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The week’s Distinguished Speaker Series marked another example of how this series highlights the power of a Cornell education and the many places it can take you. For this iteration of the series, The Baker Program welcomed back to campus Hotel School alum (SHA’02) Joseph Levine, who, since leaving Cornell, has gone onto cofound Mercer Street Partners, a private investment and advisory firm. Levine founded Mercer Street Partners in 2016 with his other two partners, and in that short time, the company has already amassed a respectable portfolio of properties.
Being a proud Cornellian, Joe was happy to be back on campus and share the trajectory of his career since leaving Cornell. Joe is a dynamic individual with a plethora of interests that extend beyond the success he has had in the real estate industry. This was quickly evident as he sat down to be interviewed by The Review team for an interview that will hopefully be developed into The Review’s new podcast series. Upon sitting down, Joe gave us a few audio pointers from his production experience, given the fact that this is our first foray into recording podcast.
In that interview, Joe walked us through his career, which started at Loews Hotel, where he spent a year in an auditor/analyst role that he considers pivotal in setting a foundation for him. After realizing that he didn’t want to continue a career in food and beverage management, he seized an opportunity to go to Chartres Lodging, where he was only the small company’s second hire. During the time he spent at Chartres, he helped the company grow its portfolio significantly to reach over $1.5 billion in value.
With success in hotel asset management and the desire to explore different asset classes, Joe eventually ended up atUnited Realty Trust, a non-traded public REIT. During his time at United, he helped grow the company’s portfolio from $50 million to $220 million in assets as Head of Acquisitions. At United he also worked with the two men with whom he would go onto found Mercer Street Partners, Milan Parekh and Alex Libin.
During his presentation, in addition to walking students through his career, Joe imparted several pieces of advice that he called his Rule to Success. Most notable was the idea of “authoring your 0wn story.”He urged students to choose and write their own paths and to not let others choose your path for you. He gave examples of how in his career, he has been able to branch out into other areas of interest, such as the time he spent working on real estate deals by day and working as a standup comic by night.
Joe imparted many other pieces of wisdom such as “seize opportunities to work with smart people” and “in every crisis there is an opportunity”. He also expanded on how the service mentality that he acquired while in the Hotel School has allowed him to be successful in the asset management space by creating a service-based experience in the properties MSP acquires.
Since its founding in 2016, Mercer Street Partners has developed a portfolio with an aggregate value of over $125 million of commercial real estate and is continuing to grow. Due to this growth, the company is investing in people who can add value. Second-year Baker student Dustin Dunham had the opportunity to work there over the summer and said, “My experience at Mercer Street Partners was wonderful. Having the opportunity to work with such a talented team of partners really shaped my perspective of what it takes to be successful in the asset management space.”
The students and faculty of the Baker Program in Real Estate thank Joe Levine for coming back to Cornell and sharing his wealth of experience.