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Bridging The Gap: How One NY Capital Markets Advisory Firm Is Helping Shape Future Leaders Of CRE

Students at AZ Educate

The path to a career in commercial real estate looks very different than it did in 2019. In-person networking, which was once considered crucial to building the relationships needed to succeed in CRE, was put on pause for years. 

Losing these types of events has been particularly hard for burgeoning CRE professionals. Despite an increase in real estate-specific degree programs in undergrad and grad schools, many students still do not have access to CRE-specific courses at their colleges. With the next generation of commercial real estate leaders in mind, some industry veterans are working to close this gap. The Ackman-Ziff Real Estate Group, a boutique real estate capital advisory firm, is accepting applications for its AZ Educate — or AZE — program. 

AZ Educate is a tactical, virtual four-day course that the company launched in 2021. It is designed to help undergraduate and graduate students gain an understanding of a career in CRE, explore real-world scenarios with industry leaders and network with, and be mentored by, the people who can make their careers.

Ackman-Ziff President and co-founder Simon Ziff said his colleagues have always been passionate about mentoring younger real estate professionals and recognized the opportunity the program had to reach and impact underserved, diverse talent.   

“We understand the importance of advancing diversity in real estate,” Ziff said. “This program is designed to help students build a network and get them better positioned to find great opportunities.” 

Last year, Ziff said, the organization intended to have 36 students in the undergraduate program and 36 in the graduate program. After carefully vetting over 200 undergraduate, recent post-undergraduate and graduate student applicants, they narrowed down each class to 42 students, comprising an array of diverse talent. By partnering with top student support organizations, AZE was successful in recruiting a range of men and women from over 56 different universities and seven countries. 

Erica Engel, a senior at the University of Maryland-College Park majoring in finance and minoring in real estate development, attended the program last year. After graduation in May, she will be starting a full-time position in CRE finance in NYC.

“The AZ Educate initiative was one of the most pivotal experiences of my career thus far,” Engel said. “Thanks to AZE, I’ve built personal relationships throughout the industry that have provided me with perspective and guidance in narrowing down my career goals and game-planning how to get there. The soft skills I’ve been able to develop through this experience have helped give me the confidence I need to pursue my goals. Ultimately, AZE has provided me with an unmatched set of tools I continue to utilize.”

The program featured 26 speakers and 25 hours of content spread out across 42 lessons. The coursework focused on career development, business ethics, networking, negotiations, finance, technology teamwork and other topics designed to help participants gain a ​comprehensive understanding of the real estate world.

“There is no better gift in business than having a network of professionals you can learn from, and AZ Educate helped me grow my lifelong network of advisers,” said Jonae Maxey, a graduate of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business who attended the AZ Educate program in 2021. “What really made the experience unique was the theme of business ethics. Oftentimes in the business world, ethics are forgotten and greed takes over decision-making. It was refreshing to be in a program that really instilled in the students the importance of ethics and good business practices.” 

Darwyn Kelly, a graduate student in real estate development and urbanism at the University of Miami who attended the program last year, echoed the importance of having access to a network as someone just starting out in this people-driven field. 

“The biggest takeaway for me was the networking,” Kelly said. “The high-profile speakers that were brought in to speak were compelling and they all were open to meeting with students individually upon request. With me being new in the commercial real estate industry, having access to individuals that have experience and success in the industry was paramount for my development.”

The 2021 program was conducted over Zoom and Ziff said the company will continue with this format because it enables people from all over the globe to participate, and due to the tremendous feedback and outpour of gratitude from the 2021 AZE class, the firm has extended its four-day summer course to include a bimonthly Select Speaker Series that runs throughout the year, highlighting lessons learned from seasoned commercial real estate industry leaders.

“Four days, four mornings, that’s all it takes,” Ziff said. “This is the perfect complement to a summer internship, we work with companies to ensure their interns have time to attend sessions for those four mornings and then dive right back into their experience with an enhanced knowledge of CRE.” 

Students who are interested in learning more about AZ Educate can read more and apply here. The undergraduate session will take place June 27, 28, 29 and 30, 2022, while the second session, expanded to include post-undergraduate and graduate students, will run Aug. 8, 9, 10 and 11.

This article was produced in collaboration between Studio B and Ackman-Ziff. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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