King White – Founder & CEO, Site Selection Group

King White is founder and CEO of Site Selection Group, where he manages the daily operations including strategic planning, account management, business development, marketing, and corporate operations. King has over 20 years of experience in site selection, economic incentives, and corporate real estate across the globe. He has completed over 1,000 projects including call centers, data centers, distribution centers, headquarters, manufacturing plants, retail, and information technology operations. Under his direction, Site Selection Group has become one of the largest, independent, full-service location advisory, economic incentive, and corporate real estate services firms.

King’s intense focus on driving innovation has enabled him to develop industry-leading products including GeoCision®, LaborCast®, and IncenTrak®. He is continually-cited by numerous global publications as a thought leader, written over 100 articles on global location trends, and received numerous awards from a variety of organizations.

Prior to the formation of Site Selection Group, King was a principal and founder of the Corporate Site Selection and Economic Incentives Division of Trammell Crow Company. This division was responsible for providing global site selection and economic incentive services to Trammell Crow’s corporate customers. During his ten year tenure at Trammell Crow Company, King developed his long-term vision of what has become Site Selection Group.

Tell me about your early career.
I began my career in the commercial real estate industry in 1996 when the corporate real estate sector was really starting to take off. I spent one year at a boutique tenant representation firm, where I excelled very quickly in business development, targeting high growth companies across the U.S. when the tech industry was in its early stages. Then, I took a leap and moved to Trammell Crow Company, which at the time was one of the largest developers in the U.S., who was trying to rapidly expand its corporate real estate services division. It was there that I developed the business plan, received executive approval, and proceeded to build a global site selection and economic incentive practice which became a very profitable business unit at Trammell Crow Company. I become one of the youngest principals in the firm, at around 30 years old. I spent 10 years there before leaving to start Site Selection Group. I consider my days at Trammell Crow Company as getting my MBA in preparation for running my own business.

How did the concept for Site Selection Group come about?
When I got into the business out of college, I realized I was competing against commercial real estate brokers who were twice my age. I was incredible at selling on the phone, but lacked the gray hair to win big business on my own. This is when I stumbled upon the fast-growing call center industry. Companies around the world were creating centralized call centers which created a unique opportunity for me to capitalize on. These companies were making decisions based on labor, not real estate. I quickly latched onto the concept that the company should make real estate decisions based on factors other than the simple basics of real estate cost and availability. I rapidly-expanded this concept into other capital and employee intensive operations such as manufacturing plants, distribution centers, headquarters, data centers and shared service centers. The value proposition of a typical commercial real estate broker is dwarfed by this concept, considering that a company’s overhead is only 5-10% real estate, with these other more critical factors making up the difference. From that point forward, I built one of the most robust site selection platforms in the U.S., which allowed me to sell on business intelligence and strategy, rather than brick and mortar. I was able to win against the traditional real estate brokers and take corporate real estate location strategies to the next level.

How was the first year in business?
We started with a small crew of my primary team members who were working off of fold-up tables in an office space I personally guaranteed. The whole operation was self-funded, which is challenging when you are in your early 30’s with two small children at home. If it weren’t for the loyal team that is still with me today, then we would have never been successful.

What was your marketing strategy?
Marketing has evolved to be my true passion. I began as a cold caller and I found that business development just came naturally for me. The ability to connect and build trust with a complete stranger is critical to successful marketing. In the beginning, we did business development the old school way by hiring college graduates to cold call, just like I had done in the beginning. As our business model took off, I took our marketing to a whole other level because I wanted more aggressive growth and the ability to find business development talent was very challenging. So, I decided to practice what I had preached to my call center clients and set up my own call center and simultaneously launched an aggressive online marketing platform. This strategy resulted in Site Selection Group making over 150,000 calls and sending over 2 million emails per year and writing some of the most highly read blog posts on niche topics such as site selection, economic incentive, and real estate strategies.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We have grown at an average of 20% per year for the last 10 years. Our growth has been 100% organic. Our growth was happening naturally for the first five years. However, I really focused on building a more focused strategic growth plan after the Great Recession. That plan caused our business to grow much more rapidly over the last five years. We made the Inc. 5000 list in 2016 as our revenue basically doubled over the previous three years.

How do you define success?
Success is very difficult for me to define. I believe it is a very personal thing that comes in many forms. It is very challenging for me to find daily success due to some of my obsessive-compulsive tendencies. I personally strive for perfection in every aspect of my life, so reaching true success always seems so far away, if not impossible.

However, there are a couple of things that make me feel gratified about success. The first is the ability to help others in business, whether it is connecting a capital source to an entrepreneur with an incredible idea or watching an entry-level analyst at my firm work his/her way up to partner level. It is easier for me to see success in others that came as a result of something I did to help. I believe Mr. Trammell Crow had some of the same intentions as he built his firm. He built an incredible platform that allowed entrepreneurs to leverage his platform to become successful. When I attended his funeral and witnessed the amount of people that he inspired and gave opportunities for success, it truly made me feel thankful for the opportunity that his business model provided to me and I have always felt inspired to pass that along.

The second area of success that I have found rewarding is when Site Selection Group helps our clients. We work on some very high-profile global projects ranging from the first U.S. manufacturing plant for Adidas to regional headquarter projects for companies like Liberty Mutual and Medtronic. The feeling of success kicks in when you read the front page of the local newspaper or WSJ that discusses the amount of jobs created and the economic incentives received by one of our clients that we helped locate. This makes me feel like we impacted a lot of things including the community, future employees, and the lives of the daily workers who help to build these facilities. It just makes you feel like a million dollars when you see those articles in the paper.

What is the key to success?
Passion is the key to success. If you have true passion for what you do, then success will come. It is that unbridled passion that enables me to gain the trust of my employees and my clients. It provides me with the ability to wake up every day and fight the battle that I am passionate to win despite the challenges that lie ahead of me.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Focus and hard work pay off. The concept of getting rich quick rarely happens. I focused on a niche industry and spent almost 20 years building on it and expanding on it. I never looked up and I never looked back. It is the constant need for change that will drive you to innovate and differentiate yourself in the marketplace.

What are some of your favorite books?
I am a junkie for business information so The Wall Street Journal and some very niche industry specific news services are my books. It helps me stay on top of the latest industry trends so that I am armed with industry intelligence for my next pitch.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
I think the toughest time I had was at the end of the Great Recession. I had never experienced a real recession in my career so this was a very new thing for me. Our business model was doing great when the recession started because we were moving companies to lower cost geographies to help cut their costs. Our revenues kept growing during the early years of the last recession. The toughest time hit at the tail end when there were no more projects and the company was just breaking even. We never lost any money but it sure did feel like it. We were able to hold onto 100% of our staff and this is when I realized I needed some outside help if I was going to be prepared for the next recession. This is when I joined Vistage, a CEO networking and training organization, that helped me realign our strategy for growth and build a better foundation for future growth.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I strongly believe that challenges create opportunities. As a major proponent of change, I am constantly looking for ways to change or improve what we are doing today. If you are doing things the same way you did it last year, then you better get ready for problems. You must always be evolving and dealing with adversity if you want to build a business that can compete and win in today’s highly-competitive marketplace.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
I think there is a real misperception today of what an entrepreneur really is. I think many young people simply think it is coming up with an idea like for an app but fail to ever follow through due to the commitment required. An entrepreneur clearly needs to be able to come up with the concept. However, they also need to be prepared to do what it takes to deliver it to the market. They need to be prepared to figure out how to find the capital, build, and communicate with a team, and most importantly, be dedicated to the long-term implementation of the concept. Getting rich quick is not a reality.

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Interviews are conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.

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