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By Azeem Ahamed ’15
Columbia Business School’s case competition team topped 18 other business schools to finish first place in the prestigious National Real Estate Challenge, hosted by UT Austin on November 19 - 20, 2014. The team, consisting of Azeem Ahamed ’15, Nikhil Chaudhri ’16, Christopher Doman ’15, Aaron Kazam ’15, Lauren McDermott ’15, and Daniel Wagman ’15, impressed the judges by presenting a plan to redevelop Boston’s Landmark Center into a premier retail destination for local residents. “We knew it was going to be a tough competition, and we were as prepared as we could have been,” said McDermott ’15, who also competed in the 2013 challenge. A student team from Columbia Business School won this case competition two years ago.
As the case described, the property consisted of a large office building with an adjacent, unused surface parking lot. It was up to student teams, acting as advisors to JPMorgan’s Strategic Property Fund (JPSPF), to determine whether to redevelop the property into a first-class residential property or into a retail center, anchored by a Wegmans grocery store. In doing so, the teams had to consider how to best align interests between JPSPF and Samuels, a local developer, through a JV agreement both sides would find amenable. Bound by case facts, teams also had to articulate how the proposed redevelopment plan would fit into JPSPF’s core investment strategy, without adding undue risk to the fund.
The pitch from Columbia’s team recommended that JPSPF work with Samuels to redevelop the parking lot into a retail destination, serving local residents and tourists alike. The team argued that the retail development would create synergies with the existing office building by providing tenants with access to potential amenities such as restaurants, a gym and prepared food options. Furthermore, with the influx of residential properties already in the pipeline, the team reiterated how the retail development would complement, rather than compete with, the new residential stock.
“We took a rational and innovative approach, tested our assumptions, and sparred constructively during the preparation phase”, said Kazam ’15, a competitor on Columbia’s team. “Best of all, we had a team with diverse professional backgrounds, who could give the project a look through multiple lenses”, said Wagman ’15, “it really paid off during the Q&A, which is where we believe we had the edge.”
Lynne B. Sagalyn, Earle W. Kazis and Benjamin Schore Professor of Real Estate, Director, MBA Real Estate Program and Founding Director, Paul Milstein Center for Real Estate, Columbia Business School, was faculty advisor to the team, providing advice and guidance prior to their receipt of the case. The Paul Milstein Center for Real Estate supported student travel to the competition.
The National Real Estate Challenge, hosted by the University of Texas at Austin, is a case-based real estate competition for top business schools. Teams received the case just days prior to the competition and prepared a 20-minute presentation that was judged by accredited real estate professionals from nationally recognized companies including JPMorgan, The Lionstone Group, Almanac Realty, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch and Brookfield. Some of the schools represented at the challenge included Wharton, MIT, Cornell, Kellogg, USC, UCLA, McCombs/UT Austin, Michigan, NYU, UNC and UVA. The top four finalist teams won cash awards.
Azeem Ahamed ’15 is VP of Case Competitions for the Real Estate Association, Cluster Chair (Z ’15), AVP for the Non-Profit Board Leadership Program, and an active member of the Hermes Society. Prior to joining Columbia Business School, he had experience in management consulting, international development and venture capital. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Biotechnology/Economics and a Masters in Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology from the University of Waterloo, and is a Certified Management Accountant. In his free time, he enjoys golfing and is a Muay Thai enthusiast.