Non-Target Construction to MF REPE - 14 Years Later

Hey folks,

Don't post here often, but wanted to share & answer any questions of aspiring FIN/RE folks. I've seen so many different things on this forum and others, many depicting the "right way" and "proper path" to go about things. I think an influx of people I've seen on both here and other forums (as well as those that I've spoken to IRL) believe that in order go to to any high finance job, you need a target undergrad, M7 grad diploma, and need to work 100+ hours out of college for the next five years of your life.

Now, to be clear - if you're on this forum, you probably know that's bullshit. Yes, having those things is needed in some circumstances and definitely will never hurt you, but it's not the only way. I'll run through my story briefly of how I got where I am today in a "few short years" (LOL), and encourage you all to ask any questions you may have. I'm not on here all the time, but I'll do my best

TL;DR:

Fucked up from the get-go. Was at a non-target non-major school w/ shit GPA and no connections. Turned it into REPE Associate role at top MF REPE, which only took like 14 years.

Context:

I'm 31, and currently a full-time associate at a T20 MF REPE serving the Washington/Baltimore/NoVA metro area. If you did some digging, you could probably find who. My technical role is "Second Year Real Estate Private Equity Associate", something that I never thought I would dream of, much less see in my LinkedIn tag at this age, if ever. 

Undergrad f*ckups & more!

The reason I say this is because I was a massive f*ck-up, who finished my first semester of college with a 1.2 GPA at a mid-level state school. My major wasn't even finance-related, I was behind on classes, and never thought I'd see the interior of an office, maybe a cash register though. My major was Building Construction, however - and it was a pretty damn good school for BC too, consistently ranking T5 in the nation. This is what turned out to save me. 

See, the whole reason I chose the school I did (VT) and do the major I did, is because I like to build shit, for lack of better words. I spent hours on SketchUp and Revit as a kid, just designing buildings, doing my own thing. Architects didn't nearly meet my self-set salary requirement, but BC piqued my interest - working for a major construction company and running site operations, doing project management, and everything in between is what could turn a dream into a reality.

Turnaround:

So, after the 1.2 GPA fiasco, I decided to step back and decide what I was doing. I had a couple of internships my first two years at a general contractor but decided I really was more of a suit-in office guy rather than a high-vis vest on the site guy. This is when I wondered - what's the financial aspect of construction? How could I merge and mesh my name-brand construction degree with a finance-oriented degree, something that could satisfy my goals? 

RE Minor Addition:

Any person on here who works in construction will tell you that so many of the ops guys want to end up in Development and RE. It's more money, it's a higher ceiling, and it takes away that "laborer" feel to an extent (if that's what you're worried about - I've met multiple dudes who are, for some reason). Going from GC to Development isn't necessarily a hard task, it's just a change in pace. Once I decided that I would rather wear dress shoes than Timbs, I tacked on an RE minor to my degree to bolster up some holistic items. I had to go five years in college anyway due to my freshman fiasco, what was the harm in tacking on a minor?

Turns out, that minor was the best damn thing I ever did. I secured a position out of college as a Development Analyst, for a MM REPE and Developer on the West Coast. Now, I mention REPE but I had nothing to do with that department - those guys sat on the nice & renovated floors up top, while the Dev guys sat down below. I say this like I'm complaining, but I'm not whatsoever - I was eternally grateful to even make the switch out of construction. However, the ceiling was limited from this point:

MBA? Yes, or no?

If you work for a developer, you can excel greatly in your field. I knew that from the start, but it's not on the same level as working for an MF REPE fund, and it seemed that the only way to get there was to go thru the REIB route, which I had missed the train for. It became clear (to me) - I needed another degree. I cringed at the thought of going back to school, but I knew that if I actually wanted to do what I wanted to do, this would be the best course of action.

I spent two years at that same MM Developer as an Analyst, knowing that a Developer Associate role was attainable (without an MBA), but I'd be here awhile. While I don't think it's necessary to have an MBA for high finance roles, I think based on my non-target education and non-finance major, why not?

MBA? Yes!

I applied to a lot of MBA and MRED programs, trying to weigh options. I had a pretty good GMAT - it wasn't M7 level, but it was good enough to get me into a solid program, a T25'er. My study habits, organizational skills, and test prep had GREATLY improved from undergrad, as working an industry job will do that to you - no question. I then moved back across the country to the East Coast, and completed my degree at a Northeast school, and was ready for the future.

