NIC Chats Podcast with Ed Williams

by Kathy Belleville  / December 22, 2021

Industry Leaders and Experts  • Podcast

Ed Williams is a Managing Director in Berkadia’s senior housing and healthcare group, one of the largest HUD lenders in the senior housing and care sector. In this NIC Chats podcast, Williams shares with NIC Chief Economist Beth Mace how working in the industry has allowed him to combine his passions for caring for seniors, and for crunching numbers. They discuss the differences in HUD, Freddie Mac, and Fannie Mae lending – but discover plenty of personal similarities, both coming from large families, overcoming adversity, and employing tenacity and persistence to achieve early success in their careers.

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Introduction: (00:00)
Welcome to NIC Chats, ideas and inspiration from senior living leaders with host Beth Mace, NIC's chief economist, and director of outreach. Get to know some of the people influencing senior living today and perhaps learn a thing or two from their experiences.

Beth Mace: (00:17)
Hello, and welcome back to NIC Chats podcast. My name is Beth Mace and I am the chief economist and director of the research and analytics team here at NIC. Thank you so much for joining us today. The focus of the NIC Chats podcast is talking to interesting people that have ideas that I think you'd like to hear about. As you listen today, I hope that you will find some humor, insights, inspiration, and hopefully what I call an a-ha moment when something pithy or insightful is said and the light bulb may go off you. And let me tell you a little bit more about the podcast series. Each podcast has a standard structure. First, I will tell you three statements about my guest and two are true. Throughout the podcast you'll learn which are true and which are false. Second, there are three standard questions with each podcast for each speaker.

Beth Mace: (01:10)
The first is identify one of the largest challenges facing our industry. Second, identify one thing that we can do to grow talent in our industry. And third, what is one innovative way or idea to strengthen our industry? Now, before I begin, I also want to let you know that the 2021 NIC fall conference will be held in person in Houston at the Marriott Marquis from November 1st to November 3rd, you still have time to sign up. So we hope to see you there. Now, as they say on with the show. I'm delighted that today's NIC Chats podcast is with Ed Williams. Ed is a managing director at Berkadia. Thanks so much for joining us.

Ed Williams: (01:55)
Thanks for having me.

Beth Mace: (01:58)
As I mentioned, I have three statements about Ed. Two of these will be true and one will be false. And throughout the rest of the podcast, you'll be identifying which are which so those statements are that Ed and his family have two cats and one dog, that Ed himself has five brothers and sisters, and that he ranks number four in the order and that his oldest daughter has shifted schools eight times in her life. But before we get into that, let me get on with the interview here. So Ed, you're a managing director at Berkadia with a focus on mortgage banking for the seniors housing and skilled nursing sectors. Can you tell our audience a little bit more about Berkadia and what your job entails?

Ed Williams: (02:42)
Sure Beth. As you mentioned here at Berkadia, I'm a managing director in our seniors housing and healthcare group, where I focus on a day-to-day basis helping owners and operators of skilled nursing, assisted living, memory care, independent living facilities find financing, whether that be through our Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac HUD, or our bridge loan programs. I've been in that business for the better half of 20 years and it's been a really challenging but pleasant experience. Over the years I've developed a pretty strong passion for seniors as they are kind of our most vulnerable in our population. So when you go into a lot of these buildings you're able to see seniors that may be veterans from world wars. I think it gives you a warming feeling. And it also helps that I love crunching numbers.

Beth Mace: (03:52)
Oh, that's a good combination. So you have passion as well as the analytical skillset. That's great. So Berkadia ranks among the largest HUD lenders for our sector, as well as a large lender for both Freddie and Fannie, how has Berkadia achieved that success?

