McWhirter was born in Montgomery, Ala. In 1963, his father, a clothing manufacturing executive, was transferred to Atlanta when McWhirter was in ninth grade.
After graduating from the former Dykes High School, McWhirter joined the Army in 1969 as a medic in a helicopter unit based out of Dobbins Air Force Base.
After becoming a reservist, he worked at First National Bank of Atlanta during the day and attended college at night. In 1973, he received a Bachelor of Science in urban life from Georgia State University.
“When I was taking various real estate courses in school in the early ’70s, there was a real land rush and back then, almost all of the real estate companies were headquartered downtown. … It really caught my attention.”
His first job in real estate came in 1973 when he spent a year as a leasing agent for Cushman & Wakefield after the company opened its first Atlanta office.
In 1974, he joined real estate giant Cousins Properties — at the time headquartered at Cobb’s Interstate North development. Starting as director of leasing in their office division, he eventually rose to vice president of office development.
In 1977, McWhirter joined Atlanta-based Adair Realty, as president and chief operating officer, after the company had been acquired by Ackerman & Co.
In March of 1981, McWhirter decided it was time to chart his own course and founded McWhirter Realty in shared office space in Vinings.
“I decided I didn’t want to manage 60 agents, and I just wanted to do my own brokerage, leasing, property management and development,” he recalls.
The company has remained in Cobb County in the 33 years since. Today, with 20 employees, the company has two offices — one across from WellStar Kennestone Hospital and its headquarters on Orchard Road in Smyrna.
Through the years, the company has developed a $100 million, 47-project portfolio including retail, garden-style office and storage facilities around the Southeast and as far away as Hawaii.
“Back in those days we did not have the financing constraints we now see,” he said. “It was a lot of speculative building, but we were really in the boom times in Atlanta.”
Today, McWhirter says development is limited to “build-to-suit” projects in which a client is signed on to occupy a space before it is constructed. In the last three years, the company has developed several medical buildings in Cobb, including Marietta Eye Clinic on Canton Road; the Pinnacle Orthopaedics headquarters at Kennestone Hospital, Pinnacle Orthopaedics in Austell and Canton Medical.
“We really do three things: commercial brokerage, property management and development,” he said.
The company manages more than 1 million square feet of commercial space and completes more than 200 brokerage transactions annually.
“We are very active in property management; we have 67 properties we manage,” he said.
He says the company also has a large number of financial institutions as clients.
“A large number of those are bank-owned properties that the bank engages us to lease, manage and sell — it’s a growing area for us … We started doing that 15 years ago not knowing what it would become in the last five years.”
One banking client, Mark Tipton, chairman and CEO of Georgia Commerce Bank said, “Barry has been an invaluable asset to Georgia Commerce Bank both in managing and brokering the sale of bank-owned assets. Barry has the unique ability to manage a complex transaction between a buyer and seller as well as structure an outcome that is in the best interest of all parties concerned.”
McWhirter’s three adult sons and daughter have all chosen to be a part of the company after growing up working in the business.
“They like to remind me of all the times I had them doing pine straw and pressure washing,” he said.
As for the future, McWhirter says brokerage and property management will be the company’s focus.
“We will certainly be involved in the development business again, but certainly not to the scope or risk as before.”