On the cover of their February issue, REI Ink recently did a deep dive on DLP Real Estate Capital, including our focus on core values and how culture is helping to pave the way for long-term success.
DLP’s Company Culture Creates Laser Focus on Productivity & Returns
After Don Wenner, founder and CEO of DLP Real Estate Capital, attended his eighth-grade career day, he plotted his career path as a financial advisor based on a salary chart that showed financial advisors made more money than doctors, lawyers, and accountants. “I was good at math, entrepreneurial, and driven. I thought, ‘Hey, I could do really well at that,’” Wenner recalled. As it turned out, he was right, but the journey ultimately led him to something much bigger than financial advisory. Instead, he became the founder and CEO of a multifaceted organization dedicated to “leading and inspiring the building of wealth and prosperity through the execution of innovative real estate solutions,” the DLP family of companies.
Before Wenner could imagine and ultimately found DLP, however, he had to encounter the vast potential of real estate investing firsthand. This happened thanks to a surprising series of events. Throughout college, he worked at big firms like BlackRock and McGladrey & Pullen and waited tables on the weekends. One evening, a frequent patron of the restaurant, Nathan Robinson, recruited him to sell alarm systems. “He convinced me that if I came to work for him, I would make $2,000 per week. At 19 years old, that sounded really great,” Wenner recalled. His first weekend, he earned more than twice that, and the numbers climbed from there. Soon, Robinson, who was also a real estate agent at Keller Williams, had recruited Wenner to sell real estate as well. “I was still determined to become a financial advisor, but I quickly obtained my real estate license,” Wenner said.
By October 2006, the young financial advisor was applying his practical, pragmatic strategies to the housing market, using a guaranteed sales program that would be the template for many of the numerous, similar programs agents often offer today. “From day one as a real estate agent, my message was, ‘Your home sold in 68 days, guaranteed, or I will buy it,” Wenner said. It was the peak of the real estate market, and his message was a perfect fit for the times. Wenner developed a lifelong love of real estate, a deep-seated passion for helping people invest in real estate both as a personal home and as an investment vehicle, and a firmly grounded belief in the importance of having a clear plan and vision. “If you can see it, you can do it, as long as you have the vision, a plan, and disciplined people action,” he explained.
Today, Wenner is the founder and CEO of DLP Real Estate Capital, the parent company of a family of DLP companies specializing in investment housing funding (DLP Lending), innovation solutions for homebuyers and sellers (DLP Realty), property, asset, and construction management (DLP Real Estate Management), loan servicing (Alliance Servicing), and title services (Alliance Property Transfer).
Jumping in with both feet when the market was at its height taught Wenner another lesson he would never forget: A company only grows when its people and its culture are in harmony. “I always wanted to hire people who were hardworking, willing to wear many hats, tended to be driven and curious, and who had ‘can-do’ attitudes,” Wenner explained. His first employee, a part-time assistant, is still with the company, and so are many others who came to work with DLP in those early years. “I always hire people who understand how the organization operates and who are willing to support our culture,” Wenner explained. “That is why so many from my original team are still with us today.”
A Foundation in Learning, Self-Improvement & Growth
Part of understanding the company culture involves understanding and embracing Wenner’s 10 core values—and being excited about participating in a workplace that embraces each of these multifaceted goals and characteristics in an industry that conventionally recommends keeping the core values at three or fewer. “We started with six, which is arguably too many according to some people, but over the years we just had to add four more,” Wenner laughed. “We evaluate them every year to make sure they are representative of us, and they really are the values that drive our organization.”
Those core values (see sidebar) drive every aspect of DLP’s organization and form the foundation of a company that has grown exponentially since its founding. “I understood from very early on that there is only so much that one person can do and took steps from the beginning to bring on great people with incredible skill sets to help me build and expand what became the DLP family of businesses,” said Wenner. “I never wanted to be a ‘time-teller’ who was always personally needed when a challenge arose in my business. I wanted to be a clock-builder, investing in leaders and organizations that would take control and ownership within DLP.”
