Beyond The Bio: 16 Questions With Colliers International Boston Co-Chair Kevin Phelan
This series profiles men and women in commercial real estate who have profoundly transformed our neighborhoods and reshaped our cities, businesses and lifestyles.
When commercial real state veteran Kevin Phelan arrives at his office in Boston around 5:30 every morning, he contemplates the power of success — though not necessarily his own.
Phelan said he is driven by the success of those individuals he has helped over the years. Having been in the industry for more than 40 years, Phelan said it is gratifying to see some of the developers he started out with as rookies now thriving — such as National Development President Thomas Alperin and Crosspoint Associates Managing Principal James Carlin.
“It’s fun seeing their successes. I started with these people from ground zero,” he said.
For a man who calls “charitable giving” his biggest extravagance, he is not devoid of his own personal triumphs in the commercial real estate market.
Phelan joined Colliers International in 1978 and helped create the mortgage finance department, now called the Capital Markets Group. While serving as the senior vice president of this group, Phelan was responsible for pursuing equity for deals, short-term debt and long-term debt. He was appointed president of Colliers Boston in 2007 and then co-chairman of Colliers Boston in 2010.
“I think about the jobs I helped to create by starting this thing from nothing. There are a lot of people who have had the opportunity to grow off of that and have done very well economically, professionally and family-wise. It’s fun to create jobs,” he said.
Phelan, who is also a Counselor of Real Estate, has helped facilitate billions of dollars in financing for projects across the country, including the Ink Block in Boston, a $63M equity placement rental and retail development, and Park Square Building in Boston, where he secured $95M in financing. Other deals he has arranged financing for include seven Kroger shopping centers in Denver, a $492M Department of Transportation building in Washington, D.C., and an $85M shopping center in Miami. He also has industrial or retail portfolio deals in Florida, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Colorado, New York, Ohio, Illinois, Tennessee, Texas, Nebraska, Michigan, Virginia, California and Nebraska, in addition to New England.
Phelan’s own successes are paying off these days in the form of time he is able to spend with his family.
“I’ve enjoyed the privilege of having a fun and fulfilling business career, which has allowed me to do the other things I enjoy, like caring for my family [and] playing with my grandkids — [all] nine of them.”
He once played college tennis tournaments but after four back surgeries, his board seats on about 10 nonprofits are his hobbies these days.
“I have a vocation, which is my day job, and my avocation, which is my nonprofits. In my case, it all fits together. I'm in the relationship business," he said.
Bisnow: How do you describe your job to people who are not in the industry?
Phelan: I have a job, but I don’t work.
Bisnow: If you weren’t in commercial real estate, what would you do?
Phelan: Fundraising for nonprofits.
Bisnow: What is the worst job you ever had?
Phelan: Working in the pits and cleaning trays in Providence College’s cafeteria.
Bisnow: What was your first big deal?
Phelan: $500M in Washington, D.C., at the old Department of Transportation building for a Boston-based developer.
Bisnow: What deal do you consider to be your biggest failure?
Phelan: Frankly, I have had nothing but good fortune. Some deals fall by-the-by but that is part of the game.
Bisnow: If you could change one thing about the commercial real estate industry, what would it be?
Phelan: Some people think you have to win all the time, but I like to see both sides of the deal win.
Bisnow: What is your biggest pet peeve?
Phelan: People who don’t return calls.
Bisnow: Who is your greatest mentor?
Phelan: Tom Horan, our former chairman, who hired me back in 1978. Professional, ethical and a legendary deal-doer.
Bisnow: What is the best and worst professional advice you've ever received?
Phelan: Best came from my dad when he told me the best jokes start in the mirror (meaning: don’t take yourself too seriously). Worst (feeling anyway) came from my mom who told me not to come home and to go seek a higher mountain following my graduation from college.
Another example of great advice was “silent and subtle." When I was working at State Street Bank, my boss at the time gave me a tough review and I was quite upset. He later explained he was trying to send me the message that I didn’t belong in that business and should be out working for myself. Great advice that played out well for me. Beyond this, I can’t think of any truly bad advice I have ever gotten.
Bisnow: What is your greatest extravagance?
Phelan: Charitable giving.
Bisnow: What is your favorite restaurant in the world?
Phelan: The Cape Sea Grille on Cape Cod in Harwich Port and The Villa in Wayland (both Massachusetts).
Bisnow: If you could sit down with President Donald Trump, what would you say?
Phelan: Stop the bullying!
Bisnow: What's the biggest risk you have ever taken?
Phelan: I gave a substantial contribution to “a friend” who was running for mayor in 1983. He was in sixth place of six candidates and he won the whole lottery. Still a friend and thanks to him we built a major Boys & Girls Club in a neighborhood here in Boston that [desperately needed one] at the time.
Bisnow: What is your favorite place to visit in your hometown?
Phelan: The hardware store. My grandfather had a hardware store growing up. It carried itself forward 50 years.
Bisnow: What keeps you up at night?
Phelan: How long can I sustain this pace? And is my department prepared for success upon my someday departure (ugh!)?
Bisnow: Outside of your work, what are you most passionate about?
Phelan: My nonprofit involvements.