A career seminar hosted by Montclair State University’s Feliciano School of Business connected attendees with real estate industry leaders in several specialties, including brokerage, property management, value-add investing, development and institutional investing. — Courtesy: Montclair State University
By Joshua Burd
Even after 40 years in commercial real estate, Robert Rudin is still learning new things.
One requirement that hasn’t changed? The ability to communicate and play well with others.
“You have to be able to gather information in order to advise your clients,” said Rudin, an office broker and vice chairman with Cushman & Wakefield in New Jersey. “So you have to be well-liked in the community, people have to be willing to take your call and you have to be willing to trade information — even with your competitors.
“Basic social skills? Very important,” he added. “Being well-liked? Even more important.”
Simple as it may sound, you could call it sage advice in the commercial real estate sector. Just ask the four other experts who echoed the sentiment last week before more than 200 students and aspiring professionals, who were on hand for a career seminar at Montclair State University.
The event, hosted by the university’s Feliciano School of Business, connected the attendees with industry leaders in several specialties, including brokerage, property management, value-add investing, development and institutional investing. Speakers were candid and often blunt about the highs and lows of a career in real estate — from the fierce competition to the six-figure earning potential — but each said the business was filled with opportunity.
“You can make a lot of money in real estate — there’s no question about it,” said Gus Milano, president and chief operating officer of Hartz Mountain Industries. “And when you start off, don’t worry about how much money you make. Try to get yourself into a position and opportunity where you can learn, and if you learn, good things will happen.”
Milano, whose Secaucus-based firm has built more than 50 million square feet of property, said commercial real estate “is probably the most exciting career that you could have.” But he and other panelists at the Nov. 3 event said that putting in the time is essential.
Another piece of advice? Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
“If you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t guess,” said Linda Husti, president of FEM Real Estate. “I think one of the best things you can do … is say, ‘I don’t know’ and surround yourself with a team of people that do.”
That has been a key ingredient for FEM, a firm that was started in 2013 after its founders sold a large nursing home and needed to redeploy the proceeds. Husti said the Montville-based company began by acquiring about a dozen net leased assets around the country — thanks to help from outside experts — and has quickly moved to grow its asset value.
“I can’t stand here and tell you I’ve got 50 years of experience or 30 years of experience doing this, because I don’t,” she said. “But I’ve learned — and I love it and I’ve made it work and doubled our assets. And you know what? So can you.”
For those in attendance, the event was a chance to hear about case studies and specific projects. That meant an inside look at the types of responsibilities, earning power and challenges that come with a career in the industry.
Paul Profeta, a West Orange-based value-add investor, said that type of intelligence was not available to him when he was considering his job prospects after business school.
“I remember it as a very distressing period and I’m trying to help you not go through that,” said Profeta, founder and president of Paul V. Profeta & Associates. “That’s exactly what this is about. We’re trying to explain different careers in real estate so you get a down-to-earth understanding from each of us of what life is like in real estate.”
Joseph Nicholson, an assistant professor and coordinator of Montclair’s real estate program, said that exposure has become essential to the curriculum. It has led to an 80 percent success rate with internships, an indication of when companies have asked to extend an internship or hired the intern full-time.
“Even if we have theory, we break it down and show you how to apply it in the real world,” Nicholson said. “As part of that, we spend a great deal of time making connections out in the industry, and one thing we’ve been exceptionally proud of is the fact that we’ve had such high internship placement rate.
“And not only that, but we’ve vetted each individual student for the skillset that would best fit them at a certain type of internship.”
But for all of the case studies, cautionary tales and practical advice offered by the experts, they said having a thick skin is as important as any other quality. Lynn deCastro, executive director of PGIM Real Estate, said the business is a difficult one — whether the setting is leasing, investment sales, management or ground-up development.
She said perseverance is essential “no matter what aspect of it you’re in.”
“You need a lot of tenacity, you need a lot of perseverance,” deCastro said. “You need to be able to get knocked down and get back up and not let it bother you, so you really have to be tenacious.
“But you also have to be very dedicated. And I think that those two characteristic can really make you successful in this business.”
Editor’s note: Paul Profeta, founder and president of Paul V. Profeta & Associates, is also the publisher of Real Estate NJ.