Ed Williams: (04:09)
Well, I think Berkadia as well as others in the industry over the years, number one, you have to be patient and ever evolving in these markets. So I think that's important. I'll sort of draw on something that our CEO, Justin Wheeler, a term that he often uses--what he says is we like to take the long view. And for me I think that that means number one, you're always focused on not the immediate objective but we're really sort of looking forward to what the ultimate outcome is particularly for a client. As it relates our team, I think we do have a great leadership team, and I think that's very important when you talk about Justin and a lot of his counterparts. Berkadia does a good job of hiring and identifying the best and brightest talent in the industry and also retaining that talent. I think that's also important, and also, being innovative forward thinking, those are some pretty solid traits that I think give us success. Not just over the years, but on a go forward basis,

Beth Mace: (05:43)
Labor certainly is a big issue today for all firms, trying to maintain their staffs. So that's good to hear that you have a strong track record in retaining your staff at Berkadia, especially about relationships since so much of the banking industry really is relationships, so you can keep your staff in place. That's good for business in the long run, I think. So tell us about what actually happens. So you have a relationship, Berkadia, to HUD or to the agencies. So do you do the underwriting or is it a rubber stamp process? Who does the underwriting and who sources the deals?

Ed Williams: (06:16)
Sure, sure, sure. I wish it were a rubber stamp process. But in this environment it's far from that. But if we can kind of break them up a little bit, I can sort of give you high level sort of distinctions and I'll try and give it from, ua borrower standpoint. From a borrower's standpoint the HUD process is really, I'm going to call it in a normal environment a six to eight or nine month process from underwriting to closing. The Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac processes are much shorter generally in the 60 to 90 day window is basically what it takes to get those done. The real difference is in the underwriting. With the GSEs, Berkadia has more authority if you will, to approve and underwrite those loans. Fannie is slightly different than Freddie in that Fannie Mae loans,

Ed Williams: (07:31)
We take a loss share on those. So we have kind of a little more authority than we would on a Freddie Mac loan, but essentially to a borrower it's just a function of timing and how quickly you're able to get through the process and the agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are largely dedicated to what I would call private pay. So that's AL, memory care in IL. Whereas HUD is the product of choice for skilled nursing as well as assisted living, private pay assisted living,

Beth Mace: (08:18)
That's really helpful because I don't know that everyone understands that distinction. And have you seen a shift during the pandemic? Who's been more active in the market, has it been HUD or Fannie or Freddie or both or has nothing changed?

Ed Williams: (08:34)
Well, HUD has always been in the business. It's a government entity so the HUD has to provide access to credit in the market. So I would say without question, HUD has been in the market and Fannie and Freddie have, but to a lesser extent. Again, each of these lending sources have throughout the pandemic and all of the developments surrounding the pandemic has tried to figure out how to underwrite and deliver and extend credit in these environments. And I think all three of those entities have done the best job possible given the circumstances with trying to keep COVID out of their buildings, the staffing challenges, as well as the ebbs and flows of census in these respective markets around the country,

Beth Mace: (09:36)
It's been a challenging time that's for sure. So I have one more question related to Berkadia. Increasingly we see a lot of businesses focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion programs, or so-called DEI guidelines. Is that something that you've been seeing at Berkadia as well?

Ed Williams: (09:55)
Well I would say yes. I would also say that I think that it really should be a focus not just for Berkadia, but really all large and small companies, really public and private. I think it really is not just that it's the right thing to do to diversify your workforce, but I think it's the smart thing to do. I think our customers will oftentimes want to see people come into their office that look like them have similar thoughts and ideas about the world in general. So I think really it behooves Berkadia as well as others to when they go out and bring in new talent that there's a focus on casting a wider net. Oftentimes that may mean going to places to look where you haven't historically looked, For example, you're seeing where a lot of companies have put a greater emphasis on and focus on looking to attract talent by visiting more historically Black colleges and universities.

Ed Williams: (11:25)
I personally didn't attend one, but several of my siblings have, and I can tell you that in those institutions you do find some very strong talent and those will be great additions to anyone's organization.

Beth Mace: (11:45)
Okay. So that's great. That's a good cue up for one of my questions about a truth or a lie. So is it true? Do you, in fact, have five brothers and sisters, and are you ranked number four?

