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The Cornell Baker Program in Real Estate had the distinct privilege of hosting Sylvia Melikian for the Thursday, October 19th installment of the Distinguished Speakers Series (DSS). Ms. Melikian is a 1986 graduate of the Johnson School of Business. She is currently a Principal at MacFarlane Partners where she is responsible for overseeing the real estate portfolios managed by the company on behalf of its capital partners. Ms. Melikian has over 40 years of experience in the real estate industry with proven expertise in property acquisitions, development, asset management, portfolio management and capital-raising. She has acquired, developed and/or managed more than $10 billion in real estate assets. Ms. Melikian is a pioneer in the field of real estate, holding the distinction of being the first woman to be named a partner at the development firm Lincoln Property Company. Prior to Lincoln Property, she held senior management positions with the predecessor entities of UBS Global Real Estate and Prologis.
Much like Ms. Melikian herself, MacFarlane Partners is a forerunner in the arena of urban investing. During an interview leading up to the DSS event, Ms. Melikian discussed MacFarlane’s entry into this space in the 1990s. This entry was prompted by the interest of California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CALPERS), a major client, to invest in urban areas. In response to this desire, MacFarlane Partners commissioned a study which concluded that purchasing power within densely populated urban areas was significantly higher than that of more affluent suburban locales. This discovery, along with its implication that certain assets could thrive within urban communities, became the crux for the urban investment strategy. Despite receiving a skeptical reception initially, the urban investment strategy has become a mainstay for portfolio managers around the nation due to the strong performance of MacFarlane’s Urban Funds.
As part of this interview, Ms. Melikian also provided advice to students embarking on a career in real estate, stating that there is “nothing wrong with being equitable and expecting other people to be equitable” as well. Consistent with this advice, she stated that being a person of integrity and always striving to keep her word have brought her success. Ms. Melikian also believes that possessing an unquenchable curiosity and “desire to know why,” valuing relationships, and not allowing ego to cloud one’s judgement, are other keys to a successful career in real estate.
During the DSS presentation, Ms. Melikian presented case studies of several MacFarlane Partners’ investments including Ladera Center in Los Angeles, CA; Bay Street Emeryville in Emeryville, CA; and Time Warner Center, in New York, NY. These case studies provided students with practical insights into identifying and executing investment opportunities. Ms. Melikian concluded her presentation with some memorable words of wisdom for the room of up-and-coming real estate leaders:
- A cookie for every plate
- Know when you have the low ground
- Tripping over dollar bills to pick up pennies
- The real estate doesn’t know you love it and it can’t love you back
- The sheet rock doesn’t know the rent it’s supposed to get
- If it looks ugly to you, it probably is ugly
Ms. Melikian has been a trailblazer in the real estate field, having embarked on her career in an era when the number of women in the industry was few and far between. In a fitting close to the night, Ms. Melikian hosted an impromptu dinner discussion with several members of the Cornell Real Estate Women student group. During this intimate session, Ms. Melikian had an open dialogue with students about some of the challenges faced by women in the real estate industry and strategies for overcoming these hurdles with confidence and spunk. She encouraged students to know their value and to work for companies that recognize that value. This impactful session left participants feeling empowered and more excited than ever to be embarking on careers in the real estate industry.
The Baker Program in Real Estate extends a tremendous thank you to Ms. Melikian for sharing her time, experience and wit during her visit. There is no doubt that students benefited from the valuable insights that she shared into the portfolio management field and the real estate industry as a whole.