DSS Wrap-Up: Panel Discussion, Baker Program Class of 2014

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Wilson Blum

A proud graduate of Louisiana State University, Wilson is in the Baker Program’s Class of 2020. He began his career in 2012 in commercial real estate brokerage specializing in industrial and retail properties. In 2015, he transitioned into single tenant retail, managing site selection, acquisition, and development for a fast-growing automotive retail chain across the Southeast and Midwest. After Cornell, Wilson will pursue a career in distressed and opportunistic real estate investments.

Over the last several years a tradition has formed within the Baker Program in Real Estate of inviting back to campus members of the graduating class from five years prior. On Thursday, March 28th the Baker Program welcomed back just such a group from the class of 2014 for a wide-ranging panel discussion. Prompted by Baker Program Director Dustin Jones, a group comprised of Ryan Bandy, Ashley Broderick, Evan Doran, Rebecca Green, and Rodney Harris gave students a view into how they approached their careers after the Baker Program and what aspects of their time at Cornell helped them achieve the success they currently enjoy.

Ashley Broderick (Baker ’14) discussed her path to Taconic Investment Partners. Her first job out of Baker was with Toll Brothers City Living, where she had an opportunity to work on luxury projects such as Brooklyn Heights and 121 E. 22nd Street. This experience solidified her interest in the challenge and complexity of urban infill projects, something she got a taste for through her internship with AECOM/Tishman shortly after their merger. She was able to secure her job at Toll by consistently networking and maintaining contact with the company. Although initially told no, Ashley stressed that hearing no the first time doesn’t mean no always. After persisting she was able to land her job. Her job at Taconic, for which she is managing development at three different sites, two of which are located in the large public/private partnership development Essex Crossing, came to her through a contact she met during her internship with AECOM/Tishman.

Knowing he wanted to go into development upon graduation, Evan Doran (Baker ’14) also joined Toll in California after graduating from Baker. As the panel discussed the type of skills the Baker Program provided graduates relative to their peers, Evan cited the holistic nature of the program as something that was tremendously helpful. The ability to understand all areas – asset management, finance, development, etc. – immediately puts you at an advantage. In his case, after working with Toll he decided he wanted to move into hotel development. The broad range of skills provided to him through the Baker Program made that transition possible. Evan went on to work on hotel developments with Sydell Group in Austin, Texas before joining the Doran Companies, his family’s multi-family development company in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Rebecca Green (Baker ’14), currently Director of Real Estate – Minneapolis at Sonder, started out at JLL after graduating from Baker. While she enjoyed managing the real estate portfolios of large multi-national companies, much of the work was more about cost-control than development. Knowing that she wanted to pursue development led her to her role at Sonder, where she is involved across the strategy, business development, acquisition, and re-development of assets in the Minneapolis area.

A common theme amongst the panel was the way in which the Baker Program prepares students across the board for a diverse array of positions within real estate, giving them the skills necessary to pivot into different roles as their careers unfold. Rodney Harris’s (Baker ’14) situation was no different. After a long and successful career in the Air Force as a civil engineer, Rodney came to the Baker Program with ten years of international experience managing the real estate development needs of the Air Force from Europe to Tokyo. He knew he wanted to study real estate finance and development. The two-year timeframe of the Baker Program was a major factor in his decision to attend. The first year was hugely important to be able to focus on the fundamentals and academics of the program without the pressure of searching for a job. Given his prior military experience leading teams, Rodney was able to join Hines Development in Houston upon graduation and quickly established himself as capable of leading complex projects. He developed an interest in senior living and started Hines’s senior living program. However, while Hines is a wonderful company with a well-known track record, its size made it hard to quickly maneuver within the industry. Rodney recently joined Thrive Senior Living, where he is currently the Executive Director of one of its 140 unit facilities. After spending a year on the operational side of the business, Rodney will re-join the real estate development team, marrying his operational experience with his real estate knowledge in order to more effectively pursue successfully projects.

Ryan Bandy (Baker ’14) discussed the importance of mentorship, stressing that sometimes one needs to “be a pest” in order to gain access to influential and knowledgeable industry leaders. This method helped him to establish a relationship with Frank Sullivan, one of the original members of Clarion Partners. After fostering this relationship, Ryan was able to join Clarion upon his graduation and has worked with the company ever since in its industrial practice group. In his current role, Ryan is overseeing approximately seven and a half million square feet of industrial development.

When asked what courses were important during their time at Cornell, the panelists had a variety of answers. However, most common amongst them was Real Estate Law. The panelists all agreed that having a fundamental understanding of the basis of property rights is incredibly helpful in negotiations, further pointing to courses such as Negotiations (in the Johnson School) and Transactions and Deal Structuring (currently taught by Dustin Jones) that provided help in the real world. Ashley also identified Accounting as an incredibly useful tool. The panelists agreed that tracking the flow of cash through the various accounts associated with large development projects is an important skill.

Wrapping up the discussion, the panelists stressed the importance of utilizing the Cornell network while in school. Fostering relationships with your classmates and others within the community gives you a network that will grow with you as your career unfolds post-Cornell. Reaching out to alumni while still in school will open many doors, and even post-graduation the alumni network is unparalleled – always willing to help or give experience and knowledge.

The Baker Program would like to thank Ryan, Ashley, Evan, Rebecca, and Rodney for taking time to come back to Cornell and share their experiences with the current generation of Baker students. We look forward to continuing to track their many successes and maintaing contact with them in the future.


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