Making The Jump - Construction Manager to Development

Hi All,

I'm coming from a fairly technical background with about 3 years of experience; 1.5 years at a major GC and 1.5 as a CM in CapX for a multifamily and healthcare developer. I'm curious about approximately what % of my work overlaps with most DM scopes would be.

I've got a pretty strong project management background and significant understanding of the technical side. However, my financial knowledge ends at processing pay apps, rudimentary gain/loss, and bid coordination.

What would I need to brush up on to swing into a dev role? From my lurkings on this forums it seems like the role is fairly fluid in actual responsibilities and knowledge. Currently looking into a MSRED and MBA as well. Input appreciated.

 

You already have most of the skills necessary. It's much, much harder to learn the construction side than it is the financial analysis part. I'd suggest looking around for one of those weekend underwriting boot camps to get yourself familiar with modeling out deals. That honestly should be enough - the vast vast majority of the risk and difficulty in the development process comes in executing on construction and coordinating that aspect of it with lenders, investors, contractors, etc.

 

MRED and a MBA wouldn't be a bad idea. With your background and that education, you would come out as the most qualified you can be. I wish I had your construction background at times.

All that said, as a CM you need to learn the financial side of deals (genuinely not difficult to learn) and all of the nuances of politics/design/people skills to transition to a DM role. Often I get frustrated with my CMs because they act like the construction process is the only part of the deal - ignoring all of the entitlements, finances, operations, etc. that also go into it.

Commercial Real Estate Developer
 

With that, i'm curious to see why more people in construction don't make the jump to development. Most of the smaller shops i've worked with have backgrounds in construction while the heavy hitters in my area (JBG, Douglas, AvalonBay, Etc) seem to source more analyst/associate level employees from finance/private school backgrounds.

Would you consider that more anecdotal? From my experience it's been more like a 20/80 split of non-technical/technical background, technical being construction, engineering, architecture, etc. It seems like everyone I talk to under 30 in the GC world is trying to go to the dev/owner's side and obviously not everyone makes it.

 
Funniest

It depends on what you mean by "the jump to development." Going to a CM position at a development shop is a natural progression for a smart super / PM. Plus they get good pay, get the benefits of being the owner rep, and don't have to be at work in the cold at 5am every day. Transitioning to a DM role is definitely possible too, but it would require the right person - a skill set expansion would certainly be needed, as would a mentality shift - going from a blue collar job to a white collar job.

As far as analyst/associate sourcing is concerned, there is definitely a trend at major firms to hire finance kids from Ivys. Hell, I got dinged at Hines because I wasn't one. I argued that I had real estate and development experience and the MD gave me a "No, son, WE teach you development. We expect pedigree and exceptional financial skills. I, for instance, went to MIT."

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Commercial Real Estate Developer
 
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Dumpster Fire Yuppie:
the whole "pedigree" argument is a bit nerve wracking; state school grad with a civil engineering degree and a dogshit GPA to match. I'm assuming most boutique shops are more forgiving in that aspect? It's a little refreshing to see an eyeroll with all of the prestige that's thrown around.

It matters and it doesn't, you know? I'm a state school grad with a dogshit undergraduate GPA too. I did grad school at a state school as well, although I graduated with a great GPA from that. To douchebags, it will always matter. To companies that pride themselves on being high achievers who hire only high achievers, it'll matter more than not. To companies that get thousands of resumes for every one opening, which I'm sure Hines does, it's an easy way to trim the herd.

In general, people in this industry tend to hire what they value, and often as a reflection of themselves. If that's a finance degree from an Ivy League school, because they have a finance degree from an Ivy League school, then that's what they're going to look for. I did my graduate internship at a place in which I was one of two interns who weren't from Wharton or UNC Kenan Flagler. Why Wharton and UNC and not Duke or Harvard? Who knows for sure, but there are a lot of Wharton and UNC grads who work there full time...

In my current role, I work for two graduates of a school known for super smart kids with zero social skills. These two graduates however have social skills and very much did not want to hire "nerds." I laugh thinking about my interviews because for the first time in my life I could talk about my GPA with a sense of pride and not try to hide it, but they 100% took it as a negative, or at least something to be cautious about. For once in my life, being a dickhead in undergrad and partying my way into a sub 3.0 GPA not only saved me from that awkwardness but helped me get the job. Life is weird.

I don't mean to discount pedigree - it's impressive as all hell and I wish I had a name like that on my resume - but real estate isn't banking or consulting. If some company wants to jerk off to their collective ability to do homework as a 19 year old, no worries - move on to the next.

Commercial Real Estate Developer
 

You have a great background for a transition to DM. Sure, you could get another degree. Sure, you could study RE finance. Either would maybe give you an extra edge. But your experience, as others have already said, is already much rarer and more valuable. We look for people like you when hiring DMs, moreso than people with a finance background.

Now, the bad news...

You can definitely hit the ground running, but it's a big mental transition. Again, others here have pointed this out. Development is much more about soft skills, and being a good leader. I've seen people transition from an arts background and absolutely crush it. I've seen finance guys flail miserably and die a slow development career death. Why? The good ones are fantastic listeners, are intellectually curious and hungry for constant learning, genuinely like to help others succeed, and don't have massive egos. If this sounds like you, then with your background you're already better prepared than 80% of DMs out there!

Best of luck.

 

I did exactly this, so my response is coming from someone who has been in your shoes. Developers require a strong financial acumen for investment-related gigs, so you're likely going to hear that when talking to groups. There a ton of construction folks who want to be developers--there NOT a ton who can get a 700+ GMAT get into a top MRED/MBA and learn to grasp finance and accounting as well. This is an incredibly unique skillset to have and will make you incredibly valuable to a development firm. There are a lot of guys I work with who can run the numbers in their sleep, but when it comes to project management (and coordinating various consultants / managing budget, etc.) they find it very challenging. The reality is your ability to manage projects (and people) against tight deadlines will give you an advantage. You will be able to speak the language when bidding GC's to build your project, and ultimately once you're under construction and are working to deliver the project at the price point you have to for the numbers to work. What will be new for you--sourcing deals, financial feasibility, due diligence, capital raising (debt and equity), leasing your project, marketing, and asset management. These are all things you can learn on the job, but again your background will serve you will because development really is a project management exercise. I quit my GC gig and went to b-school and it personally worked out for the best; it is a very personal decision though that comes with obvious risks. The full time MBA is great because you can rebrand yourself from the construction guy, to well-rounded real estate guy who can run numbers and manage projects (and knows accounting, and the other coursework you'll gain from an MBA). Key though, is that you'll have a full summer to intern somewhere (and realistically you could intern during Spring of your 1st year and Fall of your 2nd year too (at a shop in same city as your school). I looked at MRED programs but found most to be very short (11 months straight, then out) and felt that an internship before graduating was key to pivoting from CM to investing/development. Others on here can provide more color on pros/cons of grad programs, but in your case I would try to get into the best program you can and go for it. Make sure you want to ultimately work in that city/region because RE development is a local game, and you'll find more jobs in that area than if you try to move across the country etc..

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