Walker & Dunlop has been an industry pioneer for nearly eight decades. And with its recent market moves, the Bethesda, MD-based firm is now one of the largest such organizations in the commercial real estate finance industry.

When Walker & Dunlop opened its doors in 1937, it was one of the first companies to use Federal Housing Administration insurance to make single-family loans. By the end of World War II, the firm was pioneering the use of Taft-Hartley funds—a trust fund established through collective bargaining between unions and companies to offer health and other benefits for employees—for mortgage and real estate investment.

Decades later, in 1971, Walker & Dunlop arranged the first off-balance sheet financing for the US government at the US Geological headquarters in Reston, VA. And in 1988, the firm was one of the first in the industry to join Fannie Mane’s Delegated Underwriting and Servicing program. By the 1990s, Walker & Dunlop was a major lender to the REIT industry, leveraging cross collateral and substitution of assets in revolving credit structures for major REITs like Charles E. Smith Residential, Walden Residential Properties and United Dominion Realty Trust.

As of the beginning of this year’s fourth quarter, the company is one of the largest DUS lenders in the nation. But industry watchers get the feeling they haven’t seen anything yet from Walker & Dunlop. The company has seen exponential growth on all fronts in the past five years, moving from being the 45th largest commercial real estate lender in the US to one of the top 10—and turning the heads of competitors large and small in the process.

Willy Walker, who took the president and CEO reigns from his father, Mallory, in 2003, set the rapid growth in motion with his “Drive to 75” plan in 2007. With the company still private at the time, Walker launched a vision to grow its revenues, operating income and net income five-fold in the five years leading up to the firm’s 75th anniversary in 2012. As commercial real estate cycles would have it, months after he launched the plan, Walker & Dunlop would find itself facing the unpleasant realities of one of the worst economic markets in decades…

…To read the rest of the story, please visit the October 2012 issue of Real Estate Forum.