Ed Williams: (11:56)
That is correct that I do have five brothers and sisters. There are three boys and three girls. I am ranked number four. The first four of us are really more of stairsteps. There's only a four year gap between the first four. And then there's a three-year gap between, myself and a younger brother. And then another three year gap between myself and a younger sister.

Beth Mace: (12:30)
Well, you and I have that in common then it cause I come from a family of six children as well, but I rank as number five. So I have been at the bottom of the litter most of my life and the age gap between me and my younger sibling is eight years. So there's quite a gap in there.

Ed Williams: (12:44)
Fun times growing up, that's for sure.

Beth Mace: (12:48)
Well, not so much if you're a girl and they're all brothers, but we won't get into that. All right. So, let's shift a little bit and talk a little bit about yourself. You've been in the business for a long time in terms of seniors housing and in terms of lending. So if there's young folks listening to us on this call, is there any lessons learned that you could share with the younger listeners on this call today--secrets to success or lessons learned along the way or something that you could share if you were talking to your own children about ways to achieve success?

Ed Williams: (13:24)
Interesting. My kids don't really like to hear my stories but do have interest when others are telling my story. So what I'll do is let me tell you how I got into this business. I went to school at a university in Columbus, Ohio called Capitol University. And after school, I thought I wanted to become go into the financial services industry and be a broker. So I started down that path and did that for some time. But ultimately I realized that that wasn't the true path for me. I ultimately decided that my other passion was real estate. I ultimately relocated, moved to the DC area, started graduate school as kind of a means of transitioning into commercial real estate. And the transition was a little more challenging than I thought in that making that transition into a different sector was a little challenging. So to find opportunities...what I would do is I would read the various real estate publications and I would identify individuals in the newspaper and find their addresses. And I would literally hop on the Metro in DC and go to their offices, just pop in randomly to try and see if there was an opportunity for me.

Beth Mace: (15:24)
That's interesting. So I did something similar, actually. I don't know that it is still done that way, but I also, when I was looking for a job, did the exact same thing. I had a list of people and I was living in California looking for a job on the east coast and also contacted each person on a list and then followed up with the old fashioned letter and then followed up with an old fashioned phone call and then followed up with an old fashioned letter and actually that persistence got me a bunch of interviews and opened some doors for me. So that would be like a lesson learned that I had to a younger person is don't give up and keep on trying and persistence and tenacity wins the day.

Ed Williams: (16:01)
Exactly. And that's exactly what happened. The first gentlemen said I was pretty...I won't use the term he basically come into the office, but he actually appreciated that and he gave me a few other names. One thing led to another and a week or two later, I received a call about an interview. And if I were to fast forward from that, I ultimately took a job in the business with a boutique HUD lender in Maryland. And that was really the start of my career in working to finance, HUD insure properties and underwriting those deals.

Beth Mace: (16:52)
That's great. So now that's behind you and now you have a family, you're managing director at Berkadia. So you're busy, you have kids, you've got to balance that. So any lessons learned on how you balance it all. So you've given us the secret sauce on how to do it for that persistence and tenacity. So now you've gotten there now the next challenge is how do you do it all and how do you balance it?

Ed Williams: (17:17)
Well, it's so interesting. I presume you're talking about sort of a work-life balance--finding a work-life balance has probably been the hardest, because when you're learning the business, you want to absorb as much information as possible, you want to make yourself available at all times, and it requires working early and late so making that transition was hard. And quite frankly, it's been a while trying to figure it out. But I think over time I ran into a few health challenges over the years, which sort of prompted me to start to think about doing things differently, meaning that I would try to work more efficiently than sort of taking time just for the sake of time.

Beth Mace: (18:23)
We have that in common, too, Ed cause I had some significant health challenges in my life and it does recalibrate you and you do try to be more efficient and more productive and really focusing on the things that matter to you. So I agree with that. So let me switch the topics again a little bit. And now let's talk more specifically about the seniors housing industry. What do you think is one of the largest challenges facing our industry today? Is it capital availability? Is it the pandemic? Is it occupancy? Is it building census or something else?

