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On April 5, 2017, the Real Estate Association and the Family Business Club, with support from the Paul Milstein Center for Real Estate, presented a joint Real Estate Family Business Panel at Columbia Business School. The event commenced with a panel discussion moderated by Professor Patricia Angus, Co-Director of Columbia Business School’s Family Business Program and Founder and CEO of Angus Advisory Group, and was followed by a networking reception for current students, alumni, and our industry guest panelists.
The panel comprised a group of Columbia Business School alumni at various stages of their careers who are involved in real estate family businesses. They included:
Alex Bernstein ’00: Director of Acquisitions & Director of Asset Management, Bernstein Real Estate
Anand Bhatia ’16: Vice President, Bhatia Development Organization
Ryan Moorehead ’09: Vice President, Olshan Properties
Brian Steinwurtzel ’04: Co-CEO and Principal, Newmark Holdings
Professor Angus kicked off the discussion by sharing an anecdote of a costume party where guests were asked to dress as their favorite family business. Surprisingly (or perhaps unsurprisingly), many people dressed up as physical buildings. This hinted at how often real estate and family businesses are tied together.
The panelists made their introductions by discussing their family businesses and how they found themselves in real estate, from Bernstein Real Estate that began several generations before as a fur trader who owned warehouses in lower Manhattan to Bhatia Development which began investing in the US a generation ago by acquiring a fixer-upper in Whitestone, New York.
The panelists also shared their thoughts on when to join the family enterprise. Anand Bhatia decided together with his father that he should start at an external real estate firm before joining the family, so as to build his institutional knowledge and enhance his credibility. Brian Steinwurtzel shared another perspective: growing up at a time when the real estate markets had a rough patch, he had no desire to join the family business. However, while at Columbia Business School, he heard from interesting industry professionals who fueled his interest in real estate and ultimately he decided to join the family business post-MBA.
As a non-family member working in a family business, Ryan Moorehead provided a unique view. Ryan got his start at the Richman Group before eventually joining Olshan Properties. He offered practical advice to students interested in joining family businesses: Get to know the people first, do your job well, and then look for ways to improve or add value.
Other topics that the panelists discussed were working through disagreements and resistance to change. The panelists extolled the value of patience, making changes deliberately, being honest with each other, and leaving business off the dinner table. Debt was also an important topic among the panelists, who were in agreement that a conservative use of debt is in line with their goal to preserve what families have built.
The panel concluded with their views on the real estate markets, where there was general concern about the difficulties of finding deals due to increased competition, new supply, and interest rates rising. In spite of this, Alex Bernstein offered some worthwhile career advice – it’s not hard to learn the numbers in real estate, but it is creative thinking that will set you apart.
The panel provided a first-hand look at the opportunities and challenges faced by real estate family business leaders. On behalf of the Real Estate Association, the Family Business Club, and the Paul Milstein Center for Real Estate, we would like to extend our thank the panelists and attendees for contributing to the success of this event.
Eric Liang’17 is Co-President of the Real Estate Association. A CFA Charterholder and Real Estate Circle Fellow, Eric spent his past summer at Brookfield Property Partners as a Summer Associate in real estate acquisitions. Prior to business school, he served as an Investment Associate in the Global Real Estate group of Aviva Investors where he underwrote investments in real estate funds, joint ventures, and co-investments on behalf of a $10 billion platform. Eric began his career with RREEF Real Estate / Deutsche Bank where he assisted capital deployment and fundraising in the US and China. He is a 2009 graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, where he majored in finance and accounting.