The expansion of DLP was fast and, Wenner says, organic. As the housing market headed into a full-blown crash in 2007 and 2008, Wenner’s sell-your-home-guaranteed program took off. As he began buying and holding his own real estate during that time, other investors began asking how they could be involved and build their own portfolios. “Things moved fast from there,” Wenner said. By 2012, DLP had a real estate portfolio, was building a management company, running a construction company, and starting a brokerage. “We were investing capital, buying and flipping homes and apartment communities, and beginning to raise capital,” Wenner recalled. “That was the most challenging part of all.” By 2014, however, his reputation for solid, dependable, and impressive returns and asset management had taken hold and the company was thriving. In fact, in the first eight years in operation, DLP grew its annual revenues by at least 60 percent, Wenner said. That consistent, significant growth indicated to him that it was time for the next step.
“We started to think about where we wanted to go next, and we decided to start two new things: We started lending capital to real estate investors who did similar things as us and we started investing in larger, multifamily properties,” Wenner said. This was the beginning of DLP Lending and the launch point of DLP’s multifamily investment strategy, including raising capital through DLP’s investment funds. “We have 1,050 families who have entrusted their capital with us into our investment funds,” Wenner said proudly. “We have a goal and a responsibility to continue to scale.” DLP has recorded 60 percent annual growth or higher for 14 straight years.
Refining the Secrets of Scale
That need to scale brought the family of companies to a new juncture, one that would involve Wenner and his team taking on a new facet of real estate and business leadership. “Not every person can be in every meeting as you grow. When you have multiple businesses and they are all fast-growing, you need structure,” Wenner said. The company leadership began searching for a structure that would help them scale and communicate about hiring, development, goals, priorities, and operations. First, they used established systems, but ultimately refined the entire infrastructure into an original process known within as the Elite Execution System (EES).
“We apply everything across the four quadrants of every business: strategy, people, operations, and acceleration,” Wenner said. “That is how we have grown consistently even while launching new businesses, expanding into new markets, and going through different market cycles.” The CEO wrote a book on the system, Building an Elite Organization: The Blueprint to Scaling a High Growth, High Profit Business, and uses the processes described in that book to educate his own employees and help other companies scale profitably and consistently to make a bigger impact.
Wenner and DLP have been using the EES system within all of the DLP businesses, with Elite Real Estate members, and with the nonprofits and ministries that they support. The DLP Elite Membership is a unique mentorship and capital partnership platform that combines in-depth training, one-on-one business consultation, and debt and equity investment opportunities to help members implement EES in order to set goals and achieve “more in 90 days than their competition achieves in a year”.
The combination of the book, the EES system, and associated training events for employees and business partners enable DLP to help other investors improve their own operations, assist businesses in multiple sectors to scale and grow effectively, and help nonprofit foundations and ministries grow their own organizations. Notably, DLP supports numerous nonprofit entities and ministries both on a corporate level and through voluntary support from employees at the company (there is that company culture again). “We all want to make substantial financial investments into nonprofits, but we also want to invest in operations that will get the biggest bang for their efforts and their buck,” Wenner explained. “The Elite Execution System and EES technology helps investors and other groups do this.”
Hiring People Driven for Greatness: DLP’s 10 Core Values
Conventional wisdom states that corporate core values should be kept to a minimum to ensure that employees can remember them and that they are easy to understand. Of course, nothing about DLP or its employees is conventional, and founder and CEO Don Wenner likes it that way. That is why he felt comfortable starting the company with 6 core values and eventually expanding the list to 10.
Every year, the company reviews its core values to make sure it is living up to its own standards, that there is not a need to adjust or remove any verbiage, and that Wenner or other leaders would not like to add just one more to the list. “These are the things that are important to us. They drive us, and every one of them matters,” Wenner said. “We did not create them lightly, and we maintain them diligently.”
Here are DLP Real Estate Capital’s 10 Core Values:
- Driven for greatness (defined as seeking knowledge and pursuing “growth and greatness” daily both personally and professionally)
- Leadership (defined as exemplifying integrity, positivity, and humble confidence)
- Grit (defined as perseverance and passion for long-term goals)
- Enthusiastically delivering WOW (defined as going above and beyond, delighting and amazing everyone we encounter)
- Living fully (Defined as applying DLP’s quest for excellence and pursuit of passions to all aspects of life)
- Innovative solutions focused (defined as creating solutions that produce “new, previously-thought-to-be-unimaginable results” for clients)
- Twenty Mile March (defined as consistently hitting targets day after day, year after year, regardless of prevailing conditions)
- Excellence & execution (defined as establishing and surpassing expectations through the company’s combination of focus, commitment, and engagement)
- Humble confidence (defined as “confidence without arrogance, projecting humility and warmth to empower others” with an emphasis on collaboration)
- Stewardship (defined as maximizing the resources entrusted to us to deliver positive returns)
Growth-Oriented Strategy Meets Reliable Acquisitions & Returns
Probably one of the greatest pieces of evidence that DLP Real Estate Capital founder and CEO Don Wenner’s vision and highly pragmatic yet growth-oriented infrastructure is working is that his family of companies continues to thrive, grow, and build consistent wealth for investors. Three entities within the DLP family play a particularly notable role in this process: DLP Capital Partners, DLP Lending, and DLP Real Estate Management. In typical fashion, Wenner has placed some of the most experienced and talented individuals in the industry at the head of each of these companies, creating a natural flow of passion and experience at the top level of each.
