Earlier this year I had the privilege to speak to more than 400 students and faculty at the College of Business Administration Dean’s Leadership Forum, reviewing my career from Cal Poly Pomona to the boardroom. My life provided the canvas for a discussion about success, and my story demonstrated that education, relationships and real-life experiences derived at Cal Poly Pomona are the backbone to successful careers.
Today, I am the chief executive officer and board member of a publicly traded real estate company with more than 900 employees and 48,000 homes acquired, renovated and leased in 22 states. What began as a vision five short years ago, when my mentor and the founder of Public Storage and I bought three homes in Las Vegas, has become a $10 billion company that is a leader in the single-family rental industry. The lessons learned throughout my career provided the foundation to create and build American Homes 4 Rent.
My journey began at Cal Poly Pomona when I visited the campus in the summer of 1978. Like most high school students, I had only a general idea of what I wanted to study. My father, an electrical engineer, was acquainted with the university’s reputation for supplementing academic knowledge with experiential learning. Though I was interested in medicine or business, his influence was a key to me attending Cal Poly Pomona.
Initially, I enrolled as an accounting major; however, after completing various hands-on classes in the information systems department, I became a dual major. Cal Poly Pomona’s approach of combining academics with case study work provided the means to better comprehend the concepts discussed in class, and I applied what I was learning through an accounting internship arranged by the university’s Career Center.
By the time I graduated, I felt confident about the future.
I made a number of stops on my career journey, starting as an accountant and computer auditor at Arthur Young & Company (the predecessor to Ernst & Young). Through my early accounting roles, I observed, experienced and learned what makes businesses operate and become successful. Keeping your eyes and ears open as you proceed down the trail provides experiences that will be necessary to draw from later on.
I was blessed with the opportunity to oversee accounting departments early in my career. During this time, I participated in support roles for business negotiations and transaction structuring including acquisitions, dispositions, merger transactions and the starting of new business opportunities and entities. In 2003, I became the president of Public Storage in Canada. Although I believed I knew everything necessary to manage and oversee a company, it still felt like I was drinking from the proverbial fire hose. I learned quickly the need to delegate and be decisive.
In 2005, I oversaw the formation and operations of a private commercial real estate company in California and Hawaii, started by the founder of Public Storage and his family.
Each of my experiences along the trail prepared me for my next opportunity. It’s important to note, however, that success is not always related to business. My wife, Ruth, a Cal Poly Pomona alumna, would define it very differently.
She graduated with an information systems degree and went to work for IBM, making more than I did at the time — but we chose as a partnership that when our second child was born, she would leave the business world and raise the children. We initially lived on 46 percent of what our income had been, but she accomplished something that she really wanted. Today she is counseling people in need, and she is changing lives through her efforts, and that is success.
David Singelyn offers a few thoughts on success.
– Do things that you enjoy – you will do them better if you have an interest in them.
– Think big because serendipity can take you only so far.
– Endeavor to learn every day and do not fear failure. Success and risk are often intertwined.
– As you progress on your journey, take advantage of everything your current opportunity has to offer.
– Lastly, believe in yourself because if you don’t, how can you expect others to believe in you.
David Singelyn, a 1983 accounting graduate and 1984 information systems graduate, is the CEO of American Homes 4 Rent.