 Commencement

VIP: Tell me a little bit about your family and growing up?

SMW: I was an Air Force brat. I moved around quite a bit as a little guy and at a very young age my Father, who was a fighter pilot, crashed during a routine training mission and died. Lucky for me, I was adopted by my Step-Father who has been a tremendous influence and role model to me ever since. I have always spent Thanksgiving with him and that side of the family and it continues to be my favorite holiday. My Mother and I have always been very close and she is one of the strongest women I know.

She has been through an awful lot and maintains a great outlook on life. We talk almost every day. My Grandparents were a big part of my life as a youngster. During high school, my Mother traveled nearly every week on business and my Grandfather, Bill, stayed with my Brother and me. I was very close with him during those four years, which I’m thankful for, as he passed away peacefully just after I entered SUNY Geneseo.

Since then, my relationship with my Grandmother has become much stronger and she too is very important to me. My Brother, Remy, is 17 years old and is destined for great things. While he and I are different in many ways, we are close and support each other like Brothers do. More recently, my Uncle Scott has become a big part of my life. While I remember him from my childhood as just an Uncle, he is now my business partner, friend, mentor, and life coach. We have shared hard times and fun times together and will always be close. Needless to say, it’s been an experience and I love everybody in my family for what they’ve contributed to my personal growth and development.

Shaun after getting a haircut from his brother Remy

VIP: Who are some people that inspire you? Why?

SMW: Each of my family members has some unique quality that inspires me. My Mother is such a strong woman, my Step Dad is decisive and rational always, my Uncle is a rock star, my Brother is so proud to be himself, my Grandmother is the busiest 71 year old I know, and my Grandfather, who passed a few short years ago, is a saint. He is the most amazing person. Aside from family members, I am inspired by our troops because they face certain death regularly and still do their jobs with pride.

Others are Andrew Carnegie, who built a massive steel empire and gave his entire fortune away, Ghandi who inspired hundreds of thousands of people without the help of media. Some personal friends that move me are Pam Klainer, Senior Advisor at Forte Capital, and Gidget Hopf, the CEO of ABVI-Goodwill. Both are tremendously successful local business women who are humble and always willing to spend time helping me grow. Oh, and I can’t forget Jenn Sertl, my executive coach and founder of Agility 3R. She turns my brain into a pretzel every time we meet and has helped me improve tremendously as a leader and entrepreneur.

VIP: When did you first discover the entrepreneur inside of you? How have you developed it since?

SMW: I’ve recently started to realize that at a very young age I demonstrated some entrepreneurial tendencies. I remember trying to sell interesting looking rocks and homemade cards (imagine construction paper and crayons) as an elementary school kid. I had a fairly limited inventory though as most of the rocks in my display case were from the front yard and despite popular opinion, as a third grader I wasn’t as charming as I am today so my romantic vernacular was very underdeveloped. Hence the cards I tried to scribble out fell somewhere short of Hallmark quality. Needless to say neither my rock business nor my card business was a slam dunk. Of course I sold lemonade and loved selling popcorn as a cub scout.

I really started tuning my entrepreneurship instrument about five years ago. Since then I’ve done a tremendous amount of reading, networking, entrepreneurship classes and seminars. However, you can spend thousands of dollars and hours of your life trying to “learn” entrepreneurship but the reality is, the true growth must come from within you. About a year ago, I realized that I had to stop loving the idea of who I “could” be and start facing the sometimes discouraging fact that I had a lot of work to do to become that person. In other words, I had to stop pretending to be successful and start acting and thinking in terms of what needs to happen today so tomorrow will be a success. Since then, I can proudly say that day in and day out, I am making steps in the right direction.

VIP: What do you consider to be some of your strengths? Weaknesses?

SMW: Well being an entrepreneur, I am good at working! Other strengths are communicating, staying focused, and being a people person. I am also very analytical and enjoy thinking about business processes and problems.

My weaknesses include rushing into new relationships and opportunities too quickly, not respecting my schedule enough, and not always holding others accountable as well as I should.

Shaun whitewater rafting with his former Scout troop. Shaun is an Eagle Scout.

VIP: What are some of your near to mid term goals (1-5 years)?

1. I want to be on the board of the NY Self Storage Association (a spot I was just nominated for).

2. Add 7 more storage properties to our portfolio.

3. Create Nor-Walk Enterprises, LLC and become the leader in selling cash flow properties in Rochester, NY to out of town investors (see with Joseph Norman.

4. Create a college to life transition business with David Mammano and Joseph Norman.

VIP: If you could pass on any bit of information to the world, what would it be?

SMW: You can accomplish anything you wish by surrounding yourself with people you aspire to be like and asking good questions. Furthermore, nothing beats having a disciplined focus on what it is you truly desire. This applies to business, relationships, and anything else you can think of! Spend time every day envisioning what you want or want to become and take action!

VIP: If you could meet 3 people from any time period, who would they be?

1. Ghandi – he inspired the masses without mass media

2. My Father – I don’t remember him

3. Andrew Carnegie – he immigrated to the United States from Scotland, built an empire from nothing, and gave his entire fortune away within one lifetime (my word, what have I done lately?)

VIP: What are some books, quotes, or audio programs you would recommend?

1. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill WITHOUT FAIL.

2. Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki

3. Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu

4. Any books by Ken Blanchard

5. “Triumph is often nearest when defeat seems inescapable.” - B.C. Forbes

6. “Entrepreneurs believe in the possibility but act in and celebrate the reality.” Self Quote

VIP: Final thoughts?

SMW: The last year of my life has been checkered more than ever with self discovery and development. I am sometimes confused by who I am and where I’ve come from. So, I’ve learned that it’s important to keep your priorities in check and not lose sight of what’s important in life. Money, business, and power, are at the bottom of my list. Relationships and happiness are at the top. Please feel free to contact me at with questions or comments and be sure to check out my newest endeavor with Joseph Norman at!

Jack Norman, Shaun Walker, & Joseph Norman

Shaun Michael Walker

Managing Partner, a2z Family Storage

Founding Partner, Nor-Walk Enterprises