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Real Conversations features current MBA students, discussing their experiences in the Real Estate Program at Columbia Business School and beyond…in their own words.
By Tricia Philip-Rao
The Paul Milstein Center sat down with Jonny Cohen ’18 to discuss what drew him to Columbia Business School, the importance of the connections in the Real Estate Association (REA), and his favorite travel experience. Jonny is Co-President of the REA.
What led you to the MBA Real Estate Program at Columbia Business School?
First of all, the network. More than 50% of the senior level bankers I worked with on the Real Estate Investment Banking team at J.P. Morgan were alumni of Columbia Business School. This sparked my interest in CBS, and I spoke with these bankers and followed up with my own research and due diligence; there was nothing comparable to the MBA Real Estate Program here at Columbia. CBS’s Real estate program provides a combination of strong academics and classes that deliver real world, hands-on experiences in a collegial environment. At the same time, we are part of a top tier MBA program, located right here in New York! I have met some of my best friends at CBS, and many of them are in the real estate program.
CBS’s MBA RE program will definitely help me professionally and personally. Before business school I worked in Real Estate Investment Banking, first with Morgan Stanley in London and then with J.P. Morgan in New York. After working in Investment Banking, I spent my last year and a half before business school working with my father Meir’s real estate private equity firm called Cohen Equities. I am currently working with Cohen Equities part time and plan to go back full time after I graduate. The MBA RE Program will leave me better suited to go back to our business with stronger leadership skills, technical expertise, and well-rounded education.
Tell us more about your role and position in the Real Estate Association.
I am Co-President of the Real Estate Association (or the REA), along with Sam Fenwick ’18. The REA has over 200 members and is one of the largest and most active clubs on campus. In this role Sam and I work together with all of the respective VP’s to organize alumni networking, social, and educational events in addition to disseminating career opportunities throughout the school year.
Our goal is to help students get the best job they possibly can, through learning experiences and the great alumni and network of the REA. This is a very active club and student participation is extremely high at all events, even for students who are not actively pursuing real estate as a career. The REA has greatly contributed to my education, and to my professional and social network; we host events such as hearing from Sandeep Mathrani, the CEO of GGP, on how he got to where he is today, to hosting a Real Estate Technology Panel with people from Airbnb and WeWork, or doing a site visit to Hudson Yards with alumni from Related. The REA is very collaborative, and students work together to get the best job possible while meeting great people and enjoying themselves along the way.
Are you a member of other student organizations? If so, which? Do you hold any other officer positions?
I am currently the External Community Chair for Cluster X, where I help coordinate various community service events, including tutoring underprivileged students and visiting retirement homes. Otherwise I am a member of the Family Business Club, Public Speaking Association, Hermes Society, Auto Club, and Israel Business Association, among others.
What events or speakers have been most meaningful or impactful to you while in business school?
That’s a tough question! There have been so many fantastic events. I truly enjoyed the trek we did to Philadelphia in the spring of last year, as it was my first time that I was able to work hands-on to coordinate an event with the REA at CBS. After speaking with a few of my friends at Wharton, we decided to do a joint site visit with CBS and Wharton students. Students mingled throughout the day, and we were able to meet with firms that own assets in Philadelphia such as Lubert-Adler (Dean Adler spoke with us), Brandywine, PREIT, and Cohen Equities. We capped off the day with a social for CBS students and alumni in the area. A couple of people told me at a later date that they ultimately received a job offer from someone they met during the trek; awesome!
What do you like about real estate?
I don’t like real estate; I love it! I love that real estate impacts every part of your life, from where you live, shop, eat, work, and more; I also love that being a successful real estate investor encompasses more than just knowing the numbers, but also being able to work well with others and be personable. I like being challenged, and being a successful real estate investor in today’s environment is extremely difficult, as many feel we are in the later stage of the cycle.
Also, depreciation is pretty great…
How do you define and measure success?
I define success as being the best I can be. This means striving to reach my full potential, whether it be with my classwork here at CBS, working on a real estate transaction at Cohen Equities, or being there when a friend or family member needs me.
I also define success as constantly growing; as Tony Malkin from Empire State Realty Trust said when we visited his offices with Sal Smeke and students from the Executive MBA program in September 2017, “Life is like riding a motorcycle—if you are not passing others, you are usually being passed.”
What is your favorite restaurant in NYC?
My favorite restaurant in NYC is Ilili in Flatiron. Ilili has amazing Mediterranean cuisine, great drinks, good vibes, and is close to my apartment. I love going to new places as well though, and there are always fantastic new ones opening up here in NYC.
Favorite place you’ve traveled?
A few friends of mine had planned a trip to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa. I spontaneously decided to join the trip and prepared everything necessary in under a week’s time; reaching the peak of Kilimanjaro was exhilarating, having gone through 5 different climates in under 6 days. I was also able to go on a safari beforehand. I love going on both planned and spontaneous trips, but having less than a week to get organized for a trip that most people plan many months ahead made it even more exciting.
Additionally, I have traveled to so many great places with friends from CBS in my first year, and can’t wait to go on more trips in my second year.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by two main factors. One factor is being able to have as big of a positive impact on this world as I possibly can. Whether this means having and supporting a family, donating money to charity, or providing the best possible experience for tenants, I hope to drive success and be the best I can be, so that I can positively impact this world.
The second factor is my father Meir, who immigrated to America from Israel at age 25 with just a few thousand dollars, and through hard work and being in the right place at the right time has developed into a very successful real estate investor, and fantastic father. (Disclaimer, he is also my boss.)
What three words best describe you?
Ambitious, consistent, & passionate