Student & Alumni Testimonials

Mandy Yeung ’18

Mandy Yeung '18The MBA Real Estate Program at Columbia has given me so much more than I could’ve imagined when I first started school in 2016. My classmates, the alumni, the real estate courses, speaker series, and special industry events have been the main ingredients to a transformative educational experience I would not have gotten anywhere else. As a career switcher looking to pivot into real estate development and investment from a background in construction management, I benefited immensely from the strong and tight-knit CBS real estate community that spans across the globe and across all functions within the industry.

One of the best decisions I made during my time at Columbia was to serve on the board of the school’s Real Estate Association (REA). Not only did my role as AVP and then VP of Trips offer me the opportunity to meet more of my peers, but it also gave me the chance to connect with alumni in various cities and countries we planned real estate market trips to. I was always impressed with how generous these busy professionals would be with their time and how enthusiastic they would be about hosting current REA students for a company visit, no matter where they were, from San Francisco to Hong Kong.

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I believe the secret sauce to the success of the real estate program at Columbia is the dedicated Paul Milstein Center (PMC) for Real Estate, which organizes and hosts a plethora of networking opportunities and events for the MBA students, from alumni career breakfasts to career panels and the distinguished speaker lunch series, and provides financial support for our trips and case competitions. Through a PMC breakfast event, I learned about WX, an invitation-only association for New York Women Executives in Real Estate, and eventually became a scholarship recipient for their fellowship program. I was also connected to CREW, a network of professional women in commercial real estate, through the PMC, further bolstering my connections to the industry and fostering more relationships that will prove invaluable throughout my career. My mind and my network has grown and opened up so much thanks to all the resources made available to me as a student of the MBA Real Estate Program, and for that I will be forever grateful.

Jeff Harrintgon ’18 

Jeff Harrington '18Before I begin, I want to first acknowledge that this is intended as an extension to the alumni testimonial written last year by my former classmate, John Pollock ’17. I will elaborate on a few specific areas that he discussed, but I would strongly advise reading his testimonial as well because it includes a more comprehensive overview of the multitude of benefits offered by the CBS MBA Real Estate Program.

From an academic standpoint, a major benefit for me personally was the mix of teaching styles within the real estate elective course offerings. My undergraduate degree was in Civil Engineering, so I did not have a strong academic foundation in real estate or finance coursework before attending CBS. With this in mind, I was pleased to take some courses that were taught in a traditional academic lecture setting, such as Real Estate Finance and Real Estate Transactions, to learn the basics before moving on to more advanced immersion and master classes, such as the Real Estate Project Class.

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Another aspect of the program that is truly invaluable is the location within New York City. This is probably the umpteenth time that you’ve been informed of the benefits of New York City, but from a recruiting and networking standpoint, it’s incredibly convenient to take a quick train ride to meetings between classes during the week. There is also a high concentration of successful alums working in real estate within New York City, so when these alums and other industry professionals speak on campus, they are always very candid and conversational. Speaking events are never recorded and are almost always private for the CBS community, so this enables students to not only gain an understanding for a speaker’s career progression, but also an intimate feel for the speaker’s mindset and perspective as a real estate investor.

One last item that I’d like to discuss is the benefit of peer classmates in the program. John covered this well in his testimonial, but it’s worth pointing out that many students in the MBA Real Estate Program have worked in real estate (in some capacity) prior to CBS. These students can provide insight on what it’s like working day-to-day in different roles and functions, a valuable benefit for students who are pivoting into real estate and are considering any number of possible career paths. I would also advise admitted students to start early by contacting existing students within the program before arriving on campus. Current students are eager to mentor next wave of students, so don’t hesitate to take advantage of this resource.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience the CBS MBA Real Estate Program and I am confident that the skills and abilities I developed during my time in the program will enable me to pursue a successful and rewarding career moving forward. This summer, I will be starting a full-time role in the Boston area as an Associate Development Manager at WS Development.

