ULI New York’s Young Leaders hosted a special panel – YLG Peer to Peer: Navigating the Next Stage of Your Career – featuring members of the esteemed ULI NEXT New York group. This discussion enabled those in attendance to hear from industry leaders that were not too long ago in the audience themselves. The panelists, Carolee Fink (NYC EDC), Michael Ferry (DDG) and Ruth Ann Blankenheim (Harbor Road Holdings), shared their individual ‘paths’ to where they are today. With Mehul Patel (Midwood Investment & Development), as moderator, the conversation was enlightening.
Right off the bat it became clear that there is no common path in a real estate career. Each panelist came from a unique background, and found their way through the industry via a mixed journey of intent, education, drive and little bit of luck. As was illustrated by the panel, unlike law or engineering for example, many individuals in real estate have come from multiple disciplines and, to an extent, happen upon their journey in real estate.
When asked a topical question such as, “What would you tell your younger self?”, the speakers had great advice for YLGs in their 20s and 30s. Michael Ferry would have told himself not to worry so much, and to trust that things will work their way out. Ruth Ann shared that she, not necessarily by plan, started her company at the same time as having her first child. She now reflects to the time before both, and would tell herself “you have more time than you think”. Carolee Fink would have told herself to ask more questions, and be confident in the fact that you shouldn’t be expected to know everything.
Next, the question of graduate school came up. Is it a necessity? Why did each of the panelists decided to go back to school to get their individual graduate degrees? Is a graduate degree necessary to move up in real estate today? Not dissimilar to their response to the career path question, each panelist had a different reason for going back to school. There were, however, two common threads. One, to make a career change. Graduate school provided a platform to learn skills that would enhance already developed career-based knowledge; allowing for a shift into real estate. Second, to round out areas of education and skills, not previously learned through experience so that they could bypass a plateau in their existing career and move to the next level.
The question of whether you “need” a graduate degree in the real estate industry today brought out some interesting answers. Although all the panelists noted that you do not need a graduate degree to be successful, and that they know many successful people in real estate that do not have one, the requirement of a graduate degree becoming ubiquitous within the industry’s top players in New York. Smaller organizations, that do not have a standardized hiring processes, often look at candidates both with and without graduate degrees.
The discussion then transitioned to how one decides on their next career move. Mehul and Michael both mentioned that they had left larger organizations for small firms in order to take on greater responsibility and advance their careers. Michael also noted that due to the cyclical nature of the real estate industry individuals must adapt over time. As history has taught us, there will always be a point when the product class you specialize in happens upon a down market. At that point many adapt and shift to a different aspect of real estate. This has traditionally provided industry members with a diverse background; proving extremely beneficial for many.
Overall this was a great opportunity for YLG members to speak to their peers about the thought process behind making their next career move. We would like to thank NEXT for partnering with YLG on this event and look forward to working together in the future.