Well, turns out it's not that easy to snag an MF REPE Associate title, even with a T25 MBA. There was still a long road to go. Here I was now, sitting at 26, having spent seven years in school. But, it was a complete flip - seven years ago I thought a real estate agent role in a Midwestern town would be ideal. Now, I have two degrees, operations and development experience from the construction site, and significant finance experience side as well from my time spent in work and postgraduate internships. 

Post-MBA Opportunities - FT REIT:

Speaking of internships - I received a full-time offer as a REIT Analyst (post-MBA) after scraping my way into an internship with them after my first year. Evidently, my performance caught their eye... nice! REIT isn't what I wanted to do though, so I still had to move forward.

You may be thinking - yo, shut the fuck up. You made your switch, we get your point. And I get that. The thing I'm trying to convey is that the flip is possible, practical, and more importantly - fucking DOABLE. It still shocks me that I was able to make the switch, not by my Calculus I grades in undergrad, but by interacting with people and being able to learn. 

Switch from REIT to REPE:

I stayed in the REIT Analyst role for three years, never moving up to Associate. That wasn't an issue though - the reason I was able to switch from REIT to REPE was due to the experience and holistic job treatment I worked with involving property types. Think about it - if you're sitting around at a well-known MF REPE, experience with all kinds of property types, multi-modeling, and everything in between is categorized far greater than what school your degree was from. Yes, as I mentioned in my first paragraph - this shit all helps you. But, it's not the end-game. While expanding my job search, I finally received an offer from a T20 MF REPE group as an Analyst again, three years ago. 

To be 30 and still be an Analyst may not sound appealing or be conventional whatsoever, but I made it work. It was quick at this job too - only 1.5 years as an Analyst, before I was promoted to Associate at a rifling old-man age of 31. Now I sit here, prepped and ready to continue my career in the role I never thought I'd obtain, hoping to make partner by 40. I had a long 20's - a very fuckin' long 20's, but I flipped the construction knowledge and turned it into complete finance.

Takeaways:

This isn't an orthodox journey, nor am I recommending you make it. I made a lot of mistakes, fucked up a lot of times, and spent a lot of extra time, money, and mental capacity doing stupid shit that didn't help me. But here I am now, and all I can do is go up. Unless I get fired - who knows? 

At this point, if you got any questions, comments, or anything in between feel free to drop 'em down. I enjoy talking about this, and it's even better to share them with other similar people. This isn't meant to be a "happy LinkedIn-esq yay you can do it" post, it's just one example of a transition. 

To whoever may read this - I wish you luck in the field. Yes, it can be brutal out there, but my story is one of many with respect to the fact that it is possible to make a lateral switch by virtue of plugging your resources and allocating your time balance in the workforce. Good luck & Godspeed!

Comments (29)

Most Helpful
Dec 7, 2021 - 6:01am

Glad you took the time to post this because lots of people on here think real estate is like IB in that you need to walk a well trodden soul-crushing path whereby you hope the terrible means justify the lucrative ends. Real estate is more about an accumulation of knowledge/experience and of course brass balls. I went to a target, but lacked focus and had no idea what direction I wanted to go in. I did commercial/development brokerage for a while in NYC, disliked sales and left; then I worked at a debt REIT (boring); then I got a job at a bank in their affordable housing group (interesting but hated bank leadership/culture); then I moved to affordable housing consulting (hit my stride but wanted to move to development); then I landed my current job as director of acquisitions/development at a non-profit owner-operator. I truly love my job now and I had no clue I would end up here. Granted, it took me ten years to get here from undergrad, but I've never taken a real estate or finance course in my life and have no plans to get a masters. I could make a lot more money at a for profit shop or working in syndication, but right now the amount of experience I am gaining and the amount of autonomy I have are way too good to give up. Lifestyle is hugely important for me. Also, I house extremely low income people, often with disabilities, and right now this is more satisfying than a big paycheck (for me). I plan to stay here for a good while and grow our portfolio meaningfully. My advice is really to just "follow the breadcrumbs." You usually don't have nearly as many choices in life as you think you do, and the same goes for your first, second, or even third job in real estate. Keep learning, don't give up, and stay patient. And don't underestimate personality. Demeanor means so much when you are in a managerial or leadership role. Be authentic and you'll find your tribe.

