AMA: Non-target Career Changer to VP of Development

@WallStreetOasis.com has been invaluable to me since I decided 5 years ago to make a career change into commercial real estate (from non finance) so its my turn to give back. I hope my story can help some people.

Background

  • Extreme non-target school (undergrad and MBA)
  • Worked 10 years in non-finance employment (and unemployment as a stay at home parent), did some entrepreneurial ventures
  • Got a CRE brokerage job in secondary market from a different city.
  • Moved to RE development after a year
  • Got hired as VP of dev after 3 years
  • Look like a loser on paper so I've had to rely 100% on networking

The networking side of my story is really unique and life changing so I've expounded on it below but feel free to ask about the work itself.

My First CRE Job (in another city)

After 10 years of non-real estate related activity (but some entrepreneurship, which CRE people love) I networked my way into an investment sales position with a JLL/CW/CBRE in a secondary market. I was living in another city at the time and got the job solely through informational interviews. A veteran CRE guy told me if I had informational interviews in person with everyone I could, and would ask them three questions (how they got into CRE, what's their favorite thing about it, and what advice would they give to someone looking to break into it), follow up with an email, and then keep in touch, within 6 months I would have a job. He was right.

So I had a friend (the only friend I had in CRE) make the intro, telling them I am moving to his city in 6 months to work in commercial real estate and would really appreciate just getting the lay of the land. When I emailed or called to set up the meeting I told them I'd be in their city these 3 days next week and asked to meet with them. If they had to postpone the meeting I ended up eating the cost of the plane ticket. It was about this time I discovered WSO and I can honestly say I wouldn't have made it this far without it. It taught this non-CRE person the lingo I needed and how to play the office politics game, which didn't come naturally to me. Anyway, got a job offer after a few months and moved my whole family to work there. It was funny, I actually applied with that same group several times before (albeit different cities) and never even got a call back. It took a personal intro since brokers are always hiring and never hiring.

Moving from Brokerage to Development

A year after being a broker's grunt I took a job at a real estate developer company as an analyst. Got the job through another networking win. I went to a speech a guy from the company was giving to a local CRE group and afterward I went up and introduced myself and asked if I could have his card. I followed up with an email thanking him for his speech and how inspirational it was. A few weeks later I applied for an analyst job at his firm and emailed him to say that I just applied for X job and was wondering if he could tell me anything about the job. He told the HR manager to look out for my resume and I got the job. The HR woman admitted if he hadn't had pointed me out she never would have called me (remember, I look like a loser on paper).

From Unemployed to VP

Fast forward 3 years, my company gets bought out. I had seen the writing on the wall and started looking for a new job but didn't actually get one until I had been unemployed for a few months. My acquiring company had offered me a new job with more money but with a worse title which would have made it harder to get another job, so after asking the advice of some recruiters I turned it down and was unemployed for a few months.

From applications I put in for jobs I got some phone interviews, from headhunters it was a bit better with a few in-person interviews, but it wasn't hiring season and I to rely on networking again. I cold-messaged (via linked in) similar dev firms, and all former employees now at other firms and told them I just wanted to connect because I've been impressed with their work and if they ever have an opening I'd love to be considered. I got a few interviews and one of those turned into my dream job (2x my prior salary, 4x prior bonus, as VP of Dev in a primary market).

Doing my Own Deals

I'll be honest, one thing that helped me get to this point is that even as an analyst I was hustling to try and get my own development going. I saw first hand that it was the developers, not the brokers, investors, or owners, who were making the big bucks, so that was my goal. I started finding sites in my city and putting together pitch books to pitch to potential capital partners. One took, and that was all I needed.

I'm hoping it's the start of my own small development company, but I won't see money from it until next year (the dev fee when it starts) and then of course when it sells in 2 years) but in the meantime that one deal helped give me the credibility and "school of hard knocks" lessons I needed to prove myself as a viable VP candidate. I disclosed it to my new company and it wasn't a problem since a lot of my work is done. If people are interested in the specifics of doing my own deal, so I can do a separate post on that.