DLP Real Estate Management
“I have been in multifamily residential and commercial real estate for years, working with all different types of properties from residential to retail to commercial,” said Melanie French, president of DLP Real Estate Management. For French, one of the things that drew her to DLP was the investors-first mindset that pervades the company.
“We are among the only—if not the only— investment vehicle of our kind where our investors are paid before ourselves,” she explained. “That makes my side of the equation crucial when it comes to due diligence, acquiring responsibly and productively, and planning for asset management in a period of time when many things feel very unpredictable due to economic factors and health issues like the COVID-19 pandemic.”
French is particularly proud of the management style that DLP Real Estate Management employs. It focuses heavily on the long-term, living “flow” of residents rather than lumping them into categories like “renter” or “borrower” or “buyer”.
“We have residents who grew up in one of our communities in middle or high school, then, after or during college, got their own apartment in another DLP community,” she said. “Then, we see them start their families and stay within our properties or even buy their first homes from us or one of our borrowers or funds. Then as they make their own money, they start looking to invest. When they come to us and that cycle continues, that is the real product of what we are doing, and managing our assets effectively at every stage and level is what makes that type of growth possible for our investors and the people who live their lives in our communities.”
DLP Capital Partners
French shares her extreme focus on the value of due diligence and innovative services with Rich Delgado, managing director of DLP Capital Partners. The company’s role is to source capital from investors, deliver returns and distributions, and manage reporting both to individual investors, often high-net-worth and ultra-high-net worth investors, and to registered investment advisors. “We work with institutional investors, pension funds, and trust endowments,” Delgado explained. “We are currently on our eighth fund in the past decade and, despite economic swings, still averaging double-digit returns with no losses.”
Delgado credits that track record to intense, effective, passionate due diligence. “We have a phenomenal track record because of the types of loans we buy and make and the types of properties we acquire,” he said. “We have never had to write off principal or interest on any loan, ever.” The company focuses mainly on short-term bridge loans with low loan-to-value (LTV). “We require our borrowers to have a lot of skin in the game, and we diversify within our funds geographically and into multiple types of properties.”
Delgado also expressed pride in the unique features of the DLP funds, such as their evergreen qualities, flexible redemption options, and tax advantages. “We subordinate our management fees so our investors get paid first, and we invest alongside our investors,” he explained. “We place premium value on borrowers having skin in the game, and we have skin in the game as well.” And, of course, because the funds are evergreen, they have flexibility and longevity to keep the returns coming in rather than having to liquidate and sell at a predetermined date regardless of market, Delgado concluded. “It’s just a better strategy,” he said.
Scott Meyers, senior vice president of Sales with DLP Lending, brings flexibility and innovation into his facet of the company. “We differentiate ourselves by our mindset,” he explained. “We evaluate every transaction as if we were the client executing the investment because our client’s likelihood of success determines the risk we are evaluating.” The company’s goal is to cultivate relationships with people who, like the DLP family of companies, place premium value on excellence, execution, and the “delivery of wow”.
That “delivery of wow” manifested particularly starkly in March and April of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic threw the private lending industry into a near-shutdown. Many lenders either suspended operations completely or made significant changes to lending guidelines, often increasing rates or significantly changing leverage requirements. DLP Lending continued to lend at regular leverage—benefiting both borrowers and investors—while much of the rest of the industry came to a grinding halt.
“We issue valid lines of credit regardless of market conditions, and that optimizes our investors and our borrowers for success in any environment,” Meyers said. “We haven’t yet had a default during COVID because we were and continue to be very, very disciplined in our underwriting and our operations. Our fundamentals simply have not changed.”