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JP Morgan SVP Malcolm Johnson Talks Lessons Learned From Football

Although he loves his job, JP Morgan Chase SVP for the real estate banking group Malcolm Johnson had never envisioned doing what he's doing now. At least not years ago when he was playing in the NFL.

Johnson is one of the panelists scheduled to speak later this month at Bisnow's LA Multifamily event.


The former journeyman wide receiver (pictured above with his family) played for the Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers of the NFL and the Ottawa Renegades of the Canadian Football League before retiring at the age of 25.

Now, after getting his MBA and spending more than a decade working in banking, he told Bisnow he's grateful for what he learned along the way.

Bisnow: Are there lessons you learned playing football that apply to your career today?

Malcolm Johnson: It took every ounce of mental and physical energy I had and an all-consuming emotional commitment just to stay on NFL rosters for as long as I did. However, a lot of the lessons I learned in making it to the NFL and managing to stick around for a few seasons have helped me in this career. Not necessarily with technical skills, which are, obviously, very different, but around being a good teammate, preparing, competing, and building and maintaining strong relationships. All of that serves me in every way in my career as a banker.


Bisnow: How did you find your new career in banking?

Johnson: I didn’t plan on retiring from football at age 25, but football kind of retired me. When I was cut from my third NFL team, and I had to spend a year playing in Canada, I finally got the message that maybe I wasn’t put on this earth to play football. I started looking at my options outside of the game. I loved football, but I knew I didn’t want to be a sports agent, a coach or an announcer. I wanted to try something new, but it quickly became apparent to me that although I was a business major as an undergrad at the University of Notre Dame, I was woefully inadequate in terms of technical skills. I knew I wanted to go into finance, so I went to business school, and I chose the most quantitatively challenging master’s program that I could get into – Carnegie Mellon University. Once I graduated, I was prepared to do a lot of what I’m doing today although I didn’t truly learn everything I needed to learn about real estate finance until I took my first job in banking.

Bisnow: What do you find most rewarding about your job?

Johnson: Although real estate is a bricks and mortar business, it is also a tangible business that requires relationships with people. I like that I literally get to build communities. With a platform as broad as the one at JPMorgan Chase, I’m financing projects where people live, work, shop and where goods are stored and shipped, so I can actually point to buildings and say I had a hand in creating a part of our community both here in Southern California and across the country. But more important than that, I get to work in a team environment. Even though I’m on the finance side, on every transaction I have to work with our clients and a whole internal team of credit executives, underwriters, analysts, appraisal reviewers and attorneys. I get a lot of satisfaction from working in a collaborative environment.

Bisnow: What challenges do you see facing multifamily this year?

Johnson: Being in real estate affords you a front seat to the macro economy, and this industry is not immune to shocks in the macro economy. We saw that in 2008 and 2009. You saw the residential mortgage crisis affect banks’ ability to lend across asset classes, not just on for-sale homes. That was a challenging time, but even then people needed places to live, work and shop, and companies needed space to store goods. Commercial real estate is constantly changing at various points of a cycle, both in terms of actual usage and values, but its presence is constant. Ours is a business that will likely never become obsolete. You just have to be adaptable. Multifamily owners and developers may have to adapt to a lower rental rate environment, and in turn lenders and equity investors will adapt as well.


Bisnow: What trends do you see in multifamily?

Johnson: One thing investors, lenders, buyers and sellers will have to determine is whether they want to be in primary markets. Typically, those are the coastal markets on the East or West Coast and a few other major cities across the US, or if they want to be in value-add trade markets. You’re going to see less long-term shocks in traditional primary markets along the coasts, but there will be near-term fluctuations even in those markets. Multifamily assets in smaller markets will almost certainly experience near-term shocks. Some investors are prepared for that and actually thrive on that kind of volatility.

Bisnow: What do you like to do in your spare time? 

Johnson: What spare time? I’m working like crazy to grow JPMorgan Chase’s loan portfolio in one of the most competitive real estate markets in the world, and I’ve got three young children at home. But outside of those two full-time jobs, I take on a lot of responsibility with mentoring and strengthening the community. Mentoring has been a major part of my success, and it is an important part of what I do every day. I am proud to serve as an executive sponsor for the Fellowship Initiative, JPMorgan Chase’s mentoring, college readiness and life skills program for young men of color. There are 40 fellows, most of whom are from South Central LA. The program helps them with their high school courses, standardized test prep and the college application process. The idea is not to transform them into bankers, but to expose them to successful mentors from the bank, introduce them to a variety of career paths and provide an opportunity for them to earn a college education and succeed in life while reminding them to be engaged in their communities. I also work closely with the Brotherhood Crusade, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to strengthen Black and Latino families in South Central. The themes are similar — my focus has been on programs that work with young people. And that starts at home with my 13, 11 and 2-year-olds. My wife and I are always in the stands or the audience at one of their many practices, rehearsals, games or performances.

Join Malcolm Johnson and our other panelists at the LA Multifamily event at 7:30am Jan. 17 at the JW Marriott LA Live.

Related Topics: JP Morgan Chase, Malcolm Johnson