Ed Nwokedi is the rare combination of commercial real estate star and technology entrepreneur. On top of it all, he’s a Nigerian high chief.
His real estate career began in 2002, when he joined Colliers International as a broker. In 2004, he moved to Cushman & Wakefield, where he served as an executive member of the Global Capital Markets Group, and executive director of apartment brokerage and advisory service activity for Houston.
During his 16-year tenure at Cushman & Wakefield, Nwokedi sold close to $2.7B in commercial real estate transactions in Texas, and was one of the most productive brokers at the company.
However, Nwokedi found that private investors were often unable to place money into high-quality assets, as institutional investors had much stronger buying power. To address the problem, he founded RedSwan in 2018, with the goal of making commercial real estate more affordable for small investors.
Using blockchain technology, the RedSwan platform divides up a large asset’s value into smaller investment allocations, making equity ownership available to individual investors. The company has said it intends to offer $2.2B in digital securities for CRE investments.
“I am passionate about RedSwan’s platform, which is set to permanently disrupt the capital markets industry and level the playing field for commercial real estate investors,” Nwokedi said. “We now have a very powerful and much-needed tool that creates token securities out of real estate. This makes individual buildings tradable, just like stocks — providing new capitalization options and liquidity for building owners and private investors.”
Nwokedi graduated from the University of Michigan with degrees in accounting and business, and from St. Mary’s College of California with an MBA. He is married with two children, enjoys traveling, and is fluent in Mandarin.
He also frequently returns to Nigeria, where his parents were born, and serves as high chief of Alor, an Igbo town in the province of Onitsha, Anambra State. The role involves sitting on the king’s council for life, and actively assisting the king with economic and educational matters. — Christie Moffat
From his time in the Marine Corps to heading up MetLife Investment Management’s Northeast acquisitions and joint ventures team, Ashleigh Simpson says persistence and being unafraid of failure is key to navigating a successful career in commercial real estate.
“If someone wants to get in this business and really understand what it’s like, ask anyone what their failures were,” Simpson said. “More often than not, those are more teachable events than any success.”
Simpson began his CRE career in college, working part-time at JLL. His career path has since taken him through a six-year arc at The JBG Cos., where he took on more of a regional role and eventually managed a team of 13. He had mentors at the D.C. development firm who were instrumental in crafting his persistence and fearless approach to deals.
“I wasn’t really focused on how big deals were. I was more focused on the performance of the asset,” Simpson said. “It’s where I learned if you’re not failing, you’re not learning.”
Following JBG, Simpson moved into acquisitions as a senior investment manager at Grosvenor Group, which is headquartered in London. While at Grosvenor, he said he gained a better understanding of capital flows overseas and how that impacts investment in the U.S.
He landed at MIM in 2007 and has been there since, growing into his current director role and landing some of the biggest deals of his career — including the 2012 $734M acquisition of D.C.’s Constitution Center, one of the largest single-asset deals in that city's history.
“It’s been a really good ride, and through it all, I think I’ve had a great mix of sponsors and mentors,” Simpson said.
The MIM director now finds himself in the role of mentor and sponsor. But that doesn’t mean he’s the only one doling out advice during time spent with the next generation of CRE leaders.
“I’m always surprised people listen — it’s kind of scary,” Simpson said with a laugh before adding, “I get as much joy and learn from individuals coming to me as they get from exposure to me. I learn a lot.” — Cameron Sperance
Beatrice Sibblies, the managing partner of New York City development company BOS Development, got a taste for real estate as a young girl living in Jamaica.
Her parents were small-time developers, and she was first exposed to the development process before her 10th birthday. Despite that early inspiration, she didn’t go straight into developing.
After graduating from Yale University, she worked at JPMorgan Chase as a vice president of emerging markets research and then vice president of structured finance. But the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, inspired her to re-evaluate what she wanted to do with her life. She joined the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. in 2002, and in 2005 formed her company, BOS Development, which focuses on the historically black neighborhood of Harlem.
