Interview w/ Baseball Pro turned Real Estate Acquisitions Analyst
The following is an interview with RE Acquisitions Analyst and new WSO Blogger PinkPoloShorts (he is also available to answer your questions)
Are you a professional and want to do an interview? View our interview template here and then email me your responses to [email protected]. Q&A's and "How I Work" posts are also an option. Let me know!
1) I am a financial analyst in acquisitions at a small real estate private equity firm specializing in residential land development and management.
2) This is my first finance job and I started in January of this year. Prior to working at my current position I was a professional baseball player in the Cleveland Indians minor league system.
On the job
We're in an interesting spot right now. The housing market is clearly coming back but we're in an unprecedented interest rate environment so how much of the recovery is propped up by Bernanke is hard to say. By 2020 though we're going to need a ton of new housing, some estimates go as high as 10-12 million new homes. Currently new home starts are under 1 million per year so there has to be growth to meet the demand.
I'd say that the best way to prepare would be to read as much as possible about land development. It's really unlike anything else in finance so no matter how much you prepare you're still going to do most of your learning on the job.
- What is your job title?
- What are previous positions you have held and how many years of experience do you have?
- Did you go to a "target", "semi target" or "non target". I went to a target school and played for the school's baseball team.
- What was the most useful thing you learned in ugrad that you apply in your current position?
The most useful thing I learned in undergrad that I apply at my job now was time management. Juggling 4-5 hours of practice/weights a day and games with 20 hours per week of class (I graduated in 3 years by taking an accelerated course load) taught me how to prioritize what needs to be done and how to work quickly.
- What was the most useful thing you learned in ugrad that helped you get where you are now?
The most useful thing I learned in undergrad that helped me get this position was everything I learned in statistics. As a real estate analyst I look at data sets all day and being able to understand the data is tremendously important.
- What was your most useful class and why?
The most useful class I took was public speaking. In the interview process being able to clearly express yourself with confidence is huge and helps you stand out. It also helps you communicate with your coworkers on the job.
My GPA was relatively low but keep in mind I was playing an intercollegiate sport and taking a heavy course load.
- During recruiting, how were you able to set yourself apart from other competitive candidates at your school?
I did not go through recruiting. I was released from my contract at the end of August and I did not do formal recruiting because I was no longer in school. I networked my butt off instead. I tried to leverage my sports experience and show that the life skills I learned on the field were applicable in the real world.
- What kind of internships did you have during ugrad?
I did not have an internship during undergrad, I played summer baseball every year.
- Did you get an mba (or msf or equiv) or are you considering it?
I had elbow surgery three days before I moved in to my dorm freshman year, so I redshirted. When I came back from my injury I saw that I was not going to play very much so I graduated early and transferred to a small college in Florida in order to continue my career. I had already graduated undergrad so I got my MBA at the school I transferred to. I am currently applying to get my MSF.
- What was the most useful thing you learned in grad school that you apply in your current position?
The most useful thing I learned in grad school that I apply at my job was basic excel skills.
The most useful thing I learned in grad school that helped me get where I am now is networking. We had to take a networking class and they had a lot of tips for how to comport yourself during, how to format cold emails, and how to speak on the phone with contacts.
- Do you have any professional certifications (CFA / CAIA / etc.)? If so, how has that certification helped you in your career?
I do not have any professional certifications, though if I do not get into the MSF program I might consider the CFA just to stand out a little bit even though it's not directly applicable to real estate.
- How did you initially "break-in" to the industry?
I honestly had never really considered real estate as a career until I heard about this position. I coached high school basketball in the offseason and the varsity coach at the school is an accountant for the real estate private equity firm where my boss used to work so he introduced me.
- What were some of the main factors in getting the job position you have now?
One thing that was really important to my employer was that I was an ex-athlete. Working at a smaller firm is a lot like being on a sports team and being able to handle yourself in that type of atmosphere is really important. My boss wanted high-character people who knew how to be a part of a team.
- What are some of the specific things you do in your current position?
I buildmodels for prospective acquisitions, I also do market research, read due diligence documents, fill sales trackers, and assist in of current deals.
- What is a day in your life like during the workweek? Can you give us an hour by hour run down of your typical day?
a. 8:00 am: Get to work, immediately fire up the coffee machine. Browse the web for news. I have a list of real estate related website I check out each day so I look for the latest news there.
b. 8:30 am-9:15am: Go through email, check the firm's email account and fire off a tweet (I run our firm's twitter account). I constantly update it with real estate news.
c. 9:15am-10:30am: Go through the weekly sales report for one of our assets. Update our sales tracker. Check how we're doing compared to our pro forma.
d. 10:30am-12:30pm: Work on a model for a deal we're looking at. Each deal is different and requires a different product mix, absorption rate, and cost line items.
e. 12:30pm-12:45pm: Eat lunch at warp speed.
f. 12:45pm-1:00pm: Print out sales tracker and our social media tracker for the deal I updated earlier.
g. 1:00pm-2:30pm: Conference call for the deal. Talk about pricing strategy moving forward. The market is hot but we won't deliver on these lots for 6 months so we're debating whether to raise prices dramatically to slow absorption so we don't leave revenue on the table.
h. 2:30pm-4:00pm: Go through housing market databases for the new deal I'm working on to see how our lot price assumptions and absorption rates look.
i. 4:00pm-6:00pm: Keep tweaking the model and play with sensitivities.
j. 6:00pm-7:00pm: Make a quick model for my boss that looks at different home entertainment system options at one of our existing deals.
k. 7:00pm: head to the gym (wishful thinking, mostly likely go watch Netflix).
- What is your favorite part about the job? What is your least favorite?
