On April 18, 2019, a group of thirteen students and staff traveled to New York City for the second annual career trek organized by the Carey Real Estate Investment Association (CREIA). The two-day event was filled with property walkthroughs and meetings with successful executives who graduated from the MS in Real Estate and Infrastructure program at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. Participants learned about changing trends across the landscape and the ensuing responses from the company in terms of strategy adaptation.
The first stop on the trip was a property in the heart of the city that never sleeps – the Avalon Midtown West, an apartment building owned and managed by AvalonBay Communities (NYSE: AVB). AVB is an equity Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) with a portfolio of multifamily properties across New England, New York, the Mid-Atlantic, the Pacific Northwest, and California.
Tara Bernhardt, the senior portfolio operations director, and Christopher Reynolds, development director of AVB, welcomed the students and gave them an in-depth look into the management cycle of properties in their portfolio: development (growing), redevelopment (positioning), acquisition & disposition (shaping), and merger and acquisition (transforming).
Although the students were familiar with redevelopment – since it was one of the stages mentioned in Professor Daniel Kolhepp’s Development Matrix – the textbook term came to life as the respective directors showcased the before and after products of their efforts. It was an unparalleled opportunity to catch a glimpse into the strategies for achieving operational efficiencies and financial creativity by a rapidly growing REIT. From five-day-turnaround for top-to-bottom apartment renovations to joint development for hybridizing condominium sales and apartment rentals, Avalon Bay showed students endless possibilities for creativity in the field of multi-family properties.
The next stop was the corporate headquarter of Urban Edge Properties (NYSE: UE). UE’s chairman and chief executive officer, Jeffrey S. Olson, graciously welcomed students into his executive office. Seated around the conference room table, the students were able to have one-on-one interactions with one of the top minds in the retail REIT as he went through our resumes one by one.
Not only did he take a keen interest in the dreams of the students, but he also gave a riveting tale of his own climb to the top. “Don’t be afraid to take a step back to make a leap forward,” was the echoing theme of his chronicle. Transitioning from a comfortable accounting job to chasing his dreams on Wall Street was a leap of faith to make – especially for a man who had a family to support.
However, his faith in himself and his dogged determination to succeed are admirable. Mr. Olson reminded the students to take matters into their own hands so that they can shape themselves into the figures they want to be. He was once a person who struggled with public speaking, so he picked up the phone to ask Dorothy Sarnoff, a woman who had coached presidents and other dignitaries and had authored the book Never Be Nervous Again, to help him learn his needed skill.
Mr. Olson never lost sight of what is truly important in his life – his family. When circumstances demanded that he leave his Wall Street job to go to the West Coast for the health of his family, he again took a blind chance. He pioneered the Kimco footprint on the sandy beaches of the West Coast until he could return to rule the concrete jungle of New York. The company that he leads now – Urban Edge – is a commercial property REIT with a portfolio of shopping centers concentrated in D.C.-Boston corridor with branches in Puerto Rico and California. His adaptability and ability to find a way to succeed with life’s curveballs is showcased in his current position, guiding the company through a time of revolution in retail shopping.
After the group enjoyed lunch at Ammos Estiatorio, a Greek seafood establishment, the last stop was the Manhattan Midtown office of CBRE Group (NYSE: CBRE). CBRE is a commercial property advisor and consultant providing a wide array of services to real estate owners and investors. Nicolas McNamara, the director of business strategy and finance, and Wanjing Xiao, the associate project manager, welcomed us along with six CBRE employees from different departments.
CBRE gave the students an overview of their business, which has grown by leaps and bounds since the recession. The ability of the company to provide a full suite of leasing services coupled with diligent research about industry trends makes them a force to behold. It is little wonder that they are a known name in the field when one beholds the passion with which the employees speak about their company.
Real estate is known as the industry second to last, after agriculture, to embrace technology innovation. CBRE is a rarity, as the company is deploying breakthrough initiatives in the real estate sector such as software development and backend infrastructure modernization which include cloud computing, data analytics, and open source. CBRE intends to be ahead of the curve when the technology revolution transforms real estate just like it did the media industry.
A sizeable number of company employees stayed late on an early dismissal Friday (it was Easter weekend) to share their career stories with the students and to give advice as they were able.
The career trek exposed its participants to industry leaders in intimate settings. This gave those who attended the trip an all-access pass into the coveted companies that would be the places where fledgling careers take flight. It was the opportunity of a lifetime for students to step out of the learning labs of the classrooms into the heart of the conference rooms where multi-million-dollar decisions are made.