The company built a condominium development at 88 Morningside Ave. in Harlem and its current projects include two Harlem hotel; a charter school opportunity zone fund targeting the Bronx and Harlem; and a major adaptive reuse project, also in Harlem. A decade ago, she helped form an organization called Harlem Park to Park, a social enterprise that works to advance cultural preservation and economic development of small businesses within Central Harlem.
“I see BOS Development as a placemaking company that focuses on projects that support community development,” she said, adding that when she first started in development, there were a number of firms led by African Americans that have just now begun to hit their stride.
“Real estate is actually less diverse than finance … [but] from the beginning, I felt more at home in real estate from a personality-fit perspective,” Sibblies said. — Miriam Hall
MacFarlane Partners Chairman and CEO Victor MacFarlane has a knack for leading the way. He started his real estate investment management company in 1987, and by 1996, he placed himself and others into even more exclusive company, forming the first institutional real estate fund focused on the inner city: a $50M joint venture between him, NBA legend Magic Johnson and the California Public Employees' Retirement System.
Alongside Johnson, MacFarlane had shown CalPERS and subsequent clients that the density of urban areas supported buying power at least equal to that found in suburban communities. Since then, MacFarlane Partners expanded that fund and raised others based on the same philosophy, even starting an emerging managers fund that helped grow Washington, D.C.-based Jair Lynch Real Estate Partners into the force it is today.
About $13B in investment later and fresh off the completion of its Park Fifth and Trademark buildings in downtown LA, MacFarlane Partners' goals of revitalizing urban communities and earning solid returns — while preventing displacement — are much the same as they have ever been.
"Every once in a while we do a straight-up, plain-vanilla deal," MacFarlane said. "But not very often." — Dean Boerner
A Nigerian immigrant who received his bachelor’s degree from New York University, Buwa Binitie founded an affordable housing company in D.C. in 2006. His firm, Dantes Partners, has grown from building one- and- two-unit projects into one of the largest affordable housing developers in the region.
The firm has built roughly 2,400 units in neighborhoods throughout D.C., and Binitie said it is now working on deals that could bring its portfolio to more than 4,000 units, including a large property in New York City. Dantes Partners has completed projects in Shaw, Brookland, West End, Columbia Heights, and it is currently working on projects in Mount Vernon Triangle, Southeast D.C. and the H Street corridor.
Binitie also serves as chairman of the board for the D.C. Housing Finance Agency, which provides financing for the development and preservation of affordable housing. In addition to helping transform neighborhoods and provide affordable housing for the D.C. community, Binitie said he is proud of the jobs he has created for other African Americans in commercial real estate.
“The most important thing I’m doing is creating jobs for people that look like me that ordinarily would not be able to find work in this industry because they don’t have the requisite background or the connections in this industry,” Binitie said. — Jon Banister
Quintin Primo’s great success came only after surviving tough times. He founded a boutique investment firm in 1988, only to see it driven onto the rocks by headwinds in the commercial real estate market of the early 1990s. The son of an Episcopal priest, he advised anyone suffering similar reverses to have faith, whether in karma or God.
“You walk through the gates of hell, and realize that you can emerge, you’re still alive, you’re intact,” he told the New York Times in 2010. “And if you’re an entrepreneur, you’ve learned a lesson.”
Primo used that education to build up his Capri Investment Group into one of Chicago’s premier firms. It has completed more than $13B in investment transactions in the past 25 years, and worldwide now has more than $6B in assets under management.
Forbes placed Primo on its Top 20 Richest African Americans in the World list, but besides achieving great wealth, he has also been an innovator, pioneering the use of mezzanine loans for small borrowers, and financing projects in neighborhoods, such as South Los Angeles, ignored by many other investors. — Brian Rogal
Aisha Glover feels a little self-conscious saying “that was me,” but in her stints in charge of economic development at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and now Newark, New Jersey, she has been the driving force behind some high-profile projects.
She has been with the Newark Alliance for a little over three years and, at the mayor’s request, ran point on the city’s attention-grabbing bid for Amazon HQ2, which ended up among Amazon's 20 finalists.
