Terrence Wall, Class of 2001
IB is celebrating 20 years of the 40 Under 40 in 2020, and will be catching up with past recipients to see what they’ve been up to since they were honored. This week features Terrence Wall, president, T. Wall Enterprises.
What have you accomplished in your professional life/career since your 40 Under 40 selection?
I like to say that I never went anywhere in life. I’m still here, in Madison, plugging away at development and battling local governments to keep all housing reasonably affordable. Since the 40 Under 40 honor, our team has developed a large portfolio of apartments, installed the largest solar array on a multifamily building in Wisconsin, redeveloped downtown Middleton, become Middleton’s No. 1 taxpayer, made our share of mistakes and successes, helped a number of entrepreneurs launch their businesses, and helped a lot of younger people get started in their careers just as a number of people helped me. Maybe one thing that is unique is our being the catalyst for the redevelopment of downtown Green Bay, something everyone said couldn’t be done. Most people had given up on downtown Green Bay, abandoning it like so many city centers, but by working with the mayor and city we were able to turn the downtown around. As well, we became the leading green developer in the state along with having planted more than 5,000 trees and plants, installed more green components, and pioneered the first university-level sustainable development course in the U.S.
What accomplishments, milestones, or endeavors have you attained in your personal life since your 40 Under 40 selection?
I like to start with action words — I raised two girls with my wife and got them on to their own tax returns; I mean really, that kind of says it all. There were thousands of challenges and roadblocks along the way that had to be overcome. I am proud of volunteering to develop and fundraise the new Boy Scout council office, the new John E. Wall Pavilion at Tenney Park, the carousel at the children’s zoo, and now Middleton’s new town square called Stone Horse Green that will dramatically improve on the quality of life in downtown Middleton. Also, I became a major donor to the American Family Children’s Hospital to help kids just like me, returning the favor the UW Hospital did for me when I was a kid.
If you were to “do it all over again,” what (if anything) would you do differently throughout your career?
Now you’re asking me to admit my mistakes! Ouch, that hurts. Ahh, yeah, I would have avoided running for the U.S. Senate. Even though I proved that the unbeatable Feingold could be beat and even though I enjoyed meeting real cheeseheads across the state, as the rest of the country is just now starting to realize, the political side is disgusting — full of dirty tricks, lies, manipulations, and yes, lots of fake news as I learned the hard way. I would also have been more skeptical and less trusting of others. I learned the hard way that there are certain people whom you just can’t trust, which is really kind of sad because there are a lot of good people out there. One person really can ruin it for everyone.
How did your 40 Under 40 selection help your career?
Boy, that’s hard to define. Who knows what particular random event or contact resulted in helping someone’s career? There were a number of people in general though that helped me, like Prof. Graaskamp, lecturer Rod Matthews, and my dad. There were people who I didn’t directly interact with but whom still inspired me and kept me going like Ronald Reagan. If anything, the 40 Under 40 probably brought me some unwanted attention, coming from someone who prefers to fly under the radar. I’d rather be the quiet guy behind the scenes pulling the strings than the guy out front.
What is something that you have a new passion for since the time of your induction — either professionally or personally?
I really like redeveloping downtowns and, in particular, communities that have struggled and where their city centers have failed. I really enjoy seeing a new development change people’s lives for the better. Imagine seeing a school bus pick up kids in a new community that you created or people really enjoying coffee in a new coffee shop in a building you built. There’s a lot of satisfaction knowing that over 10,000 people in the state are directly or indirectly employed by us due to our construction work. Real people with real families whose lives are made better by the fact that they have a good job as a result of our efforts. Seeing people live, work, eat, and shop in our buildings after years of heavy lifting and overcoming hundreds of roadblocks put up by others is somewhat satisfying — if I could ever just stop and smell the roses.
Based on your experience, do you have any advice for today’s young professionals (under 40)?
Well, yes. I am enormously concerned for the future of our country when an entire generation has basically become indentured servants to the academic world by taking on huge student debt to get a piece of paper that really didn’t teach them much. This is literally the largest wealth transfer in history in reverse — from poor people (students) to wealthy people (academics). My advice is this: forget college. Go into the trades and later work your way up to becoming a partner or owner of a construction business. You’ll avoid all that student debt and you’ll be a millionaire in your 40s. And this, too: focus on real results and avoid getting hung up on the superficial (like titles). Results speak for themselves. Nine out of 10 young people that I’ve tried to help either oversell themselves and come up short because they didn’t focus on results, or actually shied away from and turned down taking on the responsibility and opportunities I presented because they were afraid of failing. Every successful person has failed on their way up. You have a lot more potential than you think, and most importantly, your skill set is highly transferable. Don’t box yourself in. As an example, a salesperson who thinks he/she can only sell a specific widget, when in reality a good salesperson can sell any widget. Stop selling yourself short, but also don’t expect a participation ribbon either. Get the job done, and the results will scream out your success and you’ll be rewarded.
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