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By Tricia Philip-Rao
Real Conversations features current MBA students, discussing their experiences in the Real Estate Program at Columbia Business School and beyond…in their own words.
For the inaugural student interview, the Paul Milstein Center sat down with Sophie Haas ’17 to discuss her background, how her first year at the Business School prepared her for her internship, and among other topics, her favorite thing about living in New York City. Sophie is Co-Vice President of Events for the Real Estate Association (REA). Prior to CBS, she worked at JLL developing real estate strategies for major corporations. She spent her summer in the Acquisitions and Capital Markets Group at Vornado. Meet Sophie.
What led you to the MBA Real Estate Program at Columbia Business School?
After having worked for almost five years at JLL developing real estate strategies for major corporations such as P&G and ADP, I wanted to expand my skillset and dive into real estate investment and development. The excellent reputation of Columbia Business School, the fact that the school is in what I would consider one of the world’s hottest real estate markets, the variety of real estate courses offered, and the breadth of CBS’s real estate network is what immediately drew me to the MBA Real Estate Program.
Tell us more about your role and position in the Real Estate Association.
During my first year at CBS, I was AVP of International, initiating new events for REA such as our “International Dinner Series” where small groups REA members talked about real estate, while trying new foods such as “Schnitzel” and “Chow Mein” at their favorite local restaurant.
Now, in my second year, I am Co-VP of Events with my friend Greg Pearson. We kicked off the year having an amazing time bowling at Lucky Strike. We are focusing on a wide variety of events that include social, educational, and professional elements. We just toured Columbia’s ultra-efficient Powerhouse Chiller Plant in collaboration with the Green Business Club this semester. Other events we have in store include small focus group dinners, a real estate panel at the PE-VC conference, the Post-Real Estate-Symposium Happy Hour, and many others that I don’t want to give away just yet!
Are you a member of other student organizations? If so, which? Do you hold any other officer positions?
I probably do what many PAs tell you not to do when you start at CBS- become a member of a million clubs. Of course, my main focus is on REA, but I enjoy participating in other club’s events whenever I can. Some of the clubs I am a member of include the Retail and Luxury Goods Club and Hospitality and Travel Association as I am interested in both retail and hotel asset classes, and the Family Business Club. I am also the International Rep for my cluster as I am Austrian and enjoy acting as a liaison between American and international students.
What events or speakers have been most meaningful or impactful to you while in business school?
One of my favorite events so far was the Real Estate Symposium where I was able to meet real estate professionals such as MaryAnne Gilmartin, president and CEO of Forest City Ratner and Barry Sternlicht, Chairman and CEO of Starwood Capital Group. Another highlight was the Real Estate Study tour to Singapore and China. Through Columbia's network we had access to leading real estate firms and government organizations such as the Singaporean Urban Redevelopment Authority. We also connected with local alumni and created deeper bonds with faculty members and other current students.
Furthermore, I enjoyed the mindfulness workshop organized by Home Nguyen and the Ayurveda event organized by CWIB. I could go on and on about the amazing events that I enjoyed during my first year, but those were definitely some of the highlights!
Describe your summer internship. Role, responsibilities, highlights.
I interned in the Acquisitions and Capital Markets Group at Vornado. On the acquisitions side, I underwrote value-add retail, office, and residential projects including a 400k SF office redevelopment project, potential retail co-op and condo acquisitions, and a 55k SF office assemblage site. On the capital markets side, I analyzed loan acquisition projects in NY, Washington, and Chicago. I was heavily involved in the refinancing of theMart, the largest US commercial building (3.6M sf) for which we closed a $675M loan. I also conducted research and analyses on Vornado's existing portfolio (real estate and financial assets) for board presentations and on sub markets with new retail investment opportunities. I could not have asked for a better team and summer experience!
How did your first year at CBS help prepare you for your internship experience?
On the educational level, my real estate finance class, REA's Argus training workshops, and the educational superchargers were key.
On the professional level, CBS and REA gave me access to so many helpful contacts. I was paired up with a mentor, who is a recent CBS alumnus that guided me throughout the interview process. Both the real estate career fellow and real estate career coaches also gave me great support.
Lastly, I reached out to many very helpful alumni who I found through CBS' employment database and who were all willing to have coffee or phone chats with me.
What is the best thing about living in NYC?
All the languages you hear on the streets. No place is like New York- a true melting pot where smart and driven people from all around the world meet to chase after their dreams.
What is your favorite restaurant in NYC?
Palma in West Village- a cozy Italian restaurant with a beautiful winter garden and the best gnocchi in town.
Favorite place you’ve traveled?
San Pedro de Atacama, the driest non-polar desert in the world. Mountain-biking there through the "moon-valley" was a breathtaking experience.
If you had a superpower, what would it be and why?
Teleportation. I love discovering new beautiful places around the world and connecting with friends and family that are scattered throughout Europe, South and North America and sometimes wish I could be in three different locations the same day.
Tricia Philip-Rao is the Assistant Director of the Paul Milstein Center for Real Estate at Columbia Business School. Prior to the Business School, Tricia worked in Faculty Support Services at Columbia Law School. She holds an MA in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.