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Last week the Baker Program had the pleasure to welcome an extremely accomplished Cornell alumna to the Distinguished Speaker Series. Tammy Jones is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Office of Basis Investment Group, an investment management company located in New York City. Tammy graduated from Cornell with a bachelor’s in economics, and then went on to work for various companies including Equitable Real Estate, GMAC and CW Capital. She later received her MBA from Georgia State University concentrating in real estate finance and in 2009, at the peak of the financial crisis, made the bold decision to strike it out on her own.
Tammy inspired students during her visit. Earlier in the day, First-year Baker student Julian Karel and Second-year, Chris Baker had the opportunity to have lunch with her. When asked about their thoughts on the lunch, both men shared their enthusiasm. “Lunch with Tammy was amazing. To sit down with her and to hear the story of things that she has accomplished and the challenges she had to overcome being both a woman and a minority, was inspirational”, said Karel.
After her lunch, Tammy sat down for an interview where she touched on a wide range of topics. She started by talking about what led her to found her own company and the conscious decision to do so during the midst of an economic downturn. She detailed how every position that she had held previously had prepared her to go out on her own. She explained how she was inspired to make this move during the downturn and felt that if she was able to make it while the economy was down, she would be in an advantageous position once the business cycle returned to normal. She had a tremendous amount of confidence in her ability to raise capital from positions she had previously held at GMAC and CW. Her co-investors at JEMB Realty were also confident in Tammy’s ability to raise capital in good and bad times, which led to them investing a 49% stake in Basis.
Tammy also spoke about some of the challenges that come with being a woman and a minority in an industry that traditionally has been slower to embrace diversity, compared to other industries. Tammy shared some of her own efforts to increase diversity in the commercial real estate industry. In 2016 she partnered with the New York Economic Development corporation to launch the Emerging Developers Loan Fund. This program is designed to help women and minority owned development firms to apply for loans to support predevelopment cost and property acquisitions, the early phase of development that most investors and banks typically won’t finance because they are too risky. Tammy also detailed her work with the Basis Impact Group Foundation. The mission of this non-profit is to expose young minorities and young ladies to career paths in commercial real estate, creating an early pipeline into the industry.
After her interview, it was on to the auditorium where Tammy met with the rest of the Baker family. She began by telling students about her humble beginnings growing up in South Jamaica, Queens and being from the first generation of college students in her family. She detailed the adjustment that she went through when she first came to Cornell and how, even after graduating, she still wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her life. She was fortunate enough to land a position with Equitable Investments, who put her in their management training program eventually leading to a rotation in their commercial real estate subsidiary where she found a home. She then detailed her experience with GMAC, managing GM’s pension fund and CW Capital where she took a platform of two people and expanded it to 80. All this taught her the ins and outs of raising capital, leading her to found Basis in 2009, which to date, has closed $3 billion in transactions in 41 states.
Many of the students were impressed by Tammy’s level of engagement. First-year Baker student Lera Covington said, “Tammy’s presentation was a real treat. Not only did she share a wealth of insight into capital raising and entrepreneurship, but her candid talk about her experiences in the commercial real estate industry served as inspiration for me as an African-American woman embarking on a career in this industry.”
The students and faculty of the Baker Program in Real Estate thank Tammy for coming back to Cornell and sharing her years of experience.