A Great First Step Into Commercial Real Estate Leadership
By Matt Mason
Commercial real estate success is driven by relationships. One of the best ways to form a strong professional network in our industry is through ULI Atlanta’s Center for Leadership. Applications are due May 22.
When I joined the Urban Land Institute in 2006, I had recently returned to Atlanta to pursue my MBA and was new to commercial real estate. In less than a year, by getting involved in ULI, I quickly found friends and colleagues which shaped my understanding of the industry. Several years later, I had the opportunity to apply for the 2011 Class of the Center for Leadership. At that point in time my experiences in ULI had been rich, and I wondered how the CFL program could help me.
I was excited to apply and be accepted into CFL, though I really didn’t know what to expect. Prior to the first class, participants read the book Atlanta Rising. It tells the story of Atlanta’s history from the 1920s to the Olympics. Few people know that the ‘City Too Busy To Hate’ was a similar size to Birmingham and Charlotte post World War II. Decisions made by our leaders, some good and some bad, fueled Atlanta’s growth. At the first CFL class, I met a diverse group of architects, contractors, developers, attorneys, city planners, and non-profit leaders and we began our journey together.
A year later, I was a graduate of the program. Even more valuable, I soon learned, was my alumni status in a club of more than 200 leaders in various disciplines across the region’s commercial real estate sector. Regardless if we have met before, I can pick up the phone and call an impressive list of well-connected executives to pick their brain, seek help or ask for an introduction. I’ve discovered it’s a powerful network. True relationships were formed, personally and professionally, among my peers via my experience in CFL.
Joining the class is a time commitment. CFL meets 8 days over the course of fall and spring and spends roundly 100 hours together (including a class project) over nine months. This includes prominent speakers, working sessions, project tours and a few happy hours! The sessions are most impressive: 30 to 40 busy people from different disciplines – all shutting down their cell phones for a day to listen, speak, ask questions and go behind the scenes in our industry.
Former Governor Roy Barnes gave CFL’s keynote at opening day, 2014. We closed last’s year graduation program with candid comments from former Metro Atlanta Chamber President, Sam Williams. We were the recipients of the thesis of Sam’s new book, The CEO as Urban Statesman before it was published. Bucky Johnson, Mayor of Norcross, who had served as chair of the T-SPLOST roundtable, discussed how transportation projects were selected for the list presented to regional voters. He gave us the inside scoop on the politics, negotiations and the partnerships, such as the one between Mayor Kasim Reed and Governor Nathan Deal.
One of my more memorable moments was listening to a panel of three developers, Larry Gellerstedt, David Marvin and Bob Voyles. They delivered a candid case study with not only facts and project hindsight, but also insight into what went right and what went wrong – telling stories they wouldn’t normally share publicly. We invoke Las Vegas rules: everything at CFL, stays at CFL We asked them what they would do differently and what they had learned. I came away with a deeper knowledge of how developers take huge risks when they don’t know what the market will serve up. I had an “aha” moment as to why a developer gets rewarded.
My vision for CFL is that these alumni will soon be scattered across the region and will serve in meaningful roles in our community over time. Leveraging our common base of understanding, we won’t have to have all this head-butting between, say, Cobb and Fulton. Thanks to the CFL program, many of these leaders will have built a common understanding about how our region got built and how we can make it better through collaboration and open communication.
Already, I cannot believe how quickly this is happening. For example, Amanda Rhein, a CFL alumna, is now leading some of the city’s most important strategies via her transit oriented development role at MARTA. I’ve been impressed how fast a lot of these folks have climbed the ladder, making a true, meaningful impact in our communities.
If you or someone in your organization would like to apply for CFL, please visit ULI Atlanta’s website. Applications are due May 22 and scholarships are available. If this isn’t the year for you to join, then apply in future years. Your opportunity to learn and grow awaits.
Matt Mason is a founder and principal at Tracy Avenue Partners, a commercial real estate development and consulting firm (www.tracyave.com). He is a native of Marietta and graduated from Walton High School, Georgia Tech, and Emory’s Goizueta School of Business. He currently serves as chair of ULI Atlanta’s Center for Leadership.