Paul Macpherson, Seasoned Real Estate Executive, Reflects on 35+ Year Career Across the Globe

Figure 1 – Paul Macpherson speaking during the November 21, 2019 Distinguished Speakers Series. The Hilton Phuket Arcadia Resort & Spa can be seen in the background. Photo Credit: Lera Covington

On Thursday, November 21, 2019, the Baker Program in Real Estate had the pleasure of hosting Paul Macpherson for the Distinguished Speaker Series.  This marked Mr. Macpherson’s third time participating in the Baker Program Distinguished Speaker Series.  Having recently retired from his role as Executive Vice President of Global Business & Real Estate Development with Kerzner International, Mr. Macpherson regaled students with stories from his distinguished 35+ year career in finance and real estate.  His session was filled with colorful accounts of exotic places, immaculate properties, and loads of insight for students.

Mr. Macpherson has had an illustrious career that has literally taken him across the globe.  Hailing from Victoria, British Columbia, Mr. Macpherson began his career in the airline industry before moving to banking and eventually discovering his passion for real estate.    His first debut abroad was in Hong Kong with PKF Consulting where he served as Vice President – Asia Pacific.  This role eventually took him to Singapore.  The next step on his career journey was with Hilton International as Vice President of Development for the Asia Pacific and the Middle East.  In this role, he was involved in developing some of Hilton’s most iconic assets such as the Hilton Phuket Arcadia Resort & Spa and the Conrad Bali.  He later spent five years as the Chief Development Officer with the Jumeirah Group and several years serving as the President and Managing Director of Whitbread Hotels and Restaurants International.  With Whitbread, he worked to expand the company’s Premier Inn hotel brand internationally.  Most recently Mr. Macpherson served as the Executive Vice President of Global Development with Kerzner International in Dubai.  The Paul Macpherson Of Kerzner International Visits The Baker Program blog post on the Cornell Real Estate Review website provides more information on Mr. Macpherson’s work with Kerzner International.


Figure 2 – Conrad Bali. Photo Credit: Hilton.

Drawing from this rich experience, Mr. Macpherson shared four key lessons for cultivating a successful career abroad.  The first lesson was that real estate fundamentals are the same across boundaries.  Whether in North America, Asia or the Middle East, the same basic principles of real estate hold true.  The overarching goal is to create value and the tools used to achieve this objective are things such as underwriting, evaluating risks, considering LTVs and other debt ratios, and the like. Mr. Macpherson articulated that understanding this principle early in his career emboldened him to make his initial move abroad.  He also emphasized that while technical skills are important, soft skills such as how you communicate, how you tackle challenging situations, and your approach to adding value are the things that differentiate you from others and put you on a path for career success. As Mr. Macpherson stated, the technical skills “get you in the room, but its what you do once you are in the room that matters.”

The next lesson that Mr. Macpherson shared was to “be honest with yourself and do your due diligence” when considering a job in a new region.  He emphasized to students that while the job requirements are important, there are other crucial things to consider before making the big move to another country.  Students were encouraged to consider their ability to adapt to the local culture, climate, work-life norms, and other characteristics that may impact their quality of life as they consider relocating to a new region for work.

For lesson three, Mr. Macpherson advised students to, once abroad, “embrace the culture, learn the culture, don’t try to change it.”  This advice applies to things as simple as eating an unfamiliar delicacy to show honor to a host and more complex tasks such as negotiating a commercial transaction with elders in Southeast Asia.    In discussing this lesson, Mr. Macpherson stressed the importance of giving people the respect they deserve regardless of cultural differences and perceptions.

The final lesson of the night was to develop emotional intelligence.  The Oxford Lexico Dictionary defines emotional intelligence as “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.”  In driving home this lesson, Mr. Macpherson pointed to the quote “only bad things happen quickly” from the book Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart by Dr. Gordon Livingston.  The underlying point was that rash decisions, driven by emotions rather than sound judgment, can easily damage a career that has taken years to build.  To avoid this, students were encouraged to strengthen their emotional intelligence muscle and learn to tactfully navigate challenging situations in a way that enhances their career instead of derailing it.

The Baker Program in Real Estate is grateful for Mr. Macpherson’s visit and the wisdom that he shared during his presentation.  There is no doubt that Baker students gleaned valuable insight from the lessons shared.  The Baker Program eagerly anticipates a return visit from Mr. Macpherson and looks forward to seeing what the next chapter holds in store for him.



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