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Origin Stories: NorthMarq Executive Chair Eduardo Padilla

This series delves into the myriad ways people enter the commercial real estate industry and what contributes to their success.

Eduardo Padilla is an immigrant success story, but with a twist. He came from Cuba with his family when he was 6 years old in the 1960s, as so many others did at the time. In the following years, Padilla's family made a new life for themselves a bit farther from Cuba than many of their fellow immigrants: St. Paul, Minnesota.

Padilla said his father was very much an inspiration to him as he grew up in a St. Paul garden apartment.

"My father, who had been a lawyer in Cuba, basically went through different jobs as he learned to speak English, dishwasher and all kinds of stuff," Padilla said. "He ultimately got a job at 3M helping translate legal documents, and did well enough in English to pass the bar exam in Minnesota. He ended up in the legal department of 3M."

The younger Padilla pursued his education all the way through law school and eventually found himself on a career track in commercial real estate. In 2000, he became CEO of NorthMarq Cos., the Pohlad Cos.' commercial real estate services holding company, a position he held until last year. He is still executive chair of the company.

Eduardo Padilla with a red fish, caught in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida.

Bisnow: How did you get introduced to CRE?

Padilla: Immediately after law school, I went to work for a bank that ultimately became part of Wells Fargo, and I was assigned to the commercial real estate activities of one of the bank's subsidiaries. It was an early version of commercial mortgage banking, and I was mostly involved in the closing process. A few years later, I had the opportunity to be exposed to other parts of the business. After that, I ended up at GMAC Mortgage. 

Bisnow: What was your first job in CRE?

Padilla: I guess officially my first job, the one 100% devoted to the business side of commercial real estate, was at GMAC Mortgage in 1985, basically working as a producer, originating business.

Bisnow: What kind of education, certification or official training do you have in CRE? How critical was it to landing your first big role? 

Padilla: Back in those days, it was, here's the phone. That was our training. The business was a little different back then. We represented life insurance companies as an exclusive originator, so we would learn what life companies were looking for. They would come out and say, this is a type of real estate we're looking forward to [doing] mortgage lending on. So that's how I got to learn the business. 

Bisnow: What is one skill you wish you had coming into CRE?

Padilla: I wish I'd gotten an MBA instead of a law degree. As I evolved through the business and we got into more complex transactions, I think an MBA would have been more useful for me. It was fine to have a law degree and that helped in some respects, but if I could just snap my fingers and go back, I would have picked an MBA.

Padilla's immediate family, from left: his son-in-law, Jon; his daughter Martina; his son, Christian; his wife, Sue; his daughter Melanie; and Eduardo near their Florida home on Marco Island.

Bisnow: What were you doing before you got into CRE? If you changed careers, did you bring anything with you from your past career that has helped you thrive in CRE, or, on the flip side, anything you had to unlearn in order to succeed here? 

Padilla: I had a very modest upbringing, a situation in which whatever we accomplished was acknowledged. When you have nothing and you achieve something, that can actually make things easier — but not easy — as opposed to having everything handed to you. When you're starting from nothing, you create your own way. 

When I was young, growing up Cuban in Minnesota, the priority of the family was to fit in, to the point of mispronouncing our own name. I don't know if I've unlearned anything other than that view of trying to fit in.

Bisnow: Can you remember a moment where you felt in over your head or you worried this industry wasn’t for you? Did you ever think about quitting? What changed?

Padilla: I've always considered myself to be extremely lucky on timing, on being in the right place and the right time. But probably the worst time in our industry was the savings and loan crisis and crash, early in '91, when people were getting out of this business right and left. I thought about it too.

Bisnow: What were your early impressions of the industry, good and bad? How has your impression changed?

Padilla: Well, have you ever seen Mad Men? Back in the early days, the industry was 99% White-male-dominated, with behavior that would be unacceptable by any standards in today's world, such as drinking freely at lunchtime.

It's just a whole different world from where we are today, and part of the change has been the exposure of the industry to women and minorities in positions of significance. I know that applies to a lot of industries, but commercial real estate was really a good-old-boy kind of industry.

On the green during NorthMarq’s 2019 Production Conference, an internal conference for client-facing professionals in debt, equity and investment sales, in Nashville. John Burke, managing director-debt & equity, Houston; Eduardo Padilla; Nancy Ferrell, executive vice president/regional managing director-Baltimore; William Ross, president-debt & equity, based in Dallas.

Bisnow: Have you had a mentor or sponsor? How did that person shape your future in CRE?

Padilla: Boyd Stofer, who was the CEO of United Properties. He was one of those guys who would be very encouraging. You know, the type of person that would tell you, you're the best person we've ever had in this position. Sometimes when he would say that, I knew it wasn't true, but I wanted to make it true. That's quite an inspiration. He died unexpectedly in 2011. Another mentor of mine was Carl Pohlad of Pohlad Cos., which owned United Properties.

Bisnow: What is a key lesson someone taught you, either kindly or the hard way?

Padilla: The No. 1 lesson Boyd taught, and it's not incredibly novel or unique to our industry, was to treasure your relationships and your reputation. The development of relationships within the industry is critical to a service company. Fundamentally that's what we do. 

Bisnow: What do you warn people about when they join the industry?

Padilla: It's not an easy industry to be in, but it's very rewarding. Someone's going to criticize at some point, but don't let it change you. 

Bisnow: If you could do your career all over again, what would you change? 

Padilla: I wouldn't want to be in a different industry or do anything differently. I've always considered myself extremely lucky. I had a huge opportunity with the Pohlad family, in that 22 years ago that they looked at me — you know, a Cuban guy — and let me run a company.