Ed Williams: (18:55)
I think it's a combination of a couple of things and I think some of them were challenges pre pandemic, but I think the developments around, COVID-19 have put a sort of a spotlight on a few things. So, clearly we have challenges in the labor markets and whether you're talking about private pay assisted living or even skilled nursing, those operators are struggling to find staff to fill their buildings. And so that's the biggest challenge today is staffing. I think staffing was a challenge pre COVID, but it's a significantly larger challenge for the industry now, and in some parts of the country the staffing impacts your ability to grow census. So that's a problem that has to be resolved and hopefully it can happen with a public and private sort of partnership.

Beth Mace: (20:12)
So let me bring this back to what you had said earlier. So one way to grow talent in the sector, we were talking about DEI programs and the idea of more diversity in the workplace, is that one way to grow talent is to go into schools and universities that have higher concentration, those that are more focused on..

Ed Williams: (20:33)
Yeah, I think that's correct. I was certainly speaking from the lending side of the business, but I believe that the same could apply on the operation side of the business. I think there has to be a broad effort to grow talent and individuals that truly care about taking care of seniors. Because that's the lifeblood of the industry. These are operating businesses, but the focus has always been on delivering a high quality care. So I think that's probably first and foremost in terms of the challenge that needs to be sort of front and center for the industry.

Beth Mace: (21:25)
Great. All right. So now let's go back to some of the statements I said at the beginning. So is it true that you have two cats and one dog?

Ed Williams: (21:36)
No. Incorrect. I have no cats, my wife is allergic to pet hair, which is why we have a golden doodle. So we have a seven year old golden doodle. His name is Davy Crockett. So we've had him since, I want to say he was two weeks old, so he's without question part of the family.

Beth Mace: (22:13)
Well trained now too, no doubt. So how about your oldest daughter, first of all, how old is your oldest?

Ed Williams: (22:19)
So I have an 18 year old daughter and I have a 15 year old daughter.

Beth Mace: (22:25)
Has your 18 year old daughter shifted schools eight times in her life?

Ed Williams: (22:31)
Yes, fortunately, or unfortunately, she has. As I alluded to earlier, I started my career in Maryland, in the DC area, which is where our kids were born. And after spending some time, roughly 10 years there, we moved to Georgia and lived there for six years. And now we're in Arizona, in Phoenix. So at every turn, there was a combination of schools that my daughters both attended. So it just so happens that my oldest attended more schools than my younger, but my youngest is not very far behind.

Beth Mace: (23:24)
So you're moving to hotter climates. So who knows where you'll be next time we talk. So a couple more questions or maybe just one here, actually. So I like to ask this question to people who participate in this NIC Chats podcast. So what's one innovative idea on how we can strengthen our industry. It could be financial instrument, it could be infrastructure, it could be technology. What's something on your mind when you go to sleep at night, you're saying, if they only did that, that would really help our sector.

Ed Williams: (23:55)
Well, again, it goes back to that need to grow talent in this industry. I think with the best and bright minds seeking out that talent will yield innovation, will yield best practices. So I think it just really sort of starts there. And again, that's on the operation side as well as kind of the debt and the lending side of the business as well. We should always seek to find the best and brightest talent out there that is available to us.

Beth Mace: (24:39)
Well, here here on that. So just as wrapping up, if I was listening to this podcast today, a couple of things here: tenacity, persistence, working hard, it pays off and then trying to balance and prioritize one's life. And I think that something that's an ongoing lesson on how to do that and how to prioritize what's most important at any given moment. So Ed I thank you very much for your time. I hope our audience has enjoyed listening to the podcast today and I really appreciate it.

Ed Williams: (25:15)
Thanks, Beth. It's been a pleasure and thanks for having me.