Alumni Career Profiles
Students come to the MIT Center for Real Estate's MSRED program at many different stages in their careers. Some arrive with clearly defined goals they pursue steadily through graduation. Others come with a strong career focus that shifts as they discover talents and interests they didn't know they had. Still others arrive expressly to explore their career options, and on graduation find employment in an industry sector they hadn't considered before coming to MIT.
The alumni profiles below show the variety of backgrounds that students bring to the MSRED program – and the variety of real estate careers they've launched after graduation.
- Many Styles, Many Right Answers — David Cohan '92
- Do the Math — Jane Seiden '88
- Focus on Customer Service — Oliver Carr '92
- Watch How You Value Your Assets — Larry Ellman '92
- Do Well by Doing Good — Will Bradshaw '06
- Follow Your Interest: New Focus Bringing New Excitement — Rebecca Asser '04
- The Difference Is Confidence — Caroline Lange '02
MIT/CRE's 25th Anniversary gala weekend was made possible with the generous support of alums who helped to produce it. In grateful acknowledgement, we salute each volunteer below with a life sketch in the spirit of the classic Dewar's Profile series....
David Cohan '92
Position: Managing Director, PeaksCo LLC
Home: Peaks Island, Maine
Most important career accomplishment: "Facilitating access to capital for projects in low-income communities nationwide."
Advice to clients: "I counsel everyone to expect problems that look insurmountable, and to relax and let good, bright people do their jobs. Don't panic when it looks like your deal may be dying. So-called insurmountable problems can usually be resolved."
On the real estate downturn: "When the economy is bad, it teaches you to get smarter and better at what you do. People are going back to the drawing board, reengineering projects, redefining their client bases, and inventing better ways of doing business."
On sustainability: "There's a lot of talk about 'green' these days, but many people still don't understand the long-term benefits of sustainable building."
Greatest lesson from MIT/CRE: "There are many ways to approach development, many styles -- and many right answers."
Most fulfilling personal activities: "A lot of non-profit and community work."
Secrets: "I needed a math tutor in elementary school. Folks now think of me as a finance guy, but I don't instinctively see the world in numbers. As an undergraduate, I was an English writing and literature major, and I still have at least one possibly great unwritten novel inside me."
Alma Mater: MIT Center for Real Estate
Jane Seiden '88
Position: Distressed Debt Acquisitions Consultant, Capital Crossing Servicing Company, LLC
Home: Boston, MA
Significant accomplishment: "Structuring a very complicated set of loans for a client who wanted a single debt solution. Extremely challenging — and gratifying — because it required all my skills, experience, and education."
Advice to clients: "There's a lot of good real estate out there if you're willing to be creative in acquiring it. The growing volume of debt is generating more buying opportunities. But you might have to do some new math on the values."
A trend to watch: "Acquiring distressed debt for commercial real estate. Since more distressed debt is being marketed than a year ago, the market is seeing a rapid build-up of loans. These distressed loans need to be liquefied for the market to reset."
What people "don't get" about the current market: "Resetting the real estate market is a good thing, not a bad thing — a necessary evil."
Most dramatic MIT/CRE-inspired career shift: "I went from the equity side to the debt side. When I graduated, not many people were trained in real estate finance, and my MSRED was cutting edge."
Most memorable learning experience at MIT/CRE: "The John Lewis and Angus Cartright case studies – powerful, well-conceived, and a hallmark of the curriculum today."
On professional vs. personal life: "My professional life and personal life are one and the same. I think about real estate almost all the time."
Personal passion: "Raising funds and awareness for lung cancer research after losing my brother to the illness. Lung cancer kills more people every year than colon, breast, pancreatic, and prostate cancer combined. In the US, we lose 160,000 people to lung cancer each year — including more and more non-smokers — but lung cancer receives a paltry share of research funding.
If you have lungs, you're at risk for developing lung cancer. Support the research."
Alma Mater: MIT Center for Real Estate
Oliver Carr '92
Position: CEO, Carr Properties
Home: Washington, D.C.
