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At Large

Mike Golden and Thad Wong, co-founders of real estate behemoth @properties, reflect on 15 years in the industry.

Thad Wong and Mike Golden of @properties have built a real estate empire over the past 15 years.

In 15 fast years, @properties has grown from a scrappy two-man operation into a real estate force to be reckoned with, working with more than 1,900 licensed brokers and enjoying a 20 percent market share. Here, co-founders Thad Wong and Mike Golden reflect on a decade and a half of deals, digs and dedication.

Yours is a thriving 15-year partnership. But how did it start?
TW Mike and I met in 1996 working at the same brokerage firm, and after about a year, we decided to partner up.

Mike, what did you see in Thad that made you think: Yeah, I could work with this guy?
TW My abs.
MG You should’ve seen him. He was ripped.
TW At the time.
MG Seriously? I don’t know. We naturally gravitated together. We went 50-50 right from the get-go. I don’t think we’ve had one financial disagreement in the years we’ve worked together. And we’ve made money together and lost money together.

No disagreements? That’s pretty rare for any business partners.
TW We’ve found that most partnerships dissolve based on either ego or finance, and we both try really hard to keep our ego in check. Number one: We’re very, very similar when it comes to money; although it’s important to us, money doesn’t dictate how we do things or when we do things.
MG We also trust each other always. Neither one of us has ever given the other a reason to doubt that. I think trust is a key component to any partnership, especially over the long haul.

How do you continue to build trust over time?
TW By doing the next right thing. In all reality, when trust is broken by people in relationships, it’s a conscious decision. It’s very rare that someone is unaware of doing something wrong. If you’re 7, OK—bad judgment. But by the time you’re an adult, you have to be accountable for your choices.
MG People can convince themselves that they’re making a decision for whatever reason, but deep down, they always know what the right thing to do is. At least I think most people do. And if you strive to work and live by that philosophy, then the right things happen.

Can you explain the origin of the name of the company?
MG There were a number of other companies starting up at the time, and everyone was kind of named the same. And The Golden Wong didn’t sound like the best name in the world to us. The Internet was really just starting to take off.
TW At the time, in 2000, the @ sign was very forward-thinking and was getting touched more and more and more every day. So as a mnemonic device, it’s fantastic.

You guys are literally changing the landscape of the city. Does that create a sense of obligation inside each of you?
TW We could not do @properties without the city of Chicago, period—without every single person. I think that’s one of the major things that companies forget about. They forget that their revenue is generated from every single person in the community whether they are actually directly linked to that person or not.
MG I don’t think either of us really step back and go, ‘Wow, we’ve really changed the landscape.’ We have been beneficiaries of fantastic people who came together, and we definitely feel an obligation to the city—definitely to the community. We try to give back as much as we can. Our theme this year is about being local and aligning with local companies.
TW Right now, we’re partnered with six different startups in Chicago where we invest; we create jobs; we use our distribution, our network and our communication to help build these companies, all home-based in Chicago. We outsource very, very little.

Do you stop and feel proud for a minute? You’ve been very successful.
TW Those sorts of statements always make me feel uncomfortable. There are a lot of signs. I recognize that, and that feels good. But I never take the time to… I never think about it. You should always be growing; if you’re not growing, you’re dying, and it just seems like everything is coming naturally. We didn’t invent something that’s cured cancer; it’s a nice place to work and it’s good and it’s growing.

What’s next for @?
MG We’re still having a good time every day. Not every day is perfect—there’s no perfect anything—and there will be days of frustration, but the vast majority of the time, we enjoy it, and as long as we continue to enjoy it, we’re gonna continue to do it. There’s nothing else I think I’d rather do right now.