Alums Generously Help to Produce MIT/CRE's 25th Anniversary Weekend
The MIT Center for Real Estate's 25th Anniversary gala weekend would not be possible without the dedication of a "volunteer brigade" of alums helping to produce this quarter-century celebration. We gratefully acknowledge their invaluable efforts by saluting each of these volunteers with a life sketch in the spirit of the classic Dewar's Profile series.
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.
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.
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
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