“It was a pivotal moment for this city and for us on the public or quasi-public side, when we realized how invested the private sector was in this city. They were the catalyst in mobilizing and dedicating resources for us getting on the top 20,” Glover said. “We thought, maybe we can continue this momentum and align it with Mayor [Ras] Baraka’s development strategy.”
She is now focused on the city’s land bank and on attracting new companies to Newark. She helped nurture the relationship with Mars-Wrigley, which is moving its North American HQ to Newark in March. She said front-end efforts to build relationships with companies is often overlooked but has become more important to economic development.
“It’s not just a real estate decision anymore.”
As the head of economic development at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Glover helped lead the effort to open the first public-facing building, a visitor and exhibition center that offered the first real point of entry to a previously walled-off industrial park with 40 buildings and 4M SF. The project allowed people to enter and learn about the Navy Yard, and the park went from mid-70% occupancy to nearly 99% by the time she left. Now other cities are trying to mimic her success there.
“It was cool to be in manufacturing again,” she said. “Very early on, people were talking about the maker and artisanal community, with niche manufacturing. That became a model across the country, and even NYC is trying to match that success in industrial parks across the rest of the city.” — Matthew Rothstein
Four years after David Moody founded his Atlanta-based construction business, he began having panic attacks and uncontrolled muscle spasms. Doctors performed test after test and ruled out nightmare scenarios like cancer or neurological conditions.
Then Moody visited a psychologist to reveal a dark secret: Moody had buried memories of being molested by a family friend when he was 9 years old.
“I planned on dying with that secret. And in '92, I finally told my wife. I had a complete emotional breakdown, but I couldn't tell anyone because the business was only four years old,” said Moody, the founder of CD Moody Construction Co. in Atlanta. “I suffered in silence.”
Healing was a process for Moody, and involved him not only writing the book Fighting Through The Fear, but also starting his own advocacy group for abuse survivors called Moody Speaks.
After his breakthrough and subsequent treatment, Moody's firm has been involved, either in a partnership or as a general contractor, on some of Atlanta’s most iconic developments, including Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new international terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Turner Field and the Atlanta History Center's Cyclorama exhibit.
“I think it's so important for entrepreneurs to understand that entrepreneurship takes a toll on you,” Moody said. “But if you have anything from your past that you're dealing with, you should get the help you need so it doesn't rear its head.”
Moody, who has architecture degrees from Morehouse College and Howard University, said he sees himself as a tool other developers can use to realize their own dreams.
“To me, I think the people who really shape commercial real estate are the developers and government agencies that actually take the risk. I'm a builder. I take risk building it, but I don't take the risk that the developer takes,” he said. “To me it's the developers who really shape the skyline. And I feel as buildings, we make their dreams a reality by building.” — Jarred Schenke
Having industry examples in his own Roxbury neighborhood in Boston is all it took Gregory Janey to launch Janey Construction Management. And with more than 30 years in the construction industry, Janey isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
“It wasn’t until in the '70s, when I saw a business card with five black guys with Afros that I got inspired to open a construction company,” Janey said. “It only took having a model to know it could be done.”
Janey also cites the late Boston developer Kenneth Guscott, whose firm launched construction at the State Street Financial Center, as an inspiration.
A Wentworth Institute of Technology and Northeastern University graduate, Janey launched his company from his kitchen counter in the 1980s and has gone on to be involved with projects ranging from community centers in his native Roxbury to the Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport currently under construction. As a STEM advocate, Janey has been inducted as the first African American to chair the board of trustees at Wentworth Institute of Technology.
“It doesn’t have to do with the size and shape as far as how proud I am of a project. It has more to do with how it’s going to live. Building a Boys & Girls Club means a lot to me for what they’ll do there,” Janey said. “It’s also important to have projects like the Omni. It is important that young, underserved people see black contractors build large projects in Boston. It’s also important that overserved people see black contractors build these projects as well.”
The Massachusetts Port Authority launched a diversity and inclusion initiative in 2019 that weights its bidder selection model in favor of those who include a diversity and inclusion, or D&I, plan. Janey views this as a pivotal step forward but cautions more work still needs to be done, both in Boston and the industry as a whole.