My favorite part of the job is the tangibility of it. When we go look at our developments you can see how they improve the community and improve people's lives which is really cool. I haven't seen a project come to completion yet because I've been here less than a year but my boss says the coolest thing is buying a piece of land that's just empty and seeing it two years later when the first family's move in. My least favorite is that it can be a little slow if we aren't working on any new deals.
- How did your background (life up until graduating college) best prepare you for where you're at now?
As I said earlier just being on teams my whole life was a great preparation for working here. I know how to adapt and deal with adversity. The pressure never really gets to me because nothing I do here will be as stressful as throwing a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded of a tie game in the 8th inning against the Yankees affiliate (I got the guy to pop out by the way).
- What is the company culture like at your firm? What is the size of your firm?
We're very relaxed here. I wear jeans or khakis with a button down or polo unless an investor is coming in. We're small, there's only 5 of us at our office but we have local offices at each of our deals. I'd say there's about 20-30 people on our payroll in total.
- What type of person (what background / knowledge / experience / personality) is best fit to do your type of job?
People who would fit in well at my job will be flexible, hard-working, and most importantly they will have imagination. Residential development is not something you can really learn in a classroom. You have to be able to see the potential in a raw piece of land.
- What do you think the future of real estate is?
- Did you ever have a mentor and who were some other influential people who helped you along the way?
My mentor was my Dad. He was a corporate attorney so his advice wasn't specific to my industry but it was important nonetheless. He always said the way to be successful is to know one thing better than anyone else does. That's what I'm trying to do with residential real estate.
- Are the sacrifices you've made to date worth the benefit realized by you so far in your career?
I would absolutely say the sacrifices I've made so far are worth the benefit. I'm young and don't have a family so now is the time to focus on my career. I'm happy to stay late or work weekends because I know that I'm learning a ton and honestly it's pretty enjoyable work.
- If you weren't working in finance, what do you think you would be doing?
If I weren't working in finance I'd still be playing baseball. It was my first love and I'll always miss it.
- What keeps you motivated?
I really enjoy problem solving and land development is a management business where a lot of problems crop up so every day brings a new set of problems to solve.
- How much does money motivate you?
Money motivates me in a sense that I like to travel and eat at nice restaurants and those things require money, but I'm not aiming for a certain benchmark salary or net worth. .
- How much does someone in a role like yours make per year (base + bonus)?
My all-in comp will be pretty similar to first year. As I said this is my first year working. You start to make a lot more money though when you get equity in the deals we do. Hopefully as I prove my worth here that becomes an option down the line.
- Have you ever considered leaving your job to start your own company?
Starting my own company is my long-term goal. However since I'm new to the workforce it's not realistic for me to leave now and start my own firm. As I gain more experience and expand my network that's definitely something I'd look forward to though.
- What is the one tip you would give to current students (ugrad and/or grad students) to help them succeed?
I would say the biggest tip I can give to current students is to expand your network by any means possible. Join new clubs, be friendly, do things you wouldn't normally do. The more people you know the more likely it is that one of them will help you out down the line.
- What are some tips for moving up and becoming "the boss" (i.e. a department head / managing director / partner)?
Since I've only worked here a short while it's hard for me to say, but based on what I've gleaned from my bosses it's important to be really, really good at what you do but you can't neglect the social side. If you're an ass people aren't going to want to go to bat for you. It sounds stupid but just be nice.
- Any specific cold-emailing or cold-calling tips you can pass on?
In cold-emailing and cold-calling I found that it's best to not directly ask for any favors. It worked better for me when you simply asked for advice, "If you were in my position what sort of opportunities would you look for, what industries would you be interested in" etc.
In networking you have to be memorable. When you meet someone the next day they should be able to say "Dave? He's the kite surfer" or something like that. If they can't remember who you are the networking is worthless. you can pass on?
- What is a memorable experience you have of how someone got your attention? (for networking / internship / job purposes)
I am not really in a position where people try to ask for help with internships/jobs yet so I don't feel qualified to answer that question.
- What are unique things college students and young-professionals can do to separate themselves from the crowd?
To separate yourself you have to make sure you aren't a cookie cutter guy. It's like in Suits when Harvey is looking to hire an associate and hires Mike because he doesn't fit the traditional mold. There a ton of Exeter -> Target -> Goldman internship ->there but there are ways to stand out among them. If you can tell act like a regular person and be friendly that's a huge leg up.
- How can someone prepare for a role like yours?
- What is your opinion on gaining relevant experience at a lesser known firm vs. working for a brand name firm (with less relevant experience)?
Before my job search I felt that going where you can get the most experience was more important than working at a brand. I've put my money where my mouth is in that regard and I would say that it while there are cons at working at a lesser known firm the pros still outweigh the cons. I've been on calls with people that I'd have waited years to be on if I was at a. I also get a ton of face time with and feedback from my boss which has helped a lot in my development.
- What are your thoughts on this statement: "Wall Street is a more meritocratic place than most. If you are a young person and you have good ideas, people will often listen to them, if you are in the right role" ?
I can only really speak to my experience at my firm. Since we're small my voice does carry weight. I can make a model and argue for or against a deal but the decision ultimately lies with our managing member. However my bosses do listen to me which is great. I'm not just a number or a name on a payroll here, which is great.
- Any other interesting stories or wisdom you would like to share with the WSO readers?
I've got some great stories from my time in professional baseball but I'll try and keep it clean for now. I'll just say that you can't be naïve. You think that your job is going to be a Sorkin-esque utopia with brilliant, witty people working for the common good but in reality it's just like any other office. Be cognizant of that and try to do your best to become someone that your boss likes and can rely on.