101 on Getting into the Biz
I am asked occasionally by people looking to enter the industry for advice on how to do it. And the fall is a great time to start looking and planning.
The rock stars of most real estate development companies are their project managers. Most are well educated generalists--who have mastered the key skill of learning, observing, organizing, and delegating.
Project managers are T shaped people--broadly empathic and with a deep understanding of a craft. A craft could be that of an engineer or architect, it could be in the trades--carpenter, cabinetmaker, or an electrician--or it could be having the knack of performing an artful way of putting together deals, knowledge of how a building goes together, knowing the numbers, or structuring the cap stack.
Most development companies look for their project managers to have a graduate degree in architecture, real estate, an MBA, or a law degree. I like the real estate development degree because it typically:
- has a mid-career student profile, designed so you can learn a lot from your fellow students,
- consists of small classes, and is only
- twelve months in duration, so you don't have to spend a lot of time offline reprogramming yourself.
Unless you are independently wealthy, or come from a prominent real estate family, the first direction I would point you in is to find a grad program that is a fit for you.
The one I went to was started by Hank Spaulding and Larry Bacow at MIT's Center for Real Estate.
Michael Buckley, whom I learned under and worked for, heads up the real estate program at Columbia--and there may be no better location in the US to learn the art of real estate development than in New York City.
Stan Ross, the eminence grise of real estate accountants and dealmakers, is the chairman of the Lusk Center for Real Estate at USC. And the winters in Southern California are a lot better than those in Boston...
Tony Ciochetti, the director of the MITCRE program, is in SF on 13NOV recruiting for the Class of '08. I recommend this program very highly. If you are interested, it is worth your time to come listen to the pitch. I will be there and look forward to meeting you if you go.
I know, I know...grad school won't teach you everything...there are several essential skills you need that you pick up best in el camino de la vida (loca)... These include the ability to not be bullshitted by brokers, contractors, consultants, architects, et al and to survive the tedium of the public approvals process.
A keen understanding of value, where the pain points are, and where you need to build momentum in the development food chain is what I constantly strive for. Keeping your eye on the prize. These skills you pick up as best you can, either on your own projects, or working with a developer.