“We need these giants to create more equity and fusion. Those types of stakeholding opportunities are important,” Janey said. “It’s hard to find diverse participants with many projects. Why? Because they never had the opportunity.”
For Janey, he says the onus is on him to provide those opportunities until other developers are inspired to do the same. — Cameron Sperance
Darren Woodson, a former National Football League safety, learned all about Dallas-Fort Worth playing for the Dallas Cowboys. He racked up accolades on the field, winning the Super Bowl three times, being selected for the Pro Bowl five times, being inducted to the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor, and retiring as the Cowboys’ then-franchise history leader in sacks, interceptions and tackles.
Woodson is now putting that geographic-focused education to work, as he finishes up his first year as a full-time partner at commercial real estate firm ESRP.
Before fielding offers in commercial real estate, Woodson, a father of four, had the benefit of watching former Cowboys Emmitt Smith and Roger Staubach forge successful real estate careers.
Last year, Woodson retired from a longtime stint as an ESPN analyst and joined Frisco-based ESRP. He officially started with the firm in 2017, commuting back and forth between DFW and Connecticut to keep both careers going as he planned to make the transition to CRE full time.
“I know where my heart is. I know this [commercial real estate] is what I love to do, and I made a decision to walk away from a career that was part of me for 14 years,” Woodson told Bisnow last year.
The big move put Woodson back on home turf.
“I’ve enjoyed being a part of another winning team here at ESRP. I definitely went through my rookie phase and had to learn the ins and outs of commercial real estate,” Woodson said. “But over the last two years, I realized how much I missed the teaming aspect in my life and I’ve found that here at ESRP. I am incredibly humbled by the talent and knowledge I am surrounded by every day.”
Woodson’s flexibility and ability to transition from career-to-career are essential to his success. They also make him an interesting leader to watch as he takes to the CRE field. — Kerri Panchuk
A football player at Stanford University in the early 1990s, Khalif Edwards has tackled commercial real estate the same way he did the opponents he faced on the field.
In his more than 20-year career in commercial real estate, Edwards has helped raise more than $2.5B in equity from institutional investors, private and public pensions and other investors. On one deal in particular, when he was at Clarion Partners, he helped raise more than $400M in a student housing fund.
“Clarion is known for their open-end funds. It had been a while since they raised a closed-end fund in the market,” Edwards said. “I was tasked with running point on raising capital for that vehicle so it was a niche property type, first-time fund for Clarion and we had a successful fundraising for that vehicle. We raised more than $400M. Four hundred million dollars for a first time focused fund is quite an accomplishment.”
Now, as the managing director and head of capital raising and investor relations at Cityview, Edwards will not only help raise funds, but also have a vote on how that money will be invested.
As an African American in the industry, he has seen commercial real estate change. Companies have made it a point to hire and support African Americans, women and minorities in the industry, he said.
He recalls about 15 years ago, Troy Jenkins, a prominent African American real estate executive, helped bring him along and took him under his wing. Today, Edwards is doing the same by providing guidance, leadership and introduction to the next generation of African Americans and minorities in the industry.
“I’m doing my part, whatever I can do,” Edwards said. “I want to give back.” — Joseph Pimentel
In Curtis Development principal Charmaine Curtis, the region that needs all kinds of housing has the developer intent on building it all.
Specializing in urban-infill, mixed-income housing, Curtis has on her résumé huge projects like San Francisco’s The Avery, a recently opened $600M mixed-income tower on which Curtis Development provided consulting services, and smaller ones like 888 Seventh St., a 224-unit mixed-use project Curtis led while president at A.F. Evans Development.
Curtis, who just finished a long tenure as a board member of the Bay Area-based urban policy think tank SPUR and has a master’s degree in city and regional planning from UC Berkeley, hopes to see more developers able to take on the lack of middle class housing in the Bay Area and other markets.
"People are looking for a sustainable lifestyle that doesn't involve spending most of their income on housing,” Curtis said. — Dean Boerner
In 1979, Don Peebles dropped out of college to get into real estate. Now, as founder, chairman and CEO of The Peebles Corp., which has multifamily, hotel and public-private partnership projects around the country, he is counted among the wealthiest African Americans; his net worth was estimated by Forbes to be about $700M in 2015.
