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Exclusive Interview with David Malcolm, San Diego Entrepreneur and President of Cal West Apartments

David Malcolm
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David Malcolm is a San Diego-based businessman and entrepreneur with over four decades of real estate experience and community development.

He earned his real estate license as a high school senior, his real estate broker’s license in 1974, and holds the highest professional commercial real estate designation, CCIM – Certified Commercial Investment Member.

In 1978, Malcolm founded his first company, and from 1989 to 1997, he held exclusive rights to Rally’s Hamburger stores in Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego counties, managing more than 40 locations and over a thousand workers.

Today, David Malcolm continues to manage complex real estate, development, and financial transactions as the President of Cal West Apartments in San Diego.

His success as a businessman is only matched by his commitment to the betterment of the San Diego community, having held multiple municipal and statewide public offices and serving as a board member of numerous public and private entities.

What inspired you to develop your ideas into a business?

I earned my real estate license in 1972 and immediately fell in love with the industry’s challenges and opportunities. Since then, real estate has been the focal point of my personal business endeavors and commitment to serving the needs of the greater San Diego community.

How have your priorities changed from when you first started?

As a provider of quality housing, we now place a greater focus on ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) because it’s a priority for younger generations. This mindset affects current and prospective tenants and our work culture and goals as an organization.

Hindsight is 20/20. Is there anything different you would have done when you first became a business owner?

There is no substitute for hard work, and for many years, I had to work 60 hours a week to be successful in my career. However, this work ethic was not without a price, especially as a husband and a father.

During the early years, my personal and professional life was not balanced, and I didn’t always appreciate the great job my wife of now 47 years was doing raising our boys. I was lucky to have a supportive wife who “put up with” my long business hours, but I could have shown more appreciation for her dedication to our family.

Why did you decide to establish your companies in San Diego?

San Diego is often underestimated, yet the city and the surrounding area offer opportunities that most communities only dream of providing.

Over the last several decades, San Diego has created many significant transformational organizations and venues, such as the innovative wireless technology company Qualcomm and the world-class SeaWorld San Diego.

Even today, the city continues to cultivate excitement and provide value to its residents with projects like the $2.3 billion San Diego International Airport redo of Terminal 1.

These factors and the great year-round weather sustain a quality of life that very few people want to give up.

What challenges did you have to overcome at the beginning of your journey?

My career in real estate began at the age of 18. While my youthful energy and perspective were often an advantage, enabling me to work long hours and bring fresh ideas to the table, it was not without obstacles.

I often faced discrimination due to my age, and my lack of experience at times got the better of me.

However, through my perseverance and the relationships that I developed with mentors, I ultimately overcame the perceived disadvantages of youth.

What attracted you to your current role as the President of Cal West Apartments, a provider of quality housing in San Diego and South Riverside counties?

As a longtime philanthropic advisor to the Bashor family, I was honored to become the President of the Bashor family of companies.

Cal West Apartments and its twenty-plus related companies have an exceptional and diverse team committed to being best in class in all areas of our industry and operations.

What advice would you give to someone trying to become an entrepreneur?

First, this advice may go against the grain, but I believe individuals should pursue a profession that aligns with their talents and skills. If you do what you are good at, the rewards will follow.

Second, you need to work through several ideas to discover a great idea – some good, most probably mediocre or bad. Be open to ideas failing because when you get it right, that idea will be life-changing.

Third, find a mentor! A mentor’s advice and experience can help you on your entrepreneurial journey that few other avenues can.

What have you enjoyed most about starting and operating companies?

Real estate has and continues to excite and reward me. I love the psychological satisfaction of closing a complex transaction and the emotional satisfaction of helping first-time homebuyers enter the housing market.

What are the qualities of a good business leader?

Good leaders, especially entrepreneurs, need to understand their strengths and, more importantly, their weaknesses.

As you build out your team, surround yourself with individuals to offset your weaknesses and encourage the group to invest and take ownership in the decision-making process.

Authoritarian leadership is helpful occasionally, but hiring team members who are not afraid to correct you is essential to the organization’s success.

What do the next five years have in store for you?

The real estate industry has already experienced significant change due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the next decade, change will continue, whether driven by advances in technology such as artificial intelligence, environmental factors such as global warming, or social and behavior changes like couples having fewer babies.

For me, staying in front of the inevitable evolution of my industry is exciting and rewarding. With our talented and diverse team at Cal West Apartments, I know we’ll be able to rise to the occasion and make San Diego a better place.