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Boston CRE’s New Guard On What It Takes To Elbow Into New England’s Insular Real Estate Circles

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In more ways than one, Boston isn’t known for being the warmest city in the U.S. Cracking into its commercial real estate market is an arduous process that many in the industry say can take years of commitment to long hours, hard work, possibly low pay and networking. But it isn’t an impossible task for those who stick with it. 

Bisnow is tipping a hat to this rising generation of 36 CRE leaders at the Bisnow Boston Awards Dec. 12 at Fenway Park. Some of this group of market pros in their 20s and 30s(ish) reflected on their careers with Bisnow thus far and shared what it takes to succeed in Beantown, what mistakes they’ve faced along the way and what has helped throttle their careers forward. 

Answers have been lightly edited for clarity.

Boston CRE’s New Guard On What It Takes To Elbow Into New England’s Insular Real Estate Circles

MIT Investment Management Co. Director Amanda Strong

Bisnow: How do you break through in a market like Boston and make a name for yourself?

Strong: Don’t be afraid of starting out as a financial analyst and putting in the hours to learn the business. The analytical part of real estate is the best place to learn how things work and where you can go. You should also expect and be willing to pivot a few times. Opportunities tend to present themselves, and the endgame might be different than your original vision. Finally, it’s a relationship business, and it’s important to build and maintain a network of colleagues who can help you grow and you can help as well.

Bisnow: What was your biggest mistake so far in your career?

Strong: Just that it took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do. When I was in college, asset management didn’t really exist the way it does today. Now, it’s an accepted, institutional-quality alternate investment. The sooner you can figure things out, the more focused and ultimately happier I think you could be.

Bisnow: What’s been your biggest career boost so far?

Strong: Definitely going back for my master’s degree at MIT. The network of alumni, especially in Boston, made the program well worth the investment. I learned a lot, got exposure to one of the best schools in the country and made some great friends, too.

Gilbane Building Co. Senior Business Development Manager Raj Bhangoo

Bisnow: How do you break through in a market like Boston and make a name for yourself?

Bhangoo: Boston is an extremely small city with a lot of old relationships. As someone who didn’t grow up in the area, it came down to being patient and working to gain the trust of my colleagues. It is difficult to have the staying power to be patient, especially when everyone and everything is moving so fast around you. But if you take the time early on in your career to learn from the experienced people around you, I feel it will pay off in the long run.

Bisnow: What was your biggest mistake so far in your career? 

Bhangoo: Not taking advantage of a mentor relationship. Early in my career, I had a number of opportunities to get involved in mentor/mentee programs, and I didn’t take advantage of them because I didn’t see the value. Looking back on it now and seeing how powerful they have been for others, I believe I really missed an opportunity that could have helped me years ago and even in my career today. I jump at the chance now to be a mentor, as I see how it can help individuals in their pursuit to being CRE leaders.

Bisnow: What’s been your biggest career boost so far?

Bhangoo: Having the courage to leave Gilbane, a company I worked at for over 10 years. It was a very difficult decision, given how great the company is, how much I loved the people and how much they had invested in me. That said, I learned a lot about myself during that transition and it helped me better understand my strengths and weaknesses. Fortunately, I was able to rejoin Gilbane a few years ago and am enjoying the company and my role even more.

Walker & Dunlop Managing Director Travis D’Amato

Bisnow: How do you break through in a market like Boston and make a name for yourself?

D’Amato: Boston is a small town when it comes to commercial real estate. You have to be smart and work hard to develop your reputation. This takes years, and there are no shortcuts.

Bisnow: What was your biggest mistake so far in your career?

D’Amato: My career is judged in wins and losses. I can point to a number of deals that we have lost over the years due to a number of different reasons. Each loss is a learning opportunity. I still keep a list of deals that we have pitched and lost and the reasons why. We are always trying to improve.

Bisnow: What’s been your biggest career boost so far?

D’Amato: Teaming up with my partner, Mike Coyne, in 2012. There is a lot of ground to cover and having a complementary partner is essential to effectively covering the market. We have also built a great team around us that includes Brendan Shields, Kevin Gleason, Maggie McFarland and Jennie Newton.

Gerding Edlen Director Matt Edlen

Boston CRE’s New Guard On What It Takes To Elbow Into New England’s Insular Real Estate Circles
Gerding Edlen Director Matt Edlen (second from left) speaking at a Bisnow event

Bisnow: How do you break through in a market like Boston and make a name for yourself?

Edlen: There are two key things that I would attribute to being successful in the city of Boston. First, be a steward to neighborhood values. Shut up and listen: The communities that we are working in have a deep set of values, culture, etc. Connecting with those values bring a greater sense of place to your work. Second is an age-old truism: Do what you say and say what you do. The simple act of following through goes a very long way in this city.

Bisnow: What was your biggest mistake so far in your career? 

Edlen: Underestimating the market. There’s a fine balance between believing you can impact your customer to unlock value and simple market conditions. No matter how game-changing you think your product is, the market always wins.

Bisnow: What’s been your biggest career boost so far?