Greatest career accomplishment: "Starting a company from scratch and going public in 2005 as a publicly-traded office REIT. We're now private again as Carr Properties, owning 25 office buildings with over 3.5 million square feet in the DC area – a portfolio valued at over $1 billion."
Most important trend in real estate: "The greening of commercial office properties."
What many get wrong in the commercial office business: "Customer service. Industry has been too focused on the financial side of the landlord/tenant relationship. That'll change dramatically in coming years as corporate tenants choose buildings based on the quality of customer service, not just on the location and merits of the building."
Insights shared "offline" with clients: "Many tenants don't fully understand the transaction costs that landlords bear whenever they sign a lease. Brokerage and tenant fit-out costs are enormous. If the landlord/tenant relationship were more cooperative on the front end, these costs could be significantly reduced, resulting in lower rents for our customers."
What a year at MIT/CRE provided: "The knowledge and confidence I needed to go out on my own as an entrepreneur.
Most transformative MIT/CRE experience: "Exposure to real estate securitization — REIT and CMBS markets were just beginning when I was a student. It helped launch my career."
What distinguished MIT/CRE from competing programs: "The MIT brand — drawing on knowledge and innovation in other parts of the Institute to solve real estate problems."
Where professional life meets personal life: "I do a lot of fundraising for my area Boys & Girls Clubs — a charitable organization that has been 'adopted' by the commercial real estate industry. It's important to be involved in your community and give something back."
Favorite pastime: "Surfing, which I began on Nantucket at age 14. My oldest son is now a surfer, and I still hit the waves a few times a year."
Alma Mater: MIT Center for Real Estate.
Larry Ellman '92
Position: Senior Partner, Berkshire Realty Ventures
Home: New York, NY
Greatest career accomplishment: "From 2004 to 2010 — helping to develop and run new fund business at Citigroup and having responsibility for the North American platform. Now — building a real estate private equity business."
Most important current trend in real estate: "Unlike the real estate crash of the 90s, this downturn isn't creating a high volume of distressed buying opportunities. And with capital already lined up to buy, we're not seeing the fire sale prices of 15-20 years ago either."
Thoughts on the current market: "There's a lot of liquidity looking for yield, which will continue given where interest rates are and where they're likely to stay for awhile. So on the one hand I see low-cap rates continuing, but on the other hand I'm worried about demand fundamentals because this is going to be a slow recovery."
Insights shared off-line with clients: "Be careful how you value assets today."
Example of a long-term payoff from MIT/CRE: "I was at MIT in the early 90's while the economy was in a real estate-driven recession. Our many cases studies and discussions about financial distress and real estate workouts were important for operating in our industry then – and even more important now."
Main appeal of the Center's education program: "Affiliation with so many top graduate programs at MIT — Sloan, the School of Architecture and Planning, Economics — plus faculty in industry, small class size, and fellow students with real-world work experience."
Intersections between personal and professional life: "I'm involved with the Urban Land Institute and other real estate organizations, but I'm also joining the board of a NYC-based non-profit organization focused on getting urban youth to college. It's an opportunity to give back."
Favorite well-kept (or not so well-kept) secret: "I've got a great margarita recipe."
Alma Mater: MIT Center for Real Estate.
Alums share where they came from, where they are, and where they're going – and why they chose the MIT Center for Real Estate.
Will Bradshaw '06
Describing his real estate education at MIT, Will Bradshaw calls himself "an odd duck" -- completing his MSRED in three years rather than one, while simultaneously pursuing a MIT doctoral degree in city planning.
Even though his approach has been non-traditional, there is nothing odd about Will's desire to do well by doing good. The New Orleans-based developer proved this by helping to rebuild his hurricane-battered city -- and in ways that are profitable, sustainable, and centered in the needs of his community.
Will enrolled at MIT after serving as Organizational Director for the Davidson Housing Coalition, a North Carolina-based Community Development Corporation. He wanted to give his background in community development a technical edge.
