Bill Polland profile picture

Bill Polland

Chairman, Bay West Group

Bay West Group has developed, owned and operated several million square feet of investments throughout the western United States, including San Francisco Design Center, the Galleria, Seattle Design Center and Seattle Gift Center, a multi- tenant garden office and industrial as well as Brownfield site reclamations.


Business goal for the next 12 months: This year I have three ‘thrusts’ for the business. First, I hope to finalize approvals for 800 apartments/condo units in San Francisco and start their construction. It has taken 11 years to get to this point. Secondly I’m involved with other entities and we’re looking for two other multi-family projects this year in the South Bay. Finally, I have recently taken over a company in which I was the major investor and hope to help it grow. This company is a startup so we are hoping to expand quickly.

Advice you wish you had received: This ties in to my biggest regret which is that you can’t be an absentee landlord of a full service restaurant. It was an expensive mistake to learn!

Best business decision: My best decisions are around taking on projects outside the main stream. I like to get to know each sellers motivation so that I can make transactions happen where I’m not competing against big players. It’s always satisfying for me to reach a successful conclusion with the other party knowing that a win-win is what we’re both ultimately trying to achieve. Real estate now is becoming more like an auction where every final offer is put to another ‘final’ final offer. I don’t like to play in this arena and don’t compete with the big players; it’s not worth it.

Toughest business decision: Generally I don’t think that there are tough business decisions; there are logical decisions that are made all the time and you can’t bring emotions into it. I believe part of my success is because I’m transparent; I explain to everyone why decisions are what they are and like to feel comfortable that everyone knows what is going on. They might not always like my decisions but hopefully they can understand the reasoning behind them. Sometimes these decisions are hard to make but ultimately we have to move forward.

Person most admired: I believe that integrity and follow-through are major components of someone’s character. Someone who I see from time to time is George Schultz, Secretary of State under President Reagan, and he embodies these characteristics. Even at 87 years old he’s still fighting for honorable causes.

Like most about job: Every day requires creativity and a certain level of stamina. I have a high energy level so don’t mind getting up early and working hard. I also love the opportunity I have to interact regularly with bright people; it’s so motivating.

Like least about job: For me it’s the blizzard of emails which is almost overwhelming. Communication has shifted over the years; people expect to get responses via email but in many ways I’m still old school – I like to get on phone or even better meet them face to face.

Dream job: I’d love to be a salt water fishing charter boat captain and spend the day out on the ocean. There are so many interesting creatures beneath the surface.


Birthplace: Born in Memphis but raised in Houston. I consider myself a Texan

Career path: I went to Georgia Tech to pursue a degree in Mechanical Engineering but I didn’t like it. Although I started working at Humble Oil (now Exxon) I didn’t like the big company environment and knew I wanted to be my own boss. I went to Stanford to pursue an MBA and while I was there started a Small Business Club. The New York Times actually picked it up and featured it since Harvard was establishing the same thing around the same time. During one summer I took a position in mortgage finance where I met real estate developers and have been hooked on commercial real estate ever since. I started Bay West Group in 1979 and every day remains a dream for me. It’s always challenging yet still allows me to be creative.Favorite book: Watership Down by Richard Adams. It’s a heroic fantasy novel about a small group of rabbits who escape the destruction of their warren to seek a place in which to establish a new home, encountering perils and temptations along the way.

Favorite movie: To Catch a Thief starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. It’s fabulous.

Favorite restaurant: In San Francisco it’s probably North Beach Restaurant. Dependable Italian food that’s not overpriced.

Outside of work: I’m almost religious about exercising and make time to do something every day. Whether it’s squash, golf, mountain biking, yoga, or lifting weights in the gym, I make a point to build it into my daily routine.