Peebles is on a mission to bring up women and people of color behind him; in fact, “Affirmative Development” is the company tagline‚ and yes, that’s trademarked. As a general rule, Peebles told Bisnow, he awards 35% of project dollars to minority contractors, lawyers, designers and architects.
Peebles has set a bigger goal for himself: raising $500M for a private equity fund that will support projects by emerging female and minority developers — plenty of whom are out there, Peebles said.
“Not a day goes by that we don’t get a proposed deal from a minority or woman developer looking for capital advice, or access to capital,” he said.
Major loans or equity deals are usually made based on a developer’s past experience, or on a lender’s relationship with a developer, Peebles said. Women and minorities have thus struggled to break in, since ”the game has been rigged for white men for centuries.”
The millions from Peebles’ fund will be invested into about 60 urban infill projects in eight markets. Soon afterward, “There would be no need to take one month to highlight African Americans in real estate,” he said. “It wouldn’t be anything unusual.” — Deirdra Funcheon
In 1994, with the Summer Olympics bearing down on Metro Atlanta in two years, Integral Group entered into a one-of-a-kind agreement with the Atlanta Housing Authority to transform two blighted public housing projects into a mixed-income development.
That project's success led to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development adapting Integral’s development as a model to help eliminate poverty in public housing by mixing a variety of incomes together with the help of social services.
“I'm not sure that I'm shaping commercial real estate,” Integral CEO Egbert Perry said. “Probably if I shaped anything [it] is more on the community development side.”
Born and raised on the island of Antigua as one of 11 children, Perry moved to New York to finish high school nearly 50 years ago. Today, he is married and about to celebrate his 40th anniversary, with three children and two grandsons.
Upon moving to Atlanta with his wife, he joined the storied general contracting firm H.J. Russell & Co. Perry said he realized early on that, in order to make it in commercial real estate as a minority, he was going to have to do it on his own, so he started his own development firm.
“I'm very sober of the world we live in. I understand it very well. There's almost no major industry where people of color are expected to be at the table,” he said. “There's no place, no real industry where we have any presence because we've only allowed to be in the game recently. The journey's been hard sometimes, but it's been rewarding. And it's allowed me to maintain my dignity along the way.” — Jarred Schenke
Not all great commercial real estate careers start in the hallways of a brokerage firm or on a construction site — just ask MIT Investment Management Co. Director Amanda Strong.
“I used to ship boy’s underwear for Marshalls,” she said with a laugh. “Even in that position, I felt I could impact the profitability of the company.”
Strong was on track to be an assistant buyer for Marshalls in the 1980s before a recession sidetracked her career path into a more finance-minded one. Her early years at Marshalls weren’t in real estate, but Strong said she was able to learn demographic differences in U.S. markets and what was necessary to launch a new store or property.
With those skills, she was ready to take the leap into CRE. She later worked for retailers Staples and the Woolworth Corp., but eventually wanted to get away from suburban big-box retail. She went back to school and got her master’s in real estate development from MIT.
“I could have stayed at Staples and had a great career, but I wanted to have more of an impact,” she said. “It’s scary. You have to quit your job and are starting from scratch, but if you have a passion for something, just do it. There are times to take chances.”
Since her MIT master’s, Strong moved into construction lending for Key Bank, where she underwrote several significant Boston projects, including the Park Lane Seaport Apartments, and then in private equity with the New Boston Fund. Strong began her asset management career at Colony Realty Partners, where she was a managing director, and now serves as director of asset management at the MIT Investment Management Co.
“It’s an awesome culmination. I work for a nonprofit that has a really clear mission to support innovation and find solutions where there aren’t any,” Strong said. “It’s not often you can support a philanthropic mission and use commercial real estate skills at the same time, and I get to do it with a really great group of people.”
Along with overseeing MIT’s commercial real estate assets, Strong is focused on increasing diversity and inclusion in the industry. Not only does she want to make sure her own work environment is respectful, safe and inclusive, she wants to make sure people who may not even consider a career in commercial real estate know the industry offers a viable future.