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Comments (17)

Jul 19, 2019

Appreciate your time and congratulations on hustling your way to what appears to be a very desirable position.

To help formulate this discussion and prompt some more intelligent questions would you go into detail about the responsibilities of your current position? Titles in real estate are unfortunately unnecessarily vague and inconsistent between shops.

Also would you touch on if this is a well established office or if you are starting up/running a new group?

Property type, broad location, assets under management and acquisition strategy (ground up versus value add, etc.) would all be helpful too.

Thanks!

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Jul 19, 2019

I'm with a multifamily group and my job is to both win deals and see them through ground up development with the construction manager doing the construction part. I scout out land, respond to RFPs, liaise with local JV partners/development groups, and then coordinate with architects and consultants, finance, through groundbreaking and handoff to construction manager, checking in after that periodically to make sure the scope didn't evolve beyond what it should.

The groups has been around about 20 years and has developed $1B. They own/manage about $500M.

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Jul 19, 2019
luv2speed:

I got a few interviews and one of those turned into my dream job (2x my prior salary, 4x prior bonus, as VP of Dev in a primary market).

Great story and I love your approach.

Do you mind expanding on the jump you took - analyst to VP? Titles often don't mean much in this industry, but doubling your salary and quadrupling your comp certainly does.

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Jul 19, 2019

In my Analyst job I had a title that implied that I managed developments. That helped me. I was able to fill in the blanks myself and bring my experience up to the level of my title. If I just had an Analyst title I don't think I could have made the same jump.

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Jul 19, 2019

Thanks!

luv2speed:

If people are interested in the specifics of doing my own deal, so I can do a separate post on that.

By all means

Jul 19, 2019

Piggy backing off of @CRE 's question, your response implies that you had limited deal experience in your "analyst" position (sounds like you had a different title than that) - is that true and without getting into too much detail (if you're not comfortable) how much experience did you acquiring and running deals prior to your current position? If it is limited, how did you and your employer get comfortable with you running deals?

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Jul 20, 2019

You mention in your other responses that not running as many of your deals independently at your job could have dinged you for your current VP position and that you supplemented that by finding and running your own deal on the side.

In my experience, this is typically even harder than internally running projects especially when it comes to raising equity as you are asking investors to trust/invest in a person with little to no experience in running a development - would you speak broadly to how you raised the money but more importantly how you overcame what should have been strong resistance from potential investors for your side deal?

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Jul 20, 2019

At first I talked to traditional capital partners, but encountered resistance with my lack of experience (although my title did help a bit). So then I looked for capital partners that were also developers - big developers who would JV with me. They felt comfortable if they did the heavy lifting. At my previous firm we would do that - put in the capital and oversight via a JV with local developers. So that's what happened - JV with a capital partner and co-developer. As long as I get my name on the building to give me credibility for future deals I figure it doesn't matter who does what in the development process. I am serving as the local boots on the ground though (but I won't do construction management).

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Jul 20, 2019

Ah I see, thanks for the background. Good work tracking down the right partner because that certainly is the exception more than the rule.

I (or our firm) have never been co-developers - in this deal are you or your partner the managing member? What your responsibilities versus theirs? What components of the deal did you have figured out (through/fully entitled, third party GC identified/selected, financing identified, etc) before you signed up your capital partner? I'm assuming they are signing the guarantee for the debt?

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Jul 21, 2019

Just posted the details of my development. Let me know if it doesn't answer anything.

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Jul 22, 2019

Any comp range you could provide with your progression? I understand there is a huge upside in what you're doing if you can make your own deals happen of course.

It would be helpful to put your comp in context with other career paths as I have a relative who is doing commercial real estate and loves it. Thanks

Most Helpful
Jul 22, 2019

Sure. All in I basically tripled my salary- was $75k before, now will be about $210. Curious how that compares to your friend in CRE and what he does...

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Jul 22, 2019
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