Raised in a working-class area of rural Australia, William Stone was keen for opportunities to grow and learn from an early age and has since enjoyed a successful career in real estate across Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Now the EMBA Dubai student has thrown himself into a new challenge, developing himself as a leader and learning invaluable skills to fulfil his future ambitions in the world of sustainable infrastructure.
I’m originally from Australia and spent my childhood as one of five siblings on a farm that was a three-hour drive from Adelaide and a five-hour drive from Melbourne, so very much in the outback. Several generations of my family have grown up in rural, low-income areas; my mum did her school by correspondence, essentially via radio, and neither of my parents finished their secondary education. By comparison, I was very fortunate. The options that would have been open to me would have been to learn a trade or to stay on the farm, but I got a scholarship to a school in the city and my world started to expand. I even went on an exchange to the US after high school. Aussie rules football was initially my career plan, but when I didn't get picked up by a team in the draft, I thought I better start focusing on what else I could do in life.
I had a good friend whose dad worked in real estate and mentored me and exposed me to the white-collar world. I can still remember going into the office with him - I’d never before stepped foot in that environment. He gave me the 101 of what the industry was about, and I thought, “wow, this sounds pretty interesting”. I spent some time in Uganda working with an NGO while studying business and commerce at university. I considered dropping out and moving there at that stage, but my friend’s family made sure that I finished my education - they even took me into their home while I did so, as I didn’t have much money. My other mentor growing up was my grandfather. He was very involved with non-profit organisations and instilled the importance of having the right values and a purpose in life. He was awarded an Order of Australia medal for the outstanding contribution he made to his community, which was a very proud moment for our family.
I would say a lot of my career has come down to being in the right place at the right time. After graduating in 2009, I worked as a valuer in real estate, which then opened the door to working for an investment bank - Investec - in Sydney. I don’t think I was always the smartest guy in the room, but I was the person who would put my hand up for everything and learn quickly - and as a result - I began to be given more opportunities. After Investec, I went to China for three months to initially study Mandarin and try and get a job. When I arrived, I was a bit arrogant - I was 28 and thought “everyone will want to hire this investment banker from Australia”, but it wasn’t the case. That said, I did believe I could add value to a company, so when I joined PWC in Shanghai I was part of a very global team doing deals in the US, UK, France and Singapore among other places. I built a team of 12 and was given a lot of responsibility and had a lot of trust put in me.
Working abroad was tough initially, but it improved my communication skills. My Mandarin wasn’t strong when I first went to China, and I missed out on a lot of interactions with more senior people because I couldn't understand what was going on. However, over time, I acclimatised, and on outbound deals with property portfolios in the UK or the US, I was able to act as a bridge to the client. I learned the importance of asking for help if you’re stuck and adapting to new personalities and cultures. It was a humbling experience.
My experience in Asia meant that I was then approached by a head-hunter working on behalf of a sovereign fund in Abu Dhabi, which was looking to build its portfolio in the region. I had built a network in the industry and my own personal brand and track record, all of which go a long way when new opportunities arise. I had also been strategic in the skills I’d acquired - ultimately it all came back to that background in valuation, and those technical skills. I went on to work for Dubai’s sovereign wealth fund, and to date, I’ve transacted over $20 billion of real estate and infrastructure deals throughout Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.
When I think about certain people who have also been awarded scholarships, I don’t just think about what their lives would be like had they not come to the programme, but also what the programme would be like without them in it. I was initially undecided about whether to come to LBS. For several years I had thought about applying - it seemed like somewhere I could round out my skill set and become a better leader while studying in two major cities: Dubai and London. But doing an MBA was also a huge financial commitment. Ultimately, I was really fortunate to get a scholarship which is a huge help, and also - in my opinion – makes LBS a more diverse place. There’s a tremendous amount of diversity, in terms of backgrounds, gender, cultures, and the way that people think about things.
There are some phenomenal professors at LBS, among them Randall Peterson and Ben Hardy, who teach organisational behaviour. David Myatt was able to bring to life the economics lectures. It’s one of those courses where you wanted to study and read his notes! Arianna Marchetti, who lectures on strategy and entrepreneurship, is exceptional and her case studies really engage the classroom. The teaching at LBS brings together academic theory with what actually happens in the business world, and on top of that, there are all of these smart people in the room giving their opinions too. There’s no judgement - it’s a very collaborative environment, where everyone shares their own strengths and supports everyone else. There are no sharp elbows!
Although I didn’t drop out of my undergraduate degree to go to Uganda, making an impact through my work is still crucial to me. My plan for the future is to launch a business in the sustainable infrastructure space, an area that I’m truly passionate about. Using 3D printing, robotics and AI, there are so many innovations we can make when it comes to housing underserved and disadvantaged communities, wherever they may be in the world. There are over a billion people in the world without safe shelter, be that in Africa, China, or even rural parts of Australia where bushfires and other extreme climate events destroy homes. I’ve been doing a lot of research into the kind of business I might be able to launch, and I’m keen to take my idea to the Entrepreneurship Summer School at LBS to flesh it out and begin building a team.
My goal now is to feel satisfied with how I’ve spent my life and career. I’m inspired by people who have nothing but are grateful for what they do have and appreciate the simple things in life. I also want to be a really phenomenal boss, with which LBS has helped. I’m only halfway through, but the course has already given me everything I thought I needed, including a confidence boost. As well as all the great teaching, just being surrounded by leaders has rubbed off on me.
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