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Beyond The Bio: 16 Questions With Core Spaces Founder Marc Lifshin

This series profiles men and women in commercial real estate who have profoundly transformed our neighborhoods and reshaped our cities, businesses and lifestyles.

Marc Lifshin is the founder and CEO of Core Spaces, a developer and owner of off-campus, mixed-use student housing.

He received a bachelor of science degree in general engineering from the University of Illinois, and worked for Vail Resorts and IKON before starting his own real estate development company, LG Development Group, in 2002. The evolution of that company, including segmentation into student housing, hospitality and multifamily, led to the formation of Core Spaces.

Since Core Spaces was launched in 2010, it has developed and/or owned 28 properties nationwide, totaling more than 13,000 beds, and has a pipeline of over 15,000 beds in various stages of development. In August, it announced a deal with affiliates of Goldman Sachs' Merchant Banking Division to recapitalize and develop a portfolio of nine assets, totaling more than 4,300 beds and valued at more than $600M.

Core Spaces founder and CEO Marc Lifshin with two of his three kids.

Bisnow: What is the favorite part of your job?

Lifshin: At this stage of my career, I love mentoring the younger people in our company. When folks can be inspired and buy into our culture, they succeed in their roles. The happier they are as people, the happier they are at work. Then, better work is performed, which directly and positively affects our tenants' lives.

Our goal is to be the Google of student housing. To do this, we have to NAIL our culture. Seeing the care and energy our people put into their jobs is the key. It’s not only rewarding for me; I am motivated by watching others succeed.

Bisnow: What is the worst job you ever had?

Lifshin: I've had a bunch of bad jobs. But, the worst was probably working student-housing turnover while in college at the University of Illinois. I worked for a company that owned a large portfolio of student housing around the campus. We had to get in the units to make them ready for the next group of tenants. Cleaning up after young college students, you can imagine the messes we'd find. It was brutal work. But, it was humbling and I learned all sorts of things, as you do with any experience.

Bisnow: If you weren’t in commercial real estate, what would you do?

Lifshin: I'd be a professional soccer (football) player. That's always been my aspiration. I was a hack and obviously never good enough to be pro. But a kid can dream, right? After all, it was Walt Disney who said “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”

Core Spaces CEO Marc Lifshin with his wife, Ashley, and two of their three children at a Chicago Cubs game.

Bisnow: What deal are you proudest of?

Lifshin: Up to this point, that would be the Hub on Campus Madison. We completed this highly amenitized building in 2015. It's an iconic asset. We had been trying to acquire the land for a decade, as it represented a "100-out-of-100" location. As prime as it gets. Our goal was to make it the nicest student housing asset in the country. When it opened, in my opinion, it really began to transform the educational market. It certainly transformed how we thought about and approached future projects at Core.

We were absolutely inspired during the development of the project. And, after we completed the building, we asked [for] and received a lot of valuable feedback from our tenants. What we heard led us to speak directly to and survey many more students around the country about amenities. We began to rethink how we were designing and building our developments. It was very apparent that it was no longer going to be an amenities race. It was simple: Students didn’t want to pay for amenities they weren’t using.

As one of the groups who led the arms race for amenities, we quickly decided to change the direction of our new projects. We saw a future focused on value by limiting amenities to the things that students only used and wanted to spend their money on. This enabled us to decrease common spaces, reduce the rent and put more heads on beds. It's ironic that one of our best buildings, with incredible amenities, that students loved, led us to do things differently going forward!

I believe in having a healthy obsession over our work. Asking the questions, studying the data and spending the proper time to really listen made us obsess over how to build a better and different mousetrap. Everything we built in 2016, onward, reflects our learnings and this new direction.

Bisnow: What deal do you consider to be your biggest failure?

Lifshin: Each deal is unique and comes with its wins and challenges. There is not one deal that I would consider a failure, just opportunities to learn, refine and add value to the next one.

Bisnow: What is your biggest pet peeve?

Lifshin: Laziness. I can't stand it. Being lazy short-changes yourself, your opportunity for personal growth and your employer, company or project. I was raised to believe nothing beats hard work. You can only outsmart people so much. But, you can always outwork the next person.

