Weekend Interview: Cooper Carry CEO Kyle Reis
This series gets into the heads of the decision-makers of CRE, the people shaping the industry by setting investment strategy, workplace design, diversity initiatives and more.
Kyle Reis took over as CEO of architecture and design firm Cooper Carry in June 2021 at the age of 38, and his focus since has been evolving the 300-person firm, including by adding a sustainability leader, hiring a chief operating officer with a focus on technology, and diversifying his leadership team across gender and racial lines.
“We must continue to create an inclusive culture with fulfilling career and leadership opportunities for a more diverse workforce,” Reis said. “If our leaders better reflect our clients and the communities in which we work, we will be a better firm.”
Cooper Carry’s employees are 54% female and 40% people of color.
The following has been lightly edited for clarity and style.
Bisnow: Baron Rothschild once said the “time to buy is when there’s blood in the streets.” Where is the blood today?
Reis: At the current moment “the blood” is in the cost of construction. We are working with clients nationally across many markets and sectors, and while they have varied business and project objectives, a unanimous concern is the high cost of construction. Fortunately, demand is still strong in many markets and the cost of capital is still relatively low, so our design services are still in high demand. I am cautiously optimistic that construction costs will stabilize and investment in commercial real estate will continue to be positive.
Bisnow: What is your most controversial CRE opinion and why are you right about it?
Reis: Prior to my current role as president and CEO of Cooper Carry, I served as Cooper Carry’s director of planning. In that role, I was fortunate to participate in many community engagement opportunities in planning and urban design projects across the country. I am also a student of the history of land planning, zoning and land use law in our country. It is not so much an opinion as an acknowledgment that many of the land use regulations from our past exacerbated the inequity in many of our communities. The greater CRE industry has the opportunity, and the obligation, to acknowledge this and be thoughtful about how we create, implement and measure access and equity in communities moving forward.
Bisnow: If you weren’t in real estate, what path would your career have taken?
Reis: Since I was 11 years old, I have known I wanted to design buildings and spaces. I have also always been fascinated with business from the time my dad started his own accounting firm in the basement of my childhood home. If I had not pursued a career in the real estate industry, I probably would have followed a business path, leading a community-based nonprofit.
Bisnow: If you could make one change to the industry, what would it be?
Reis: I am passionate about creating resilient, sustainable and equitable design for all. If I could make one change to our industry, I would provide attainable quality housing for everyone. There is no silver bullet to fix our national attainable housing crisis, so we need to work creatively across the real estate industry to do our part to address this issue.
Bisnow: What is one thing you would do differently from early in your career?
Reis: I would have traveled to more places around the world early in my career to further broaden my worldview and firsthand exposure to more cultures and places. Having a true worldview and more robust understanding of other cultures is something one only achieves by being out in the world.
Bisnow: As a leader, how do you decide who is worth mentoring and who is simply not a good fit?
Reis: I begin with the philosophy that every person is deserving of mentorship in their career. If someone is seeking mentorship and they are not a good fit, it is important to spend some time to connect that person with someone who may be a better fit. There are many instances when I have been able to connect people in my network with more aligned experiences who may not have been a good fit for me. I have sought mentorship from those who align with the values to which I adhere and who have gained wisdom through experience and failure.
Bisnow: What are your thoughts on the metaverse? Does it have any relevance for CRE?
Reis: The metaverse has been a topic of conversation and ideation recently. We have discussed the potential social and experiential attributes of the metaverse in how we may work together in the future as well as possible impacts and opportunities related to commercial real estate. The capabilities of the metaverse are of interest to some of our clients, which makes it even more intriguing for our firm to understand because we listen intently to our clients. As the graphic interface of the metaverse continues to improve, I believe it will create more interest than today’s version over the long term. I envision the metaverse having some impact in our hybrid work environment and in e-commerce, which are both currently impacting CRE.
Bisnow: What do you see as the lasting impacts of the pandemic on CRE?
Reis: The pandemic accelerated many trends that we were already beginning to see in how we work together. Hybrid work is here to stay for the foreseeable future, and that will continue to impact our built environment. I am most intrigued by how we can adaptively reuse some of our commercial office supply to address other needs like housing. Cooper Carry designed an amazing project in Alexandria, Virginia, called The Foundry, which converted an outdated government office building into an award-winning mixed-use residential community. I am willing to bet we will see more opportunities like this one as a result of the impacts of the pandemic. The emphasis on improving mental health, wellness and balance in our lives is a very positive impact of the pandemic that directly affects how we will design and build in the future.
Bisnow: As you know, there is a massive conversation underway regarding advancing more people of color and women into the C-suite. What are you doing to address those voices and that movement within your own organization?
Reis: The C-suite in the architecture industry has been dominated by White men for a long time, and that is rapidly changing. Women represent a majority of architecture students in accredited academic programs and have for some time. In early June, we promoted eight new principals, including four incredibly talented women leaders. Our next wave of leaders is extremely diverse, and I am so excited about that. It is so important to provide intentional mentorship and leadership development opportunities to women and people of color as our industry continues to mature. We intentionally and actively recruit talent from diverse colleges and universities and have established meaningful dialogue with many universities from which we recruit talent. One example is Tuskegee University, an amazing HBCU, with which we have established a meaningful relationship working together to attract and retain more architects of color into the industry. We must continue to create an inclusive culture with fulfilling career and leadership opportunities for a more diverse workforce. If our leaders better reflect our clients and the communities in which we work, we will be a better firm.
Bisnow: So, this is the weekend interview. What’s your typical weekend routine?
Reis: It is so exciting after the last two-plus years to more comfortably spend time with neighbors, friends and family. I typically start my weekend with my wife and three children hanging out on our street with friends on Friday nights. We will usually work in some family walks or hikes and a practice or two over the weekend. I also love running and try to fit some personal exercise time into my weekend routine. My weeks are busy, so I love having the weekends to recharge with my family.