December 22, 2021 • By Eliana Chow
Josh Childress vividly remembers walking the halls of the Arrillaga Family Sports Center as an undergraduate student at Stanford University, unknowingly on the cusp of becoming the sixth overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft. The walls of the Center were lined with the names of students like himself who had received scholarships from John Arrillaga, a billionaire real estate investor with a heart for giving. “Through the power of real estate, this man changed the lives of countless individuals,” Childress reflects. “I knew then that I wanted to forge that same type of impact through real estate and academic donorship.
So began his journey through stardom and entrepreneurship, a path that would eventually lead him to become a scholarship donor for The UCI Paul Merage School of Business. After 15 years of playing professional basketball for teams across the globe, Childress turned his attention to the business world.
He will always remember the day he sat down with a former college teammate, Justin Davis, to discuss issues of national inequity connected to residential and commercial real estate. “Over the years, we had identified more and more examples of gentrification in urban communities like the ones we both grew up in,” Childress says. “Real estate is a foundational pillar for wealth in this country. By developing affordable housing and investment strategies for existing neighborhoods, we realized we could help families securely build their educational, relational and professional lives.”
This conversation catalyzed the 2018 creation of the LandSpire Group, an Orange County-based investment firm dedicated to establishing more affordable housing opportunities, particularly for families from minority backgrounds, and approaching real estate from more diverse perspectives.
In light of the fact that less than 1% of venture capital and private equity funds are funneled to minority founders, Childress and his team are also dedicated to supporting minority business owners in commercial real estate. As LandSpire continues to establish itself as an astute real estate development and investment company, Childress plans to direct resources into the hands of more diverse groups of managers.
While he might have left professional sports behind, the lessons Childress gleaned from his years as an athlete serve as guiding stars in the work he accomplishes today. Above his office desk hangs a large poster of Michael Jordan, a personal role model, with a quote from the Chicago Bulls documentary, “The Last Dance,” that reads “And I took that personally,” referring to Jordan’s renowned ability to turn adversity into success. Athletes must achieve and maintain a high level of grit throughout their careers, Childress says, and the poster reminds him to bring that same commitment to every board meeting, phone call and site visit.
Childress’ basketball career also instilled in him the importance of maintaining a solid support system and career network. Two connections he made, Dean Ian O. Williamson and Professor Kevin Bradford, impressed him with their ongoing work to welcome more diverse students to UCI. Inspired by their example, he resolved to play his own part in expanding opportunity and access. “I wanted to find a way to eliminate barriers that might prevent minority students at UCI from considering a career in real estate,” he says.
Through LandSpire, which has grown rapidly in the past three years, Childress funded an endowed scholarship for students in the Black Management Association (BMA) and the Center for Real Estate at UCI’s Paul Merage School of Business. The company-sponsored scholarship will give students the financial support they need to successfully complete their degree, as well as opportunities to work with LandSpire and its partners as the company seeks to expand its team and provide experiential learning opportunities for rising real estate investors.
“Josh brings the same energy and dedication to helping his community that he brought to the basketball court,” says Dean Ian O. Williamson. “The gift of scholarship can help uplift not just individuals, but entire families. I hope his gift continues to inspire those interested in diversity, equity and inclusion and also how that intersects with real estate.”
According to Childress, a large part of building lasting change is building a pipeline for diverse and thoughtful generations of new leaders to get their footing in real estate. He sees his work as creating an aspirational pathway for his children, nieces, nephews and thousands more to succeed in their personal lives and generate real community impact. “We have the unique opportunity to disrupt the systemic wealth gap and reverse harmful cycles of underdevelopment,” he concludes. “Partnerships like the one we now have with UCI are crucial as we rewrite these narratives and create more welcoming spaces in which people can live and thrive.”