"I came to MIT/CRE because of the strong analytical focus on real estate," he said, "and the fact that the Center is housed within a planning school (I was dual-degree with MIT's city planning program). I could focus on advanced green building techniques while honing the ideas for my business."
Will says that his work at MIT gave him a greater sense of the world, and of real estate's place in it. "For the first time, I gained a true understanding of what it means to create value in an economic sense." he said. "I was able to rigorously test my ideas about how economic value is tied directly to creating social and environmental value."
Sooner than he expected, Will had the chance to test his ideas and his education. He graduated with an MSRED in 2006 -- one year after hurricanes Katrina and Rita hammered the Gulf Coast with what is arguably the worst natural disaster in US history. Will felt called to apply everything he'd just learned to help rebuild the region.
The obstacles to rebuilding have been monumental, but Will found that his MSRED served immeasurably -- not only through the knowledge and skills it gave him, but also through intangibles. "It gave me self-confidence," he said. " I didn't know everything when I graduated, but I knew I could hold my own in a roomful of real estate veterans. I had a much keener sense of my own knowledge and ability."
This was key to his entrepreneurial venture. "I'm the president of my own firm, Green Coast Enterprises, and a principal in a related firm NOLA Community Development," he said. "We're engaged in rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region by creating healthier, safer, stronger, more efficient, and more affordable homes and neighborhood-scale commercial structures."
Green Coast emphasizes innovative solutions for underserved communities. One example is a recently completed 4-unit condominium project called The Arabella, which is offering a new model for green building in the region. "These steel-framed condos are super-efficient," he said, "and are elevated well above flood levels. They use a range of recycled and rapidly renewable materials for flooring, baseboard, crown molding, and countertops."
At the same time that Will seeks financial profit for his company, he seeks social profit for his community. "We are the owner's representative on a philanthropic project called Project Home Again," he said. "It seeks to rebuild over 100 homes for New Orleans families."
His company started construction on the project's pilot phase in the Gentilly neighborhood by overseeing construction of 20 homes. "These homes are supported by a Building America team from the U.S. Department of Energy," he said, "and will help 20 families come back home to the city they left during storms of 2005."
Even though his development work keeps him busier than ever, Will's academic ties remain strong. "I continue to work on my doctoral dissertation from New Orleans," he said, "in addition to running my businesses." Ongoing progress on his MIT Ph.D. in Regional and Urban Economics and Sustainable Community Development maintains a healthy dialog between the theoretical and practical sides of his work.
He is also leading a novel project on sustainability -- partly through his role as an Adjunct Faculty member in the Tulane School of Architecture -- that investigates the use of live plants for contamination removal. "We're looking at using plants to remove contamination from small lots currently owned by the redevelopment authority," he said. "We focus on those plants that can also be harvested to create ethanol or other bio-fuels."
He hopes to launch a pilot program in 2009. "Ideally, this project will create green-collar jobs -- many with low educational hurdles. It could also put blighted property back into productive use, model how urban farming can work on small infill lots, remove soil contamination so property can be safely used in the future, and generate a new source for biofuel generation."
Asked what was most important about his time at MIT/CRE, Will was unequivocal. "It was the people," he said, "students, faculty, and staff. A number of my classmates remain important friends and business associates. Several serve as advisers to my business."
And if he were advisor to a younger real estate professional, what advice would he give? It seems to come directly from his experience helping to rebuild after a disaster: "Seek out the opportunities that frighten you."
Rebecca Asser '04
Rebecca Asser knew one thing for sure – she wanted a change. After three years on various assignments in the real estate industry (as analyst of business relocation and occupancy cost consulting projects for Arthur Anderson; as consultant on organizational development and property management for Rockrose Development) she was ready for a sharper focus.
"I wanted to shift my career toward real estate development," Rebecca said, "and MIT offered an intense and prestigious program to help me do it." She completed her MSRED in 2004 – the first step toward her current position as Vice President of the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC).
Now Rebecca is working on projects she finds especially exciting because they're grounded in her clearer focus. "I recently completed the sale of approximately 175,000sf of development rights to a private developer for the construction of a 725' tall Gold LEED Certified mixed-use tower," she said.
