Parents Association & Parents Council
The Durham Academy Parents Association supports the school's academic, social, fine arts and athletic objectives. Parents Association encourages volunteerism, raises and disperses funds, promotes communication and cooperation, and provides input to the school on issues of concern and interest to parents. All Durham Academy parents are members of the Parents Association.
The Durham Academy Parents Council is the governing board of the Parents Association. This group comprises members of an executive committee; division representatives; members of schoolwide committees on matters such as diversity, wellness and athletics; and parents who organize both community-building and fundraising events. See a list of the parents who serve on Parents Council.
Parents Bulletin Board
Heading west for his first year at Stanford University was Joseph Williams’ second-ever time on an airplane, but the 1988 alumnus of Durham Academy has logged plenty of miles since then. From working as a production engineer in Japan, to earning an MBA at Harvard University, to starting his own company in Brazil, Williams is a man on the move.
Q: What have you been up to since graduating from Durham Academy?
A. The question of life after DA assumes that there is a life after this esteemed institution. Thankfully there is. Crazy to think that my Pickett Road experience is 30 years ago. I am unsure of the DA demographic now; however, it is safe to say I was one of the least traveled among my classmates at that time. In fact, my second plane flight was to college and my mom’s first flight was dropping me off at Stanford (I remember this clearly, as she held my hand so hard the whole flight that it was blue when we transferred flights in Chicago). I share this to say that I was extremely motivated to see the world post Durham Academy.
Post Durham Academy
My first stop was Palo Alto, California, and Stanford University. As my mother mandated that I had to major in the sciences, I started off in engineering and briefly was in electrical engineering. To say I hated it would have been a severe understatement. However, during my first two years, I did a lot of experimentation and really found out who I was and who I was not. I learned I was an entrepreneur and started two small businesses on campus. I learned I was not an electrical engineer. I cashed out of one business and took time off from college. I took a train across the USA. When I went back to college six months later, I switched to industrial engineering with a minor in Japanese.
As my first two years in electrical engineering were brutal, I realized that to get into business school I had to do something special. I decided my first job would be in Japan, during my last quarter at Stanford. I was effectively homeless, had no room, slept on a friend’s floor for 10 weeks, and put all my stuff under a table in a dorm called Terra House. However, during this “homeless” period, I was the tour guide at Stanford for all Japanese tourists and got a ton of contacts that would be very helpful as I later looked for a full-time job in Tokyo. My “homeless” situation was done to save my last quarter of financial aid to go to Stanford Japan Center in Kyoto, Japan (there was no money to pay for this otherwise). I studied there for 10 weeks, during which I had a homestay with a Buddhist priest and his family, had an internship at a manufacturing company, and got a full-time job as a production engineer at Konica Corporation. It was a life-altering experience, as I did everything in a foreign language and was able to travel all over Japan and certain parts of China. “Fantastic experience” would not do this experience justice.
Babies and Fools – Admission to the Harvard Business School
The good Lord takes care of babies and fools. I started an East Asia master’s degree at Penn, dropped out, and miraculously got into the Harvard Business School. My prediction that my unique background as an American engineer for a Japanese company worked perfectly. HBS was awesome; I had an incredible time and learned a ton. The highlight was my parents’ visit. Harvard has lots of “big deal” people come to visit, and my dad had breakfast with the president of Peru just randomly while staying at the Dean’s House (HBS let parents stay in special quarters if you reserved on time). After HBS, I decided it was time to go back to entrepreneurship again. While I learned a lot at HBS, the main thing I learned was that capital, or the lack thereof in my case, was not a barrier to my dreams and goals.
Entrepreneurship: Chapter 1
After HBS, I applied for no jobs (I am realizing while writing this that perhaps I need to see a shrink) and moved home to Durham, where I started an investment firm called Wakefield James. This firm ended up becoming a roll up on consolidation of a fragmented sector of the residential building products supply chain. From 2002 to 2007, we grew from zero to $65 million in sales and a small office in downtown Durham to seven offices and over 500 employees (importantly, I was not the major shareholder but owned 15 percent of the common stock). I was president of the company. A highlight was my mom coming to visit, seeing this huge company, knowing that it had been created very rapidly, and asking very seriously, “Where did you get all this money to buy these companies? Is it legal?”
It was a great run. Unfortunately, the housing crisis happened, and, worse yet, my parents fell ill with cancer almost simultaneously. Luckily, during this time I had a well-developed management team (remember babies and fools) and was able to spend maximum time with my folks in their last years here on earth. I had maximum cash when I needed it and for that I am so, so thankful.
After my parents passed, I was in a tough spot. As an only child, it was quite a shock to lose both parents within six weeks. I decided if I was going to start over, I was going to really start over. I took some time off and traveled (18 months or so), sold my stake in the company, did Brazil’s Iron Man triathlon (2.4-mile open ocean swim, 112-mile bike and full marathon ... By the way, I could not swim a lap well when I started training four months before the race), and started using my fundraising skills in a new home of São Paulo, Brazil. Currently, I raise capital and help build large real estate platforms for Brazil Asset Managers. We focus on real estate and credit. I decided to try to make lemonade out of lemons and use my “only child” with no parents or family situation as an advantage to create a completely new life in a new part of the world that I may not have done without this undesired new start. We have to deal with the deck of cards that we are given and make the most of it.
Q: What are you doing now?
A. I live in São Paulo, Brazil. My company, InDev Capital, has a small team of five people, but we do big deals (when things work — we closed a $100M out of gate when we started). My wife is from Spain (also the controller of the company), and I spend a ton of time there (Spain) and in eastern North Carolina visiting family. We have two delightful daughters. As I write this, we are on our way to Spain to see my in-laws. This summer, I plan to spend some quality time with the family at Wrightsville Beach within walking distance of the Oceanic Restaurant.
Q. What’s on the horizon for you?
A. My goal is to build the world’s most successful emerging market real estate merchant bank, continue to make life an adventure, love my family the way my folks loved me, and eventually be able to give back to DA in a big way as it has given to me. I hope this is 1/100 as interesting to read as it was to write.