In 2017, I decided to continue my education and get my long-overdue graduate degree, as I felt my career had plateaued. I began searching for schools and programs.
For more than 11 years until that point, I had nurtured a broadly defined investment career, where I had spent most of my time in the capital market and investment management industries. Both are undergoing disruption globally, with the advent of online trading, passive management, and the latest development, artificial intelligence. The hunt for alpha – or the excess-return-over-market yield – turns and grows in the alternative asset sector. As I observed the above during various assignments over the course of my career, starting from equity research to exchange-traded fund marketing to private market investment to property development, I decided to get my graduate degree in the alternative investment field. But I faced a problem: there isn’t such a degree.
From the Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst exam for which I studied, I knew that there are five popular alternative asset categories – private equity, hedge fund, real estate, commodities, and structured product – and that I could choose one on which to focus. That’s how, based on overlapping factors between my experience, career goal, and knowledge gap, I decided to pursue a real estate graduate degree.
In my research, I found that different schools approach the teaching of real estate differently. There are plenty of real estate programs globally, a large portion of which dedicate themselves to the development aspect of real estate. Another set of schools approach the discipline from its design or technical perspectives such as architecture and construction. An increasing number of real estate programs offer the public policy angle of urban development.
To narrow them down, I referred to accreditation of the UK-based Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). As an international professional body, RICS sets the standards in “valuation, management, and development of land, real estate, construction, and infrastructure.” RICS also accredits real estate professionals worldwide with its MRICS designation, which I intend to complete while enrolled in graduate school.
Johns Hopkins is one of only four RICS-accredited U.S.-based universities. Its Master of Science in Real Estate and Infrastructure (MSREI), offered by the Carey Business School, is among the select few programs globally that combine both real estate and infrastructure as a graduate degree. As far as I know, the only other program like it can only be found across the border, in Canada. The MSREI approaches the study of both subjects mainly from their financial attributes as investment classes of asset.
The infrastructure component of the program sets it apart from other real estate programs, but what is it?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines infrastructure as “the system of public works of a country, state, or region” and “the resources (such as personnel, buildings, or equipment) required for an activity.” J.P. Morgan Asset Management classifies infrastructure assets into four categories: regulated (such as electricity transmission, gas pipeline, and water distribution); transportation (toll road, seaports, airports, and urban transit); communications (satellite network and wireless tower); and social (hospital, university, and prison).
As I delved further, I learned that the global management consultant McKinsey estimated that global investment in infrastructure would fall short by $350 billion a year due to underinvestment. As nations attempt to close the gap, I believe expertise in fundraising and project delivery in the area is needed. The need for talent is evident in Indonesia as President Joko Widodo’s administration continues to initiate the country’s massive spending on infrastructure since his first term. Meanwhile, the global spur of infrastructure spending has also caught on in the U.S. Government initiative “Rebuilding America’s Infrastructure” plans to invest $1.5 trillion in infrastructure over the next 10 years.
What is not considered by most is that infrastructure and real estate are tightly interconnected. Real estate without infrastructure is nonsensical, while infrastructure without real estate is wasteful. Infrastructure unlocks the margin and value of real estate. A component of that “location, location, location” mantra in real estate is infrastructure. It is a forward-thinking vision for Carey to combine these disciplines within a single program.
As the acceptance (and rejection) letters came in, I had a choice between four real estate programs, one infrastructure, and one combination, in three different countries. The value of that combined program, the MSRE within the Carey Business School, and the fact that I would get to study in the U.S. again after little more than a decade tipped me over. Thus, here I am.