The new "green" tower will be constructed in Manhattan’s Financial District at the foot of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, and the sale was one of her most interesting in terms of land use. "It relied on the creation of development rights through the de-mapping of a street bed," she said, "as well as writing new zoning text to allow the transfer."
The transaction brought in over $30M of revenue to the City of New York, but the project is doing much more. "It will bring the area to life by attracting residents to a neighborhood that is largely commercial. The project will also create a better pedestrian connection between the Battery Park City and Financial District neighborhoods."
Rebecca found that her experience at MIT/CRE gave her an edge as VP in her new position. "When I came to NYCEDC, many people had expertise in financial analysis, or planning, or law, or architecture, but I had knowledge of them all – an understanding of the industry that few of my colleagues had. It was easy to transfer what I learned at MIT to real world projects," she said. "I had all the tools I needed to be a successful project manager."
Currently, Rebecca is working with the Whitney Museum of American Art to construct a new facility in Manhattan’s Meat Packing District. The project is located on a site at the beginning of the High Line – a park being constructed on an abandoned elevated rail, and slated to open at the end of 2008.
"It’s an exciting partnership with multiple City agencies on a complicated site," she said of the project, which will also will house a maintenance and operations facility for the High Line park. "It will add cultural space and public open space to a neighborhood that is being overtaken by hotels and high end retail."
Asked what advice she would give a young real estate professional deciding on a next move, Rebecca kept it simple: "Do what you're interested in. Do what you believe in."
Caroline Lange '02
Caroline Lange came to MIT/CRE to learn about real estate finance, but she left with much more — a newfound knowledge of herself and her capabilities that would take her career to impressive heights.
Her journey began with a practical goal: "I was keen to learn about architecture and real estate projects from about the investor's point of view," she said. "I wanted to know corporate finance, real estate finance, and the related legal issues." Caroline came to MIT after working as Architect and Urban Planner for a German office in Shanghai. She developed the master plan for Anting New Town, a city of 30,000 inhabitants that has since been built.
But she wanted a more rigorous understanding of the money side of real estate, and MIT looked like the place to get it. "Of the many schools that I visited," she said, "including Columbia, Harvard, and London Business School, the real estate program at MIT/CRE was by far the most structured and challenging."
She describes her year at MIT in terms of both its challenge and its human dimension. "I was profoundly influenced by a number of great professors — all admirable experts in their field and all great personalities. And my classmates were the most intelligent and inspiring crowd I've ever met."
The demanding courses and exceptional influences proved a winning combination. "After my year at MIT, I felt that no challenge in the field of real estate was beyond me. Even though I wasn't an expert in all areas, I had the comprehensive overview of the industry I needed to know how to deal with them. Successfully completing my MSRED degree gave me the feeling that I could manage any incredible challenge in life. It was great for my self-confidence when I applied for new jobs. And with an MIT degree in my hand, it seemed that employers' doors immediately opened wide," she said.
The knowledge and insight Caroline gained at MIT/CRE has been key in her current role. "I'm now Senior Facilities Manager at Dell Computers, head of construction for all projects in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) with projects in Paris, Milan, Lisbon, Geneva, and more. I'm also head of construction and operations for emerging countries that include the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, South Africa, Russia, Turkey, Poland, Hungary, Romania… a total of 39 countries," she said.
Caroline's year at MIT taught her strategies and disciplines that can be applied throughout life. "My speed at managing workloads had drastically increased. In my current position, I'm proud to have delivered all projects on time and within budget — projects in some of EMEA countries as large as 200,000 SF."
With the academic foundation provided by her MSRED, she has continued her academic pursuit. "What I learned at MIT/CRE was essential to my completing a Ph.D. in Retail Theory and Shopping Centers at the Berlin University."
Now a seasoned real estate pro with impressive academic credentials, Caroline's advice to younger professionals is simple — "Go for it!" — advice that comes from the knowledge that the reward for facing and overcoming challenge is confidence.