Dec 7, 2021 - 11:16am

I love this comment, thanks for your reply, my man. Your journey is similar in a way - my whole point was that people don't need a fancy diploma with a killer track record to end up where they want to be. I respect your commitment, time, and your priorities more than anything. No question - can attest to the fact that demeanor is everything, so if anyone else is reading this, please keep that in mind. There were countless times I wanted to quit, so many times I spent all-nighters stressed and overworked, but if you're in finance, you gotta know that's just some of the stuff you'll endure. It won't last forever, and god damn does it feel good to be where I am now.

Best of luck to you and your journey in the future! Be well, my friend.

New Canaan | VT'12 / UVA '16 | Arlington
  • 1
Dec 8, 2021 - 11:28am

Thanks, brother! Gary & TMills taught me well!

New Canaan | VT'12 / UVA '16 | Arlington
  • Prospect in RE - Comm
Dec 8, 2021 - 12:08am

wow. you have all my respect bro. well done, im extremely inspired.

Dec 8, 2021 - 11:37am

Normally not a huge fan of posting salary, but I guess since info thread why not:

  • Location: DMV/DC Metro
  • Base Comp: $175K
  • Bonus (Avg): $65K
  • Additional (transport/sign/relocation/etc): $10-12K
  • Carry & Equity: None
  • Stock Options: None

Carry won't happen until I get promoted, the goal would be upper-mid 30's for VP/Director spot, in which case I'd have my carry realized. The good news is that I'm seeming to be on a fast-promote track record, as long as my performance holds and/or improves in the spot I'm in. I guess they understood the past, as only 1.5 years as an Analyst usually isn't the MO. Hoping to get out of Associate's den in 2-4 years max.

New Canaan | VT'12 / UVA '16 | Arlington
  • 1
  • Associate 3 in PE - Other
Dec 9, 2021 - 12:03am

$175k base as a 2nd year associate? seems high. Maybe i'm out of touch, who knows

  • Prospect in RE - Comm
Dec 8, 2021 - 11:01pm

Is it though? DC is like a top 5 COL city.  Either way, don't want to turn this thread into a COL discussion 

I am in DC development/REPE and was wondering the same.  Don't wanna out my guy though.  

Dec 9, 2021 - 9:42am

Stonks1995

To be 30 and still be an Analyst may not sound appealing or be conventional whatsoever, but I made it work. It was quick at this job too - only 1.5 years as an Analyst, before I was promoted to Associate at a rifling old-man age of 31. Now I sit here, prepped and ready to continue my career in the role I never thought I'd obtain, hoping to make partner by 40. I had a long 20's - a very fuckin' long 20's, but I flipped the construction knowledge and turned it into complete finance.

You addressed this a bit, and of course everyone here always beats themselves up for not being "on the path," but you and thankfully a lot of the RE forum knows there is no real set path in RE to begin with, so I applaud you for reaching your goals. However, did becoming an analyst at 30 still take a toll on your perception of yourself/something that just took some getting used to? I'm no longer in RE but will ideally be in a similar situation to you in another industry and this is something I'm personally struggling with. It can feel ageist in a way (even we still have the rest of our lives ahead), but I think a lot of people on WSO in a variety of industries can feel very self-conscious about not meeting certain milestones by certain ages, but seeing that you've overcome gives us all hope. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Quant (ˈkwänt) n: An expert, someone who knows more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing.