John Pollock ’17

John Pollock '17When I started the MBA program at Columbia Business School in 2015, I was a prospective career-switcher. My work experience was in institutional investment consulting and private equity, but I wanted to change gears and pursue a career in real estate. For me, Columbia’s real estate program was exactly what I was looking for: a combination of strong academics and real world, hands-on experiences in a collegial environment, as well as access to a strong, active alumni network.Students in Columbia’s MBA program are not required to pick a “concentration,” although many do to focus their academics and recruiting efforts. In other words, students pursuing an MBA, but focusing in Real Estate, do not receive a separate degree such as a Masters in Real Estate Development, which is obtained within a separate school. The MBA Real Estate Program is a series of real estate electives which build upon one another, interwoven with academic activities which complement the curriculum and is fully supported by the Paul Milstein Center for Real Estate (PMC), which helps develop the academic experience, holds industry conferences, connects students with alumni, and supports the students’ initiatives within the Real Estate Association.

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The Real Estate Association (REA) is Columbia’s student-led real estate club. The REA organizes alumni networking, social, and educational events in addition to disseminating career opportunities throughout the school year. 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 board of the REA is elected by students, and there are opportunities for both first and second year students to be involved. The REA greatly contributed to my education and social network and ultimately played a major role in helping me get my internship and full-time position.

In my perspective, the three most valuable aspects of the program include the school’s location within New York City, the prestigious (and generous) alumni, and the students. While academics are very important, even the most scholarly professors would probably agree that real estate is an industry in which you learn a tremendous amount from experience “in the field.” This is where the school’s location and alumni network come in. The PMC and the students, as part of the REA, regularly invite experienced practitioners for breakfasts, lunches, happy hours, and class lecturers. In many cases, it’s just a taxi ride away for the speakers to get to campus. Some of the guests that I was lucky enough to hear speak include Jon Gray of Blackstone, Sam Zell of Equity Group Investments, Dean Adler of Lubert-Adler Partners, Nicholas Bienstock ’96 of Savanna, Paul Pariser ’78 of Taconic Investment Partners, Andrea Olshan ’04 of Olshan Properties, David von Spreckelsen ’89 of Toll Brothers City Living, Wendy Silverstein of New York REIT, Jeffrey Barclay ’83 of Goldman Sachs, John Vickers ’85 of Tishman and many more. Even Jonathan Mechanic, one of the most well-recognized real estate attorneys, served as a guest lecturer in two of our Real Estate Transactions classes.

In addition to attending speaking and networking events, students regularly visit development sites and company’s offices. After all, some of the most exciting real estate developments in the country are currently underway in New York City. From major developments such as Hudson Yards and Essex Crossing to super-tall skyscrapers on 57th street and the massive development of Long Island City, there’s plenty to see and explore. In my final class at business school, NYC Immersion Seminar: Real Estate Development with Professor Emerita Lynne Sagalyn, our class spent nearly four hours with Related Companies at Hudson Yards hearing from the leaders of each of their construction, design, and engineering teams before touring the development. A single class such as this teaches students a semester’s worth of knowledge. Another major advantage of our location within New York City was our ability to network with alumni and other real estate professionals. All of the students spend a significant amount of time meeting one-on-one with professionals around the city both to network and learn from their experience. In many cases, these coffee chats / drinks / meals were as valuable as spending an hour in a classroom, and with so many alumni in New York working in real estate, there’s no shortage of contacts in the city. 

Finally, my classmates rounded out my experience in the Columbia real estate program. Within the program, there was a mix of students who were career-switchers like me and students who had some level of real estate experience but wanted to switch functions or accelerate their careers. I found the students within the program to be collegial, intelligent, intellectually curious, and social. Early on in my time at Columbia, I was told the real estate students were a tight-knit group, and I found this to be very true. Many of us became close friends during our first-year spring break trip when we attended a real estate–focused Chazen Global Study Tour of China, Singapore, and Hong Kong. In fact, many of my closest friends in my graduating class were students in the real estate program. I believe this network will be critical to all of our careers. I now have close friends who will be working in development, acquisitions, lending, and asset management across many different property types and across the country (and world). During my first year, the students in the class above us served as mentors, and we did the same during our second year for the new students. The collegiality among our classmates occurred both inside and outside the classroom. We took many of our classes together, worked together on group projects, and helped one another along the way. Outside the classroom, we regularly shared career opportunities, helped one another prepare for interviews, and shared contacts. I cannot emphasize enough how much my classmates contributed to my experience.

Last summer, I worked in acquisitions and asset management at Spear Street Capital, a real estate private equity firm. This summer, I will begin a full-time role as Senior Associate of Investment and Development at Trammell Crow Company in Philadelphia. My Columbia Business School MBA played a critical role in my career transition and has opened more doors for me than I ever thought possible.