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Weekend Interview: Dumas Collective CEO Buwa Binitie

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.

As far as beginnings go, the basement of one's home is not quite as humble as a windswept island prison off the coast of France, but everyone has to start somewhere.

When Buwa Binitie founded Dumas Collective in 2006, he named the company after Alexandre Dumas, whose legendary novel The Count of Monte Cristo inspired Binitie to reach beyond his station and build a portfolio of companies in an industry that can feel hostile to people of color.

Though Edmond Dantes, the namesake of Binitie's development company Dantes Partners, used the wealth of a treasure hoard to write his revenge tale as the titular count, Binitie's companies specialize in putting together complex financing packages for desperately needed affordable housing. Even among real estate asset classes, it isn't as simple or glamorous as treasure and 19th-century aristocracy, but for the next generation of executives, it hopefully proves just as inspiring.

Dumas Collective CEO Buwa Binitie speaks at a groundbreaking event for an affordable, senior housing community developed by Dumas subsidiary Dantes Partners in Southeast Washington, D.C. in 2019.

Bisnow: Tell us about your leadership philosophy and what experiences, words of advice or mentors shaped it along the way.

Binitie: My leadership style is one that I'd describe as player-coach. I like to lead especially while in the trenches; that is where the best lessons are taught. My word of advice to aspiring developers is: Learn the business that you are in or aspiring to be in. It is not enough that you know how you execute on a project, but how that execution translates into a successful business.

Bisnow: How has the role of CEO/business leader changed over time — especially when considering the early days of your career to now?

Binitie: When I founded my development shop, it was just me as a sole proprietor, so I was just responsible for me. We have grown into three entities that cover development, property management and acquisition. Fast forward and I am the CEO of a parent company, Dumas Collective, that has closed over $1B of transactions and grown to over 80 people. As we continue to grow at a rapid pace, I am now responsible for ensuring that everyone not only understands the vision but also buys in.

Bisnow: What will the role of CEO look like in 10 years?

Binitie: I envision my role of CEO 10 years from now to be more centered around supporting and creating future CEOs and cultivating them from within our Dumas Collective.

Bisnow: Was leading a company always a goal for you? If so, why?

Binitie: Being a successful entrepreneur was always the goal of mine, while taking my experience to build up and invest in other entrepreneurs along the way. We’ve been truly fortunate to have folks who like what we do and want to take it to the next level.

Dumas Collective CEO Buwa Binitie

Bisnow: What has been your biggest mistake as a leader?

Binitie: I’d say the biggest mistake has been misreading the temperature of the team as far as new business is concerned. So we’ve had to learn to say no to new business in order to protect the team when at full capacity.

Bisnow: Has your thinking changed about the workplace between 2019 and today? How? What will your office strategy be moving forward?

Binitie: The virtual space that we occupied for an extended time created distance with some staff. As leaders, we will have to focus more on re-engagement of the workforce going into 2022. I believe we’ve lost a sense of our creative juices that come from collaborating in person, so we are now in the midst of planning retreats and training sessions as a way to get folks back together again.

Bisnow: 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?

Binitie: Social impact can be addressed in several ways, namely by being deliberate about whom you hire in senior positions and with your purchasing power. Our track record of hiring senior management of color speaks for itself. We’ve been able to track that in the past three years, we’ve spent over $60M on minority vendors and contractors across our various development and operating projects. We encourage our deal partners to also track social impact.

Bisnow: What do you think about the recent focus on sustainability and climate change? Is it overblown? Insufficient? Is your company tackling climate change in any way or taking it under consideration in your planning?

Binitie: As much as there seems to be a focus on climate change, which is great — we as a society still have a lot of work to do towards ensuring gender and minority parity in the CRE to ensure that more people of color are adequately represented in CRE.

Dumas Collective CEO Buwa Binitie

Bisnow: What is something CRE gets wrong in your eyes? 

Binitie: Not addressing the fact that minority managers oversee less than one percent of the $1.3T in equity in the industry.

Bisnow: What asset class or location will perform best over the next five years? Why?

Binitie: Because of my early personal experience in trying to live in high-cost cities, I am a big believer in multifamily, particularly affordable housing. There will always be a need for it.

Bisnow: What book, article or TedTalk meant the most to you? Why?

Binitie: Rich Dad Poor Dad or The Count of Monte CristoThe Count of Monte Cristo taught me that you can always make the best out of every unfortunate situation you find yourself in, and that success is the best revenge.

Bisnow: What is your all-time favorite TV show? Why?

Binitie: The Wire. The show was beautifully written and did a good job of interweaving politics, policing and the drug trade.

Bisnow: How do you spend your Saturdays?

Binitie: I spend it doing activities with family and going on long bike rides.