Bisnow Media CEO Will Friend, 33, tragically passed after being struck by lightning during a boating trip on Sunday. Friend had been sailing near Masonboro Island in Wilmington, N.C. when a thunderstorm suddenly formed, leaving him stranded on the water.
“There’s really no safe place on a boat,” Wilmington PD Marine Unit Captain Ryan Saporito, who led rescue efforts in the area on Sunday, told WECT News. “Unfortunately, you know, we still had captains in the area helping people trying to get them out of the storm because their batteries were dead or the boats were aground.”
After initial reports by Wilmington outlets, news of Friend’s death quickly spread across the real estate industry and national news with The Real Deal, The Commercial Observer, Newsweek, and Yahoo UK chronicling the British executive’s brisk ascent from audacious intern to seasoned CEO in five years.
“What made Will special was his innate ability to inspire and motivate people — to raise people higher than they thought possible,” Bisnow Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer Gregg Mayer said in a heartfelt feature published by Bisnow on Wednesday. “That is the culture he fostered at Bisnow and, ultimately, that will be his lasting legacy.”
Friend joined Bisnow in 2010 after sending a passionate letter to Bisnow founder Mark Bisnow’s wife, Margot. Although he accidentally sent a draft instead of the final document, Bisnow said his wife was still impressed and asked former Bisnow CEO Ryan Begelman to meet with Friend during an upcoming company event in Dallas.
“While to some this might have seemed embarrassing, actually my wife took it exactly the opposite way,” Bisnow said in the feature. “She was struck at how this young man had taken so much extra effort to compose his letter, and she took it as an admirable mark of diligence and preparation. She loved it, and she loved him, and forwarded the letter to our then-COO, Ryan Begelman.”
As asked, Begelman met with Friend, who’d recently graduated from Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business. Begelman was equally impressed with Friend’s passion and offered him an internship in the company’s Washington D.C. office.
“He was a hustler in the best sense,” Begelman told The Real Deal while recounting how Friend accepted a paltry $26K salary in exchange for free rent.
“I asked him to drop everything, risk his career and move to D.C. He came, thank goodness, and stayed at my apartment for the weekend — and then didn’t leave for a year,” Begelman added in another interview with Bisnow.
During his internship, Friend quickly learned the ins and outs of the commercial real estate media giant, and took on multiple roles in recruiting, events and sales. From there, Friend rose up the ranks to director of operations in 2011, chief operating officer in 2013, and CEO in 2015.
During his seven years at the helm, Friend expanded Bisnow’s audience to 11 million readers, grew the team to more than 250 employees across the U.S., Canada, the UK and Ireland, and launched more than 650 annual digital and live events in 50 international markets.
Friend also oversaw private equity firm Wicks Group’s acquisition of Bisnow for $50 million in 2016, which fueled the company’s metamorphosis from family enterprise to international media empire.
“Will was a trusted partner, executive and a friend. He approached every opportunity and challenge with extreme confidence and optimism which was infectious to everyone surrounding him,” Wicks Group Managing Partner Daniel Kortick said. “We mourn the loss of such a quality human being and we will miss Will and all that he brought to the world.”
Friend’s family and friends have established a $250,000 GoFundMe fundraiser to establish two funds in Friend’s name. A portion of the funds will go to Recess, Friend’s newly-minted fitness enterprise with his wife Bevin Prince of One Tree Hill fame.
“We greatly appreciate the outpouring of love and support we’ve received from our Recess community,” the company said in a Thursday Instagram post. “Will’s knowledge, guidance, and support is the foundation that Recess is built on.”
Another portion will go to the Special Operators Transition Foundation, which supports military service members and their families successfully transition from active duty. SOTF helps veterans launch new careers with job placement and one-on-one executive mentorship.
“Will was passionate about any cause that honored our brave servicemen and women,” the GoFundMe read. “He believed that all veterans deserved to be supported and honored to the greatest extent possible. Thank you for helping us to honor him in the way that we are certain he would have wanted us to.”
Prince has yet to release a public statement about her husband; however, friend and fellow actress Odette Annable sent US Magazine a statement on Thursday about Friend’s impact.
“What a gift you gave to everyone who knew you to witness the passion that burned in your soul,” Annable said. “[Your] passion to help people, to build your business, to find happiness like I’d never seen.”
“You were perfect for [Bevin] in every way,” she added. “You supported her dreams, you made her feel seen, you adored her with every bit of your soul and I will forever be grateful to witness that kind of love.”