Employee Spotlight: Jacinto Munoz on building a career in CRE

09/21/2021

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Jacinto Munoz, Managing Director with Apprise by Walker & Dunlop, joined the team in April of 2021. He has extensive experience in the commercial real estate industry, and even works as an Adjunct Professor at California State Polytechnic University-Pomona. We sat down with Jacinto to discuss his experience as a Mexican American immigrant in corporate America. Despite progress made in recent years, Latinos continue to face many challenges in the workforce including lack of representation, barriers to advancement, and salary disparities. Read on to learn more about Jacinto’s career journey through the commercial real estate industry, the importance of mentorship, giving back to the community, and much more.

Tell us about your experience growing up as a first-generation Mexican American. 

I think everyone, regardless of background, faces struggles and obstacles at some point in their lives. Being born to one or more parents who have immigrated to the U.S. just adds an additional hurdle because it almost feels like you are living a double life. In one life, you deal with the issues associated with your parent’s home country and try to fine-tune how much the family will identify with their culture while at home. In your other life -- outside of the home -- you are constantly trying to “win” over others just to show that you are truly an American. Whenever I am asked this question, I always think back to the movie Selena in which James Olmos’ character (Abraham) is asked about being Mexican American, and he responds by saying, “We have to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans, both at the same time! It's exhausting!” This is 100% true and is the reason why my parents decided to limit our trips to Mexico and Spanish conversations in the home. I also began having trouble in school with bullying because of my “funny” name. However, so much has changed over the last 20 to 30 years, and it is great to see how much more accepting people are toward those from different backgrounds. Nowadays, it is kind of cool to have something unique about yourself to share with everyone.       

How did you end up working in the commercial real estate industry?

I always knew I wanted to work in some sort of real estate profession. I grew up watching so many of those late-night “Get rich quick with real estate” infomercials (I may or may not have purchased a few), and they began to resonate with me. Growing up in extreme poverty, I saw this as an opportunity to get myself out of the “neighborhood.”. The more I researched (real research, because the internet had yet to be invented) what it took to pursue a career in the real estate industry, the more I knew that it could be a real possibility for me. So, right after turning 18, I immediately secured my real estate salesperson's license. Unfortunately, the economy was not doing well (I will leave out the year to remain ageless), so I joined the Navy. Immediately after leaving the Navy, I made every effort possible to land a role in real estate. I was indifferent on whether the role was residential or commercial; however, I knew the likelihood of a residential role was the greater possibility because almost all commercial roles require a college degree. Having gone directly to the Navy at 18, I was without such education at the time. 

My first roles in the real estate industry were on the sales and lending sides of the business, but these were short-lived, as I already had two kids at this point and working on commission was a daunting task. As I looked into other possible roles within the real estate industry, I came upon appraisal, which looked like a promising opportunity. After all, it provided a great deal of flexibility, which I needed because I wanted to finish my degree, and I got paid shortly after an assignment was completed. Although it did not come with the income-earning potential or prestige associated with the sales, brokerage, and banking sides of the business, it was something that could provide decent earning potential and security, which was what I needed at the time. I must have called 30 to 40 appraisal firms looking for someone to take me on as a trainee (the appraisal profession requires an apprenticeship role, which is generally 3 years). After numerous calls, an opportunity came about to work with a boutique family-owned (Latino) appraisal firm, Garcia and Associates, and I jumped at the role. 

My lack of a college degree gave management a bit of pause, so, instead of working in the commercial arena, I trained with another professional who specialized in high-end residential product. After approximately 18 months of exceeding expectations on the residential side, they asked me to begin working on commercial product. This was the launch point for my career in commercial real estate. Shortly thereafter, along with a partner, we opened an appraisal firm that largely focused on a variety commercial product, and we did everything from bank to condemnation appraisal work. This lasted about 10 years before I left for the banking side, where I spent another 10 years before joining the Apprise by Walker & Dunlop team.        

What are some of your favorite ways to give back to your community and further promote DE&I?

I love serving in a mentorship capacity, which is one of the things that attracted me to the appraisal profession. As noted above, part of developing into a fully licensed appraiser involves serving in an apprenticeship capacity (trainee) for the first 2 to 3 years. Although there were times when I thought about quitting, the close relationship I had with my trainer helped lay the foundation for my professional development. Whether in a formal mentorship program, a working relationship, or through an educational role, mentorship is the greatest gift that senior people can give. The conveyance of knowledge and understanding of how to interact with clients, although not tangible, is completely vital for developing our next generation of leaders. This is part of the reason that so many of the best leaders in the county believe that a return to office is so important. 

As of late, I have not been engaged in a formal mentorship role, but have continued to work with many diverse students, as I currently serve as part of the adjunct faculty at a California University. For those serving in an adjunct capacity, they know it is not about the money but rather, trying to give back. The university that I work with has a Latino student population of nearly 50% and with Latinos still having the lowest education rates and highest high school dropout rates in the county, young students need to see faculty with whom they can identify. After all, of the top 10 universities in California that are labeled as having the largest diverse student populations, not one of the 10 has a single Latino professor as part of the faculty1, which is especially surprising in California. Ultimately, teaching is currently the best way for me to contribute to the success within the community, while simultaneously having the ability to help shape the conversation around DE&I.