Edlen: Early on in my career someone told me one thing that I’ll never forget: Be the guy who knows the numbers. Know the numbers and people come to you for the information. You become invaluable. I never forgot that — or the numbers.

Perry Director of Intelligence Brendan Carroll

Bisnow: How do you break through in a market like Boston and make a name for yourself?

Carroll: From my perspective, it’s important to have a competitive advantage but also to play well with others. Boston’s a market with a lot of global focus these days, both from the perspective of real estate investment and from the perspective of businesses that want to be here. It’s also small from the perspective of our industry, so be nice. You never know who you’ll wind up working with some day.

Bisnow: What was your biggest mistake so far in your career? 

Carroll: Big ones? Hmm, I try to avoid those. Small ones? I make them all the time and just try to learn.

Bisnow: What’s been your biggest career boost so far?

Carroll: Getting in. After what I felt was a very strategic and industry-wide outreach, I felt it took forever for me to crack the market. Finally, my uncle Bob Nosal, who ran Grubb & Ellis in Cleveland, got his Boston colleagues to listen to me. I would have loved to have gotten in by myself, but maybe that was my first industry lesson: You never do anything by yourself.

Berkadia Senior Director Gemma Geldmacher

Boston CRE’s New Guard On What It Takes To Elbow Into New England’s Insular Real Estate Circles
Berkadia Senior Director Gemma Geldmacher (center) at a Bisnow event

Bisnow: How do you break through in a market like Boston and make a name for yourself?

Geldmacher: Patience, guts and perseverance. Boston has a dedication to and rich appreciation of its history, so it can be hard to be the next new thing. I’ve chosen to take the long road and build relationships, which will hopefully pay off in the long run but is certainly more fun and rewarding in the meantime.

Bisnow: What was your biggest mistake so far in your career? 

Geldmacher: It’s tough to gauge this because I look at everything happening for a reason. It’s all led me here, and this is right where I should be, so I don’t have an answer for this … yet!

Bisnow: What’s been your biggest career boost so far?

Geldmacher: Back in 2008, I was transferred into the Federal Housing Administration group of my company — a move I almost viewed as a demotion. However, I buckled down to make the best of it. In hindsight, what I saw as one of my darkest days ended up being my biggest career opportunity. My current role as an FHA loan originator isn’t one that I ever would have chosen, but I love what I do and am so glad that I decided to make the best of the opportunities I have been given, even if I haven’t always seen them as such at the time.

Cushman & Wakefield Executive Director Tom Sullivan

Bisnow: How do you break through in a market like Boston and make a name for yourself?

Sullivan: I spent more than a decade in New York to start my career and began covering the Boston market in 2011. Fortunately, the firm I worked for at the time bought a multifamily lender in 2014 with a large Boston presence, which paved the way for me to move here full time. I have always been fortunate to work for some larger firms with brand recognition, and that helped open doors for me. From there, it’s been persistence and annoying a lot of people! 

Bisnow: What was your biggest mistake so far in your career?

Sullivan: Probably taking so long to make the move full time to Boston. It’s no secret this is a very insular town, and trying to ingrain yourself from 200 miles away is almost impossible. We are relatively new on the scene here, and we find ourselves competing with people who have been in CRE in Boston for generations. 

Bisnow: What’s been your biggest career boost so far?

Sullivan: Despite what I say above about timing, I think that background in Wall Street finance is a lot different than most others, and it affords us the ability to look at things from a different viewpoint for clients. I’ve been lucky enough to work on a lot of complicated finance real estate transactions in my career, which helps bring a unique perspective to a room. 

Samuels & Associates Acquisitions Manager Greg Bohenko

Bisnow: How do you break through in a market like Boston and make a name for yourself?

Bohenko: I first entered into the Boston market as a broker at T3 Advisors out of school. However, I broke into the Boston CRE development scene when I took a role at Samuels & Associates as acquisitions manager two years ago. What they were looking for in an acquisitions manager happened to match my mindset and experience. I started my real estate career as a sophomore in college, flipping and building single-family homes on the North Shore and then found my way into commercial brokerage once I graduated. I think having an entrepreneurial mindset and the experience sourcing opportunities both directly and through relationships helped me break into Boston CRE. 

Bisnow: What was your biggest mistake so far in your career?

Bohenko: When I was working on my own projects, one of the new construction projects didn’t go well and we ended up losing money. We ended up taking a loss because we were overly optimistic and didn’t pay attention to the downside. We miscalculated demand, costs, you name it. It has been the most valuable lesson I’ve learned thus far.

Bisnow: What’s been your biggest career boost so far?

Bohenko: I’ve been networking aggressively since college, and I still rarely have a free night during the week. I think it’s important to get involved in industry groups like [the Real Estate Finance Association], [Urban Land Institute], [National Association for Industrial and Office Parks] or Bisnow and to charity boards. I’m very active in REFA and I’m excited to be a tri-chair for the Emerging Leaders Committee next year. Building relationships has been the most fulfilling part of my career thus far and I think it’s necessary to build your brand and provide value to your company.