‘We created an industry’: Passo on success

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Getting Deals Done is a new column focusing on American and North County business creatives.  It’s about manifesting business, changing systems, changing power and making the world a better place, one deal at a time.   

“There’s an expression in Napoleon Hill’s ‘Think and Grow Rich’ that says, ‘When riches come, they come so quickly and in such great abundance that you can’t recall when you didn’t have them. That’s me.” William “Bill” O. Passo speaks of his success as a captain of industry with not only an infectious laughter but a humble confidence.

William O. Passo is a self-made multimillionaire with a billion-dollar company that is, for the most part, the leader in the industry he helped create to service the astute real estate investor. Passo completed his first purchase of a multifamily investment project in Anaheim in 1976.

Since then, he has personally facilitated the acquisition, entitlement and disposition of over 250 retail, office and multifamily and land properties, attracting nearly $1.5 billion in investor funding. He affirms, “We didn’t create just a successful company, we created an industry. People saw what we were doing, they continued to do it, and we had numerous companies come into that field later.”

Irvine-based Passco Companies is now recognized nationally as a leading real estate company that has acquired, managed or developed in excess of $3 billion in real estate investments in 21 states. Passo shares the principles that won him a role captaining the Tenant in Common, 1031 Exchange and Delaware Statutory Trusts industries.

He helped form all the real estate investment vehicles in the 1990s and later became a multimillionaire at the helm of a multibillion-dollar company he built with his business creativity and moxie.   

Passo recognizes not only the successes but also some of the challenges and hurdles to becoming a giant in real estate and investments. Specifically, in 1992, a particular moment of decision resulted in Passco Companies leading the industry that he helped co-found. 

“You come to a point when it is on the line. You have to take a risk and it is the kind of risk if you fail, you have to go back to square one,” he says. “In my case, the company bought a big project which was the largest Tenant in Common program that had ever been done in the history of the business.

“It had required us as a company to raise $54 million. … We basically had five weeks to do it or we would have lost everything we had in liquidity and our company would have been out of business.

“I had four other directors on my board and when I asked if it was worth the risk, I got ‘no,’ ‘no,’ ‘no’ and ‘no.’ I said, ‘Guys, if we pull this off, this changes not only the industry but our position in the industry.’ Therefore, since I owned most of the company, I decided to do it and we were written up on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.” 

When I asked Passo how he knew he would be successful, he again quotes Napoleon Hill from memory, saying, “Whatsoever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it will achieve.”

Passo, however practiced at the metaphysics of business — teamwork, vision, faith, problem-solving, calculated risk-taking — seems to measure success in much more personal and practical terms.

A grandfather of 10, he concludes, a sunny joy in his disposition, “I think I told you the story. I gave that book to the person I was dating, who I liked a lot. I said, ‘If you apply the principles in this book … you can achieve whatever it is you want to achieve.’ Two years later, we were married, she gave me the book. She had written in it, ‘I wanted you!’ ”

Patrick A. Howell is an award-winning financier, tenured entrepreneur and author of “Dispatches from the Vanguard” (Repeater Books and Penguin Random House, 2020).  He is co-founder and president of Victory & Noble, a storytelling and media company, as well as host of Getting Deals Done. He lives in Carlsbad and is his son SharkHeart’s No. 1 fan.   

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