“My hope is to be able to move the needle on wealth creation for underrepresented groups,” she said. “I think it’s also important for people not from underrepresented groups to recognize that, to solve the problem, it is important that they figure out how to help.” — Cameron Sperance
Acho Azuike was supposed to be an engineer. But upon his arrival at the University of Texas at Austin, Azuike realized that his interests were more aligned with the world of business.
He graduated from UT with a degree in economics, then gained his real estate broker license. A few years later, Azuike graduated from Rice University with an MBA.
After completing an internship with Hines in 2007, Azuike went on to work for Midway Cos. and Prism Properties. In 2010, he joined DC Partners as managing director of their subsidiary company, EB5. In addition to that role, Azuike became managing director and chief operating officer at DC Partners during the same year.
Azuike is a strong advocate of the EB-5 program. Several DC Partners’ projects have been financed as a result of the EB-5 program.
“We look at EB5 as a win for everyone involved, including the city of Houston by bringing in direct foreign investment to create local jobs. The program not only offers affordable financing solutions for our real estate development projects, but also provides opportunities for families overseas looking to build a life in the United States,” Azuike said. “It’s a good feeling, working with families from all over the world to facilitate their investment and immigration goals.”
One of Azuike’s current projects is The Arts Residences at the Thompson San Antonio Hotel, located on the San Antonio Riverwalk. The building, which will contain both luxury condos and hotel rooms, is under construction.
Azuike is also working on The Allen, a mixed-use development located on Buffalo Bayou near Downtown Houston. The project, which he describes as his “most ambitious project to date," will comprise a luxury hotel, condos, retail and office buildings.
Additionally, Azuike is an adjunct professor at the University of Houston’s Bauer College of Business, where he teaches courses in the real estate program.
Azuike is married with two children, and enjoys playing both golf and basketball. He is also a board member of two charities: CYCLE Houston and Suits for Sons. — Christie Moffat
Evens Charles, a D.C. native who studied and played football at Temple University, founded Frontier Development in 1999. The company spent its first decade developing and investing in residential real estate before expanding to the hospitality business in 2009. He said he was inspired to enter the hotel sector after seeing Peebles Corp. founder Don Peebles speak at a conference.
“When I understood that there were people that looked like me that were in this business, that was inspiration for me,” Charles said. “It was a new direction, it was exciting and it was challenging.”
Frontier Development has acquired and developed over $200M in hotel properties in Maryland, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia. Charles said the projects that stand out the most in his mind are the redevelopment of an Atlanta student housing building into a 156-room Fairfield Inn & Suites and the ground-up development of a 116-room Homewood Suites by Hilton in Largo, Maryland.
The company has five in-house employees, and its properties employ about 350 people, mostly through third parties that operate the hotels, Charles said. It brings in about $50M in annual revenues, he said.
“When you’re not just in real estate development but in the hotel space, you’re significantly impacting communities from the standpoint of creating jobs, creating a strong tax base for municipalities, increasing economic development and tourism,” Charles said. “It has been pretty satisfying from the standpoint of the employment opportunities we’ve created for other people.” — Jon Banister
Growing up in an economically deprived part of Lakeland, Florida, gave Thomas Campbell a real sense of the impact that a lack of investment will have on a neighborhood.
“I understand that in these communities there are very good people, and a diversity of people, who just don't have access to opportunities,” he said.
A graduate of Colgate University and Columbia Business School, Campbell worked at Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley before moving into commercial real estate. His business, Thorobird Cos., focuses on developing and investing in distressed communities and has around $400M worth of affordable housing in the pipeline. At 1921 Atlantic Ave. in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn, it is creating some 236 apartments featuring supportive, affordable and middle income housing within one building.
The city also tapped the company to develop a 176-unit affordable housing complex at 581 Grant Ave. in the East New York section of Brooklyn, which is using modular construction.
“I’ve noticed a change, but the change has not been adequate,” Campbell said of diversity in commercial real estate. “There is more that needs to be done.” — Miriam Hall
A native of inner-city Detroit, Derrick Evers knew from a young age he wanted to build something, and that mission never changed.