Of course, you also have to work smart. I'm a strong believer of gaining perspective and trying to think more than you work. It's a practice I'm still trying to get good at.

Bisnow: What is your greatest extravagance?

Lifshin: Trips and experiences. Material stuff doesn't really matter to me, although I say that after buying tons of cool toys that I like just as much as my kids do! In all honesty, I enjoy investing time and money into experiences, and making them crazy special for myself and others. I've made a point to see that my family is well-traveled. I want my kids to grow up valuing experiences.

As a company, my greatest extravagance is taking our corporate employees and their significant others on an annual trip to somewhere warm each October. I have photos on my desk from past years showing 20 to 50 to 70-plus people as the years progressed. Great memories, bonding time, and a reminder that as we grow, we still value experiences as a company. We focus this annual retreat/trip around culture and exploring ways to improve, individually and collectively. I said it when we started, and I still believe this — we want to be the Google of student housing. To do that, it all starts with our culture. Once you get that right, you begin the circle of success within the company that results in a great end product.

Core Spaces founder and CEO Marc Lifshin

Bisnow: What motivates you?

Lifshin: I really love mentoring people and seeing them succeed. There are many layers to this. But, it's incredibly gratifying investing in your people, seeing them grow and love their work, and rise to the next level to everyone's delight.

Bisnow: What advice do you wish you got when you started in CRE?

Lifshin: I wish someone sat me down on day one and said long before I got into CRE, "You'll be 100 times more successful if you listen more than you talk." This really does work in dating and in the business world!

And, I would love to have heard: "To be successful, you have to really like what you do. If you like it, you'll be happy and make money." I love this quote from Deion Sanders: "If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you play good. And if you play good, they pay good." I see the "look good" part as also meaning "like your work!"

Bisnow: What is the biggest risk you have ever taken?

Lifshin: Starting my own business. LG, Core, all of them. They all carried so much risk, and you simply don't realize it when you start out. You just don't know any better! Every day there's more and more risk involved. More money and people at stake who work for you. You just have more things to lose as you get older. I weigh that with the knowledge that I mostly know what I'm doing and continue to drive Core forward. When you have a team like this, risk may still be there, but it feels like it’s in the rearview mirror.

Bisnow: What keeps you up at night?

Lifshin: Everything; and especially making sure the company is on course and in good shape. You always second-guess yourself. That's good. It forces you to think more critically. As I said earlier, you can't really be successful until you think more than you work. Having a healthy obsession about improvement is good.

I also worry about making sure my wife and I do the best job possible raising our kids. I don't want them to be entitled or obnoxious. In other words: little shitheads.

Core Spaces CEO Marc Lifshin with two of his three kids.

Bisnow: What is your favorite place to visit?

Lifshin: Brazil. But now that I have three little kids, it's Mexico — especially Cabo San Lucas. I love the mountains, water and beach. It's the one place my family knows really well. It's just very comfortable for us. It makes for an easy time and transition into vacation and relaxation mode.

Bisnow: Outside of work, what are you most passionate about?

Lifshin: Raising my three kids with my wife. We have a girl and two boys: 4, 2 and 1.

I love investing time and energy into helping them be good people, have fun, and showing them what fun looks like. It allows me to keep being a kid and have fun as well!

Bisnow: What CRE trend do you think will have the most impact over the next few years?

Lifshin: A big part of how we manage buildings will change over the next few years. It will become much more hospitality-driven. It's all about making your tenants' lives easier. Anyone in the residential rental game is going to realize how important lifestyle is. For one of our brands, The Hub, we developed a comprehensive initiative called Hub Lifestyle, which is aimed at cultivating the culture and lifestyle for the tenants within each building. This hospitality-driven concept will dominate demand and then drive the product.

Bisnow: What would people be surprised to learn about you?

Lifshin: I enjoy getting dressing up.

We have a dress code at Core: situational. I probably only wear a suit five times a year. But I totally dig dressing up when it's appropriate.

Bisnow: What do you want your legacy to be?

Lifshin: To live and be known as an ethical winner. In life, reputation and integrity are EVERYTHING. I want to have a pristine reputation. That starts with being ethical. And if I do this right, my kids will follow.