At ComCap Partners, Alex Willis Focuses on Improving Community

Ever spot your name on a street sign? It’s a total coincidence – you know this to be true – and yet you may be tempted to stop and grab a selfie with the caption built right in. 

If you’re a Memphian descended from renowned civil rights leader A.W. Willis, Jr., though, the Willis in white letters on a green sign was your grandfather. And chances are, you share his first and middle initials, too.

Alex Willis is the project liaison at ComCap Partners, a role she started in recent days. A.W. Willis was her grandfather; “my siblings and I all have the same initials,” she mentions. But A.W. Willis passed shortly after Alex’s first birthday.

She knows him through stories – the ones her family tells, and the ones the city remembers. It was through her grandmothers – both of them, Modeane Thompson and Ann Willis, honored in recent years by the Women’s Foundation of Greater Memphis – that Willis first became interested in community-building efforts.

Willis remembers that, when she was a kid, “we thought it was fun to give people food” at a food bank in Frayser. But more than that, “it instilled a certain value in me.”

After college at Vanderbilt and a Master of Arts in management from Wake Forest, Willis “just started applying for jobs.”

She was entering the professional world shortly after the economic downturn of the late aughts; the opportunity to work for ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital convinced Willis to move to Indianapolis in 2010 to work in the regional office there.

While it was challenging to “meet people and find my place in the Midwest,” Willis knew she wanted to stay with the company. So she described to a co-worker the job she wanted – and shortly thereafter, she was moving home to Memphis to join and eventually manage a small, dedicated Donor Understanding team.

She remains grateful to have landed at ALSAC, a job that gave her ample opportunity to learn and grow for seven years, all in service to the organization’s amazing mission. But the family business – and a continued drive for community change – called to her.

ComCap Partners was founded by her father, Archie Willis III, who leads the work as president. The company is unique in its approach to community development, merging real estate development and public finance to creatively fuel urban projects.

The company works with clients to devise financing strategies to make advancements possible in historic neighborhoods like South City and Uptown, among others. Regardless of the project or client, for ComCap Partners, making communities more vibrant and sustainable – with quality housing, schools and other amenities – is the ultimate goal.

For a professional looking to make an impact in Memphis, the company had obvious appeal. And as they say, timing is everything. Just as Alex was beginning to ask the inevitable professional question of what’s next, ComCap Partners was ready to think about growth – and hiring.

“It’s always been something I’ve been intrigued by,” she says of joining her father’s venture. “The idea of being part of my family’s business and working with a company that’s focused on improving our community at the neighborhood level really was an opportunity I wanted to take advantage of.”

She made the leap and shifted careers, excited for the challenge. In her new role as project liaison, she will assist with managing projects and facilitating communications with the company’s various community partners.

She acknowledges she has a “steep learning curve” as she endeavors to become knowledgeable in the field of real estate and financing, but fortunately she has willing and patient teachers in her father and mother, Alicia Willis, who is also on the team as a real estate agent.

A passionate commitment to community was a lesson handed down by her family, and Alex is eager to watch her father in action.

“Seeing him do his thing will be really interesting to observe and learn from,” she says, three days into her job.

For her, there is always an opportunity to align the work with that certain value Willis inherited from her grandmothers.

Memphis Daily News - March 9, 2017

~Anna Traverse