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Podcast 118: CEO and Athlete Willy Walker on Balance, Overcoming Injury & Managing Expectations

April 6, 2021

This week’s podcast guest is businessman, athlete, and all-around renaissance man Willy Walker, CEO of Walker & Dunlop.

By Will Ahmed

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Willy Walker is one of the top CEOs in the country. He turned his company Walker & Dunlop into a force in the commercial real estate world. When he took the family business over from his dad in 2003, it was valued at $25 million. Now, Walker & Dunlop is worth well over $3 billion and has been public for over a decade.

This episode hits on a lot of themes surrounding balance, gratitude, and mental well-being. Willy is very candid about his experiences and what he’s learned along the way to become the best version of himself. I know you’ll take something away from this conversion that you’ll be able to apply to your own life.

Stay healthy and stay in the green!


Walker & Dunlop CEO Willy Walker Podcast Show Notes:

2:44 – Growing His Business. Willy details how he turned Walker & Dunlop from a smaller family-owned business to a publicly traded company with a market cap over $3 billion.

7:34 – Separating Business Success From Personal Success. Will and Willy discuss the importance of separating your business life from your personal life. Willy notes that he stopped watching the stock price of Walker & Dunlop in an effort to improve his mental health. “Two years ago, I stopped looking at our stock price and it has made a world of difference in my life as both a leader of this company as well as with my own personal mental health. I used to watch our stock price hourly, minutely, whatever. I’d watch it all the time. I gave up on it two years ago and I only look at it two days after the quarter. It makes such a difference.”

15:20 – Using WHOOP. “I think [for] those people who really get the data and get what the data can tell you about your own health, recovery, fitness and all those types of things, it’s cutting edge.”

17:21 – Running Marathons. Willy details how a friend at Harvard Business School got him into running marathons. “We signed up for the Boston Marathon and I went out and ran my first marathon and ran a 2:45. … I said, ‘That wasn’t too bad!’ So the next year, we really trained. We really focused in. What’s interesting about that is I took my 2:45 and I did a 2:36. What I think is so interesting about that is that when you get to that elite level, taking nine minutes off, the amount of work that it took, the additional discipline from a diet standpoint, a sleep standpoint, and from a workout standpoint was night and day. It gave me the real sense of what applying myself, looking at the data, and training to a schedule could do.”

22:38 – Injuries and WHOOP Data. Willy tore his hamstring in 2020 and was amazed by how his data collapsed following his surgery. “You literally couldn’t tell it was the same person,” Willy said of his data before the procedure and after the procedure. “Two weeks to the day after I got surgery, I got back in the pool and I swam for 45 minutes. It was unbelievable, the next day my WHOOP scores snapped right back. The moment I could get back to cardio, the moment my body started running the way it always runs, all of my other data snapped back into line. It was as if the old Willy was back even though I was still hurt.”

27:30 – Measuring the Impact of Alcohol. “Quite honestly, it was wild. I used to think that if I really wanted to get a good night of sleep, have that extra glass of wine because I’d fall asleep quicker. But I never would get the same sleep quality. You’d think, ‘Oh, I got to bed quicker and I wasn’t rolling around in bed, so it was a better sleep.’ Wrong! The WHOOP tells you, “Have one less glass of wine, roll in bed a little bit longer, and you’re going to sleep deeper and better.’”

38:33 – Importance of Family. Willy talks about how a near divorce in 2015 woke him up to the most important thing in his life: His family. “It wasn’t until I had that wake up call, and I count my lucky stars and plenty of blessings that [my wife] and I were able to put our relationship back together. But it wasn’t until I had come to grips with some of my own shortcomings, the way I had acted in our relationship, I had some real anger issues that I had to work through and remove from my personality, both inside of my family and more broadly. It wasn’t until I was honest about it and able to talk about it that I became a much better person. … All of that has cascaded into a different view about work and pleasure and workouts and exercise and all the other things that I’ve been able to do, but it wasn’t until I got that wake up call. I very nearly lost the most important thing in my life.”

40:30 – Overcoming Anger. Willy recommends books by Dr. Robert Nay and says they played a major role in how he learned to understand anger.

43:03 – Accountability. Willy says learning expectation management has allowed him to become a better person. “I used to show up to TSA lines late. It was my fault, but I’d somehow think that they’d screw up at the airport from their staffing model, not allowing me to get through TSA quickly. So I’d get to the TSA guy and give him a piece of my mind. … But the person who made the problem happen was me! I showed up late. So you reframe it. If you show up in the TSA line and you see me, I’m cool as a cucumber if I’ve shown up late because I know it’s my fault. I’m the dumbass who left home too late. I used to not think that way.”

Connect with Willy on Instagram and LinkedIn


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Will Ahmed

Will Ahmed is the Founder and CEO of WHOOP, which has developed next generation wearable technology for optimizing human performance and health. WHOOP members include professional athletes, Fortune 500 CEOs, fitness enthusiasts, military personnel, frontline workers and a broad range of people looking to improve their performance. WHOOP has raised more than $400 million from top investors and is valued at $3.6 billion, making it the most valuable standalone wearables company in the world. Ahmed has recruited an active advisory board that consists of some of the world’s most notable cardiologists, technologists, marketers, and designers. Ahmed was recently named to the 2021 Sports Business Journal 40 under 40 list as well as 2020 Fortune 40 Under 40 Healthcare list and previously named to Forbes 30 Under 30 and Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40. Ahmed founded WHOOP as a student at Harvard, where he captained the Men’s Varsity Squash Team and graduated with an A.B. in government.