After graduating from Texas A&M University and Harvard Business School, Evers held fast to his childhood dream, rising through the ranks of commercial real estate until branching out with two partners to form Kaizen Development Partners.
“The word ‘kaizen’ means continuous improvements [in Japanese], and it was something that resonated with my partners and I as we were starting our company,” Evers said. “It was just a reminder to us and the folks that we deal with that we just want to get better every day.”
Evers and his team are behind many of the Class-A products emerging from DFW’s top markets. Kaizen counts a mixed-use office, retail and residential megadevelopment near Field Street Downtown as one of its top-flight new projects. The company is working alongside Woods Capital and Dundon Capital Partners to activate what little space remains in this part of Dallas.
Evers and his partners are also the visionaries behind the 200K SF One Bethany West office building in Allen and the office towers now popping up around it.
Coming from a background that didn’t exactly promise easy entry into DFW’s elite CRE development circles, Evers remains attached to the qualities that got him to this point in his career.
“We have a perpetual chip on our shoulder,” he said. “We weren’t invited to the party. We kind of kicked our way in. We are in our minds the perpetual underdog, and what that means to us is that we want to come in and be a positive disrupter for commercial real estate.”
Evers greatly values inclusivity in his firm and continues to support new entrees into the profession from diverse backgrounds.
His advice to all men and women he mentors is the same no matter what else changes in the profession.
“One of the things that has been beneficial to me personally is to understand my priorities,” Evers said. “For me it has been faith, family and then everything else. Oftentimes in our lives we go through seasons where that gets a little jumbled. To the extent that we can make sure we can understand our priorities and appreciate it, that is going to be the key to sustainable success.” — Kerri Panchuk
Leon Walker has led community development projects that have brought grocery stores and healthcare services into the food and healthcare deserts on Chicago’s South Side.
Walker has structured more than $100M in New Markets Tax Credits, including for the Roseland Medical Center, which was the first project to finance new construction with NMTCs in Chicago. He was also the first Chicago developer to use crowdfunding for new construction, which was part of the capital stack for the Englewood Square retail center, anchored by Whole Foods.
Over the next 10 years, Walker wants to do more of the same, developing 10M SF of new commercial space in Chicago’s neighborhoods. He calls his work "venture development."
"We seek to provide investors with attractive returns by improving vacant land and underutilized structures with high impact real estate projects that help accelerate the neighborhood revitalization efforts," he said.
Before joining DL3 Realty, Walker worked in corporate real estate services at JLL and in real estate capital markets at Citicorp Securities. He lives with his wife and two children in the Kenwood historic district on Chicago’s South Side. — Dees Stribling
Although African Americans have made progress ascending to the C-suites of commercial real estate, EnTrust Realty Advisors founding principal Jim Clark remains a rarity, someone who went past the head office and became an owner.
“EnTrust is one of the only African American-owned commercial real estate firms in Chicago to operate at a truly institutional level,” he said.
That gives it several important roles to play in the region, he said, from showing that minority firms can perform at that highest level to acting as a resource for other minorities in the business.
The company, which Clark founded in 2002, handles investment sales and financing deals of more than $10M, and he said it is comfortable with transactions in the $75M to $100M range. EnTrust completed the 2015 sale of the retail and office portions of One11 West Illinois, with tenants like WeWork and Salesforce, for $75M, or nearly $500 per SF, one of the most valuable sales in Chicago's history.
The company also has a national footprint, having completed the sale in December of the Offices at Riverwalk, a 455K SF office portfolio in Scottsdale, Arizona.
But Clark said EnTrust has an impact that goes far beyond its size. As a minority-owned firm, it focuses on minority real estate players looking to trade or finance assets.
“We have probably given them a better level of service, and attention to their needs, because of the value we place on them as clients,” Clark said.
Above all, Clark sees a responsibility to help the next generation gain a foothold.
“To learn and be successful in the commercial real estate business, the most important thing is to have a mentor in whatever shop you’re in,” he said. “Frequently in the large firms, many, but not all, of the minorities don’t find that mentorship, flounder and end up leaving.”