  • 4
Dec 10, 2021 - 5:47am

I hear what you are saying. It's easy to tell you not to compare yourself with others, but that's just human nature. Many on this site are young and concerned with their career path - otherwise they wouldn't be here. Many feel the pressure of society as the big push behind them rather their own self-fulfillment. It all stems from personal insecurity - which is normal, we're only human. But, I think the closer you get to realizing your own individual path, the less you will care about how you stack up against others in terms of preTHtige, money, or whatever. It sounds like you are in-between things, so remember that this feeling too shall pass and you will hit the ground running when it's time. Lastly, remember that your job does not define your entire life. Many with good jobs have crappy personal lives (or personalities) that the job does not make up for. In other words, Monkeys may hate to hear it, but you are a lot more than just your job title. The fact that you posted this already demonstrates your willingness to grow individually, a willingness you might not have developed if life had given you a perfect/easy career path. Meaning, you demonstrated humility, which is a great virtue often lacking, particularly in young/superficial folks. Big picture, being a good person is going to outweigh the fact that you did not make MD at 30. Frankly, no one cares about your job, only how you treat other people. You went through a tough/transitional time but that's exactly what made you stronger as a person. Your individual authenticity, integrity and maturity will absolutely set you apart to future employers - and you'll find a team that aligns with who you are, not just the job title you are looking for.

Dec 10, 2021 - 5:51pm

Danielplainview hit the nail on the head pretty hard... at least when you get to upper-20's or so. If you asked me at 18-19 if I wanted to be an Analyst at 30? You can probably guess what my reaction would be. But after the switch that I made, I was just grateful to be doing REPE in the first place, much less at a MF. I sat next to 24-year old MBA students talking about going back to their fraternity parties at their hometowns, swiping on Tinder, and everything in between. I got asked multiple times if I was the VP/D (flattered nonetheless, but no), and had multiple interns come up to me asking "yo, what do I do?" In a sense, I definitely get how that'd take a toll on me, and you're right about one thing - it did take some getting used to.

Like I mentioned previously, I wasn't in that Analyst role for a long time, and the shop I work at has the Associates on a different floor - something that isn't very common, but thank God it was! That 1.5 years of Analyst work when I could theoretically be married did have it's downsides working with a much younger group of people, but they learned pretty early on that I was someone who they could talk to and shoot the shit with, regardless of age. I honestly hope that I was able to even "mentor" some of them (in context to the overall career, not the PE side - I didn't know jack shit more than they did) and as time went on, it felt more normal. 

Based on my past, it's generally been expected (by my superiors, not by me) that I would have a faster time climbing up the ladder than most. This isn't due to my age, but it's rather due to my general skillset knowledge in the field, and the vast amount of opportunities that I had throughout my 20's. I've heard so many horror stories of VPs and MDs treating Analysts like shit, but the ones at my shop have been kind and receptive to my story, and seem to think I have a more holistic view of the field - who knew?

New Canaan | VT'12 / UVA '16 | Arlington
  • 4
Dec 17, 2021 - 1:20pm

Bad ass story man. Everyone's path is different and school name doesn't mean shit if you are an idiot. After I graduated from a non-target and did a year in investment management at BB, then moved to a quant fund for a year (active equity & multi-asset) where there is maybe 2 non-targets out of 70-100 heads, and now I will most likely be accepting a acquisitions analyst role covering all subs of industrials. Just got to go where it feels right - and remember, "no one cares about your job title or how much money you make besides you."

Jan 3, 2022 - 11:08am

Hey man, thanks for the reply - 

WBL is awesome. Can't complain whatsoever. It's picked up significantly post-MBA, but I expected that. I knew I was never cut out for IB or REIB, I can't fathom working 90-110 hours per week. Just not for me. My hours are awesome, I'd say an average of 60-70 per week. That's high when comparing it to the 40hr work week, but I'd say on average that I'm in the office around 7:30a and out by 6:30-7p most days, M-F. May come in for a couple of hours on a Saturday every once-and-awhile. I don't have "set hours" I need to be in, it's usually more of the MO that it's "just get x done by x date and you're good" which can be good and bad, depending on the workload. Overall, very handsome. 

When I worked for the developer, it was certainly a lot more chill - usually 8a-5/6p on most days. Then again, I wanted to be at an MF, and MFs have longer hours, even for Associates. WBL is extremely important to me, and I've taken up boxing, yoga, beer, and mountain biking in my free time. I'm a very "busy" person, but I'm busy because I want to be. It's not a hellhole like an AN1 at GS would experience.

Edit: would also love to hear your hours/WBL considering you're at a T5 MF. Feel free to either reply or PM, thanks!

New Canaan | VT'12 / UVA '16 | Arlington
  • 2
  • Manager in RE - Comm
Dec 30, 2021 - 9:19pm

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New Canaan | VT'12 / UVA '16 | Arlington
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