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Cia Buckley Marakovits ’93 is Chief Investment Officer, Partner, Managing Director, and Member of the Investment Committee at Dune Real Estate Partners. Prior to joining Dune in 2007, Ms. Buckley Marakovits held a variety of management positions at JER Partners and spent over nine years in the Real Estate Investment Banking Group of Bankers Trust. Ms. Buckley Marakovits is a member of the Urban Land Institute where she is a Trustee and a member of the ULI Foundation Board of Directors. She is Chair of the Investment Committee, a member of the Audit Committee and active in the Women’s Leadership Initiative. Ms. Buckley Marakovits is a member of the Pension Real Estate Association, serves as a member of Columbia Business School’s MBA Real Estate Program Advisory Board and is a member of the Executive Committee of the Samuel Zell and Robert Lurie Real Estate Center at the Wharton School. She is a member of Women Executives in Real Estate (“WX”) and was honored as the WX Woman of the Year in 2011. In a recent interview with Sarah Pous ’15, Ms. Buckley Marakovits discussed trends in the real estate industry and gave advice for Columbia Business School students aspiring to have careers in real estate.
Please tell me about Dune Real Estate Partners’ business model.
Dune Real Estate Partners is a real estate private equity firm based in New York that is focused on opportunistic investing, largely within the US. We focus primarily on areas of capital dislocation – re-capitalizing or restructuring high quality properties that may have an impaired capital structure. We have raised a total of $2.5 billion over three funds and currently have roughly $4 billion in assets under management.
You have had an extensive career in real estate including positions in asset management and acquisitions. Please tell me about some of the highlights of your career.
One of the biggest highlights when you are on the investment side of the business is delivering strong investment performance for your investors. The premise of opportunistic investing is to generate higher returns (than core) given the greater level of risk. So when we prove out our business plan and then successfully sell an investment – creating profits for our investors – it’s an incredible feeling. So those times are always highlights.
Meeting my partner, Dan Neidich, and joining Dune was another highlight in my career. Working with Dan has helped me become a better investor and a better manager. And at Dune, we’ve taken the lessons we’ve learned in over 25 years of opportunistic investing and created a team and investment process that I’m proud to be a part of. I’ve been very fortunate – I have learned from the best in the industry – Dan Neidich, Joe Robert, and Dick Gunthel – and I’ve taken away valuable experiences from each one of them.
What do you see as the greatest challenge facing today’s real estate industry, specifically for opportunistic investments?
The greatest challenge facing today’s real estate industry is the excess liquidity in the broader financial system and the global search for yield. This attracts more investors to the asset class, pushing up prices and making it increasingly difficult to determine sustainable asset value. At Dune, we are most focused on the micro set of facts surrounding an investment opportunity versus the macro trends or opportunities and are very focused on downside risk. For opportunistic funds specifically, the challenge is remaining disciplined in an increasingly competitive market and avoiding the phrase “this time it’s different.”
Dune’s latest fund recently closed oversubscribed. Where do you see the greatest opportunities for both your business and the real estate industry going forward?
We continue to see great opportunities for our business in the US. We recently closed Dune Real Estate Fund III with just under $1 billion in capital commitments. We have already committed roughly 50% of that in a broad range of transactions which include purchasing loans and REO from banks, acquiring senior housing, industrial, retail, and office properties, and developing residential projects. For the industry, technology and its ability to create greater transparency will continue to offer new opportunities.
What first attracted you to real estate, and what advice can you give current students on taking advantage of Columbia to position themselves for a career in real estate?
I wasn’t necessarily attracted to real estate. I just happened to be placed in the real estate group when I was working in investment banking. As a junior person, I liked real estate because it was fairly easy to understand and to participate in the business. Real estate, the asset, is fairly straight forward – rent comes in and expenses go out. But what drives those rents and why cap rates are what they are is very macro. I really liked looking at a micro asset in a macro world. Why have I stayed in real estate all these years later? Mostly because I really like the deal business and I like the people. Real estate attracts a diverse, interesting set of characters!
My advice for students is to start their career at the largest place possible and narrow to smaller companies over time. The real estate deal business is all about relationships and working in a larger organization will enable you to work with more people, build more relationships and be exposed to how real estate fits into the broader financial world. To that end, students should consider jobs on the debt side of the business. Everyone seems to want to work on the equity side, but there are many more jobs on the debt side. There is this idea that there is more money and prestige on the equity side – not sure that’s true but many stars in the industry didn’t start on the equity side of the business.
Dune is the only U.S. opportunity fund led or co-led by a woman. You were honored as the WX Woman of the Year in 2011 and selected by PERE as one of the Top Ten Women in Real Estate Private Equity. Do you have any advice for women beginning careers in the real estate industry?
My advice for women beginning careers is to understand that the real estate industry can be a great place for women – it’s not as bad as it’s portrayed! One of the best things about being on the principal side of real estate is that it is a meritocracy; performance is what matters. In that way, it is actually a great place within financial services industry for women. There are probably more senior women in the real estate industry than you think, but they don’t have the same the visibility as comparable men.
I am married and have two children. Young women often ask me how I “do it all.” The simple answer is that I don’t. Family and work responsibilities enter your life over time – it’s incremental – and you learn as you go. Sometimes balancing all of it feels easy, and sometimes it feels very difficult. My most important advice might be to not over think or over anticipate the work/family issues before their time. You really don’t know what the future has in store, so try to avoid making long term career decisions based on what you think your family life may be in the future. Maximize the career opportunities in front of you now and allow your life to play out.
What aspects of your experience as a student at Columbia Business School have been most beneficial to your career?
When I was at Columbia Business School, I took a great seminar called Managing Group and Interpersonal Dynamics where I received feedback on my presentation and speaking style, and advice on how to change my style based on my audience. As basic as it was, I had never gotten that type of coaching. I still think about some of the things I learned in that class.
You are a member of Columbia Business School’s MBA Real Estate Program Advisory Board and have been very involved as a Columbia Business School alumna. What do you consider the best ways for alumni to get involved?
The best way for alumni to get involved in the Columbia community is to show up for events. Especially early in your career, it is the best thing you can do. Networking and maintaining relationships is critical in the real estate industry. There is a tremendous network of CBS alumni who are in the real estate industry. By attending CBS events, we can stay involved in the Columbia community and also help everyone build stronger networks. I think of it as doing something for Columbia and doing something for myself.
Sarah Pous ’15 joined CW Financial Services as a Senior Associate after completing her M.B.A. at Columbia Business School. Prior to studying at Columbia, she worked in investment grade credit research and strategy at Credit Suisse. She spent the summer of 2014 working at CCRE in CMBS originations. Sarah has a B.S. in Hotel Administration from Cornell University.