After 32 years in the business, Clark recently decided to take a step back from the day-to-day operations of EnTrust. But he isn’t the retiring sort. Instead, he will take worldwide all the knowledge he has gained about real estate. As the new managing director of mission real estate development for Trinity Church of Wall Street in New York City, Clark, also an ordained minister, will use the church’s $6B endowment to help fund real estate projects with a social impact across the globe.
“I am spending more of my time in New York City, and traveling the world trying to do some good,” Clark said. “I see this as the next mountain to climb.” — Brian Rogal
Andrew Lofton dedicated his lengthy career to serving others. He launched into the workforce with a 30-year run in public government after earning his master’s in urban planning from the University of Washington. He worked mostly with the city of Seattle, but also spent some time with the state of Washington.
He served in various roles from entry-level policy analyst to city budget director. He was deputy chief of staff for Mayor Norm Rice and chief of operations for Mayor Greg Nickels.
“There’s been a service-rich focus to all the jobs I had,” he said. “Most of my jobs have been working for people.”
That made moving to the Seattle Housing Authority a natural transition for Lofton. He became the executive director in 2012 after serving a stint as deputy executive director.
Lofton is now heavily involved in working to find affordable housing for low-income individuals, which is becoming more difficult as the city grows.
“I think everyone is concerned about affordable housing,” he said. “From what we’ve seen over the last several years there is a real pressure to find affordable housing for all levels of folks, even those with middle incomes, due to a lack of supply.”
Lofton and his wife, Verda, have been married for 50 years and have two sons and a granddaughter. — Shawna De La Rosa
As a shareholder in Greenberg Traurig’s real estate group, Michael Davis knows he is in a rare position. Davis said he is one of only a few African American partners at big law firms in California.
Davis joined Greenberg Traurig in 2011 and specializes in real estate transactions including equity joint ventures, purchase and sales, financing, construction loans, opportunity zones and refinance.
Recently, Davis advised on the $460M financing for the development of a Ritz-Carlton in an opportunity zone in Portland and the $363M acquisition of the Montage Laguna Beach.
“I think it’s really important for us all to focus on whatever steps we can take to empower minorities,” Davis said. “As a firm, as a group, we have been committed to diversity and have a number of initiatives.”
Davis is part of several minority professional organizations, and speaks at events and colleges. His goal is to help get more African American, minorities and women up the ranks of law and real estate.
“Part of what I am trying to do is twofold: 1. Having the sort of success in my career and being a partner and doing the things that I’m doing, I’m showing other folks, who are younger and coming up in their careers, that it is possible, that there is someone who looks like you and has a similar background achieving these things,” Davis said.
“Being that beacon for people is meaningful. More than that, I try to take all of the opportunities I have to mentor and help other people, whether it’s law school or being a young lawyer, or in business and real estate … Just trying to find people, reach out and build a network and find a way forward.” — Joseph Pimentel
As managing partner and co-founder of RailField Realty, Kenneth Bacon oversees an expanding portfolio of about 2,000 multifamily units in Texas, Virginia, the Carolinas and Florida. Recently, the company has entered the fast-growing Richmond, Virginia, market and is expanding its presence in Texas.
RailField looks for well-located, value-add deals for multifamily properties over 100 units, but intangibles are important as well.
"When you do a deal, you have to think if [your] son or daughter could live here," Bacon told Multifamily Executive.
Before RailField, Bacon spent 19 years at Fannie Mae, including as executive vice president and head of the multifamily business. During his time at the government-sponsored enterprise, Bacon grew its portfolio from $56B to over $195B in assets, including multifamily mortgages, tax credits and mezzanine debt.
“I helped set up the first large-scale commercial securitization program,” Bacon said. “That helped jump-start the market for commercial mortgage-backed securities.It was challenging, but very rewarding intellectually, and as part of my career.”
Bacon and his wife, Judy, reside in Washington, D.C., and are the parents of Daniel and Kimberly. For his contributions to the Marshall Scholars program, Bacon was awarded the Order of the British Empire. — Dees Stribling