If you had a younger mentee who wanted to enter a career in CRE, what advice would you give them?

Teaching enables me to serve in a quasi-mentorship role with many individuals. The most important piece of advice that I generally give all mentees is to get out there and try everything while you are young. This is the time to take risks in your career and really find something or someone that resonates with you. Also, I advise mentees and students to add some sort of technology component to their resume, as they should seek opportunities or skills that will help differentiate them from the rest of the pack. Since most of my students are going to enter the workforce with a finance, real estate, business degree, or some derivative of one of these, they should work toward establishing themselves by learning how to code with programs such as Python, R, or any other useful business analytics or modeling tool. After all, this is exactly why I joined Apprise by Walker & Dunlop. We are using technology to set ourselves apart from every other firm in the real estate industry. Anyone can sell a loan or an appraisal service, but we strive to provide our clients with an elevated level of service.  

What kind of impact would you like to have while at Walker & Dunlop?

I am glad to finally see that we have created an affinity group that is focused on Latinos. So many organizations of similar size do not have such an Employee Resource Group in place, which may be because Latino representation is low at other organizations or because it just isn’t a focus. As such, although we currently only have about 20 to 25 members, it is fantastic to see that Walker & Dunlop is making such a concerted effort for the creation of this Employee Resource Group. With so many talented people on the Walker & Dunlop and Apprise teams, I am honored that my fellow Latino colleagues have enough confidence in me to serve as the inaugural chair for the Latino Employee Resource Group, which we have aptly decided to call UnidosWD (Thank you, Irelynne Estevez-Waller). Our Employee Resource Groups are only as strong as the collective team, which ultimately translates into all of our Walker & Dunlop and Apprise colleagues supporting our initiatives and becoming allies.     

How do you see Walker & Dunlop fostering an inclusive culture?

Having an inclusive workplace benefits both the employees and the organization, as it promotes and fosters productivity, engagement, and empowerment. There have been many studies that show that companies with higher inclusivity maintain higher retention and innovation because team members feel a sense of respect and belonging. I think this begins with our leadership, as promotion of inclusivity must begin with every senior leader in the firm. We have all heard the saying that diversity is being asked to the dance, but inclusivity is being asked to dance. Managers must seek input and valuable contributions from their diverse team members, which goes beyond having diverse talent on the “roster” but rather, offering diverse talent a seat at the table. By having robust affinity group programs, Walker & Dunlop is truly making an effort to develop diverse talent and create an inclusive culture.   

What steps can be taken to further facilitate the integration of Latinos in America?

We talk about unconscious bias and this is probably most prevalent in the Latino culture, as we still routinely hear Hispanic-sounding names used as default for various laborer positions. This is even rampant through many popular songs and television, as most people associate Latinos with “the help.” This is unconscious bias that people seem to overlook. I usually tell my team that everyone has unconscious bias. The fact that it is unconscious indicates that we have no control over it, which is why I say that we are NOT responsible for our first thought, but we are responsible for our next action. Still, we have to change the mindset of how most people view Latinos. 

I recently read that Latinos are anticipated to account for about 52% of all new homebuyers between 2010 and 2030, which is largely due to increased Latinos in the millennial generation. More importantly, this is a common theme across consumer product sales in almost every category, so it would behoove companies to get out in front of this emerging trend by having board members who can identify with this growing base. I am the first to say that I am not looking for any handouts, as I believe that any board member should first and foremost have the chops to sit in that seat and intelligently contribute to the conversation but all things being equal, I would engage diverse representation for a leadership position. 
As it stands, about 2.6% of Latinos serve on Fortune 500 boards and this number drops to 2.1% in the Fortune 1,000. More than 80% of Fortune 1,000 companies have no Latino board representation and when they do, they are likely from a very wealthy family from a Latin American country as opposed to Latinos born in the U.S. or those who migrated here from their home countries. With Latinos continuing to be a larger percentage of the population, we have to start making more progress in corporate America.     

Is there anything else you would like us to know?          

I once heard someone say that it likely puts a smile on your face when you fondly think back on a leader who made impression on you, which I firmly believe is true. I had a former organizational leader who said the best compliment people could pay him was trying to recruit his people. As much as he would hate to lose his people, the advancement of his employees gave him tremendous joy and it meant that he was doing a great job in developing talent. He also said that our legacy is not the work we do, but the people we develop into future leaders (he quoted an author, but I cannot recall). I have always tried to keep that in mind as I build teams, manage people, and develop leaders. We have an opportunity to introduce an entire generation of diverse individuals to the world of commercial real estate, and I am happy to be able to help these future leaders get their start.

1https://www.collegefactual.com/colleges/abraham-lincoln-university/student-life/diversity/

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