Meet The Commercial Real Estate Industry's Military Veterans
Many of the skills needed to excel in the commercial real estate industry parallel those learned while serving in the United States military: Discipline. Preparedness. The ability to stay calm and think rationally in heated situations. Integrity.
Bisnow spoke with nearly two dozen military veterans from across the country ahead of Veterans Day on Nov. 11 to gain insight into their experiences in the military and how those years of service have influenced their careers in real estate.
St. Croix Capital Advisors Senior Vice President Stephen DePizzo
Military Rank: Army, Engineer Officer – Captain
Years Served: Six
Military Memories: The greatest memories during my time in the military [were from] being able to lead young men and women. The time we spent was priceless. I also had the opportunity to be an Aide de Camp to a two-star general. Being mentored by a high-ranking officer was one of the best experiences I have ever had.
How has your military service shaped your life and career? The military shaped the way I look at all situations in my life and in business. It taught me to be patient, to analyze all situations from different perspectives and to pay attention to all the details. I’ve been able to use my skills and military experience in all aspects of commercial real estate.
Newmark Knight Frank Executive Managing Director Jeff Castleton
Military Rank: Navy Lieutenant Commander
Years Served: May 1981-February 1991
Military Memories: Castleton graduated with honors from the United States Naval Academy, where he earned his bachelor of science in mechanical engineering.
What lessons from your military service carried over into real estate? Leadership skills to focus on the team and ensure all members are enabled and motivated to succeed.
The story behind the photo: We did a flight demonstration or air show for [Nancy Reagan] when she visited the ship on our return from the 1986 Mediterranean cruise. [Ronald Reagan] was scheduled to come greet the returning victors (we bombed Libya earlier in the Cruise in April 1986) but got sidetracked with something more pressing, so he sent Nancy out. That is the Secretary of the Navy at that time — John Lehman — to her right. A month after the cruise this picture showed up and it has the White House seal on the back.
CBRE Advisory & Transaction Services associate John Bernatz
Military Rank: Army; E6, Staff Sergeant
Years Served: Six years, from 1995 to 2001
Military Memories: I highly enjoyed my years of service in the U.S. Army. I was stationed out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and had a lot of great experiences. My job while in the Army was combat medic, and one of my fondest memories was during initial basic training. Growing up, I was involved in Boy Scouts and attained the rank of Eagle, so camping and backpacking were an important part of my life. During our sixth week of training, it was time for the 15-mile ruck to camp and we spent several days in the woods learning how to be better soldiers. I always backpacked trying to carry as little as possible, but in the Army it’s about carrying as much as possible. About halfway into the hike, a few of my battle buddies started falling out due to their back weight, and so instead of getting in trouble with our drill sergeant I started carrying some of their gear. By the time we got to camp I had more than doubled my weight and thought that I was going to crumble. Hoping that we would have some time to rest, I dropped gear and reached for a snack. To my dismay in my efforts to help my friends, it brought attention to the one person we were trying not to alert, Drill Sergeant Cambell. Once he saw how well we did during the march and that I was just ‘sitting around’ snacking, he felt it would be a good time to do some additional training. We were then put through the ringer for the next three hours doing physical training in the rain and mud. The next three days were torture. And to top it off, since I was such a great help on the march there, he decided to let me carry their gear on the way back, too.
Soldiers do the stupidest things. As a medic we have to spend time in the hospital emergency room treating soldiers and families when we are not deployed or in the field. It was a little after midnight (I always seemed to be stuck with that shift) on a Sunday night, and the ER was silent. We were all dozing on the beds, recovering from a rough Saturday night when all of a sudden, a soldier barges into the ER screaming for help. The guy looked oddly familiar, but I couldn’t quite place the face. The group of us went into solution treatment mode and got him on a bed and started shearing off his uniform. We begin to cut off his underclothes, when suddenly four snakes fall to the floor. His body is covered in little bites, and now there are four loose snakes in the ER. We found out that he and his buddies had been playing a drinking game, which he was losing. Every time he lost a round, they put another snake in his uniform, keeping it buttoned up and the snakes tucked under his clothes. We gave him some medication to calm down, dropped an IV on him to sober him up and then spent the rest of the night catching snakes in the ER. Needless to say, he and his buddies were in deep with their commanding officer, and we only recovered one snake that night.
How has your military service shaped your life and career? Military experience has shaped every aspect of my professional career, but has come in extremely handy in commercial real estate. My experience has taught me to stay cool under pressure, think clearly and remain unemotional in stressful situations. Being able to dissect a situation in my head rapidly and make quick decisions has proved to be a valuable skill.
Stream Realty Vice President/co-lead of the Charlotte office leasing division Jay Coleman
Military Rank: Marine Corps Major; piloted AH-1W Cobra Helicopters
Years Served: 10 years active; two years in Reserves and counting
Military Memories: With my active duty time specifically, the best benefits gained from being in the military were just the relationships, the bonds that form between all the guys you’re working with by nature of the work you’re doing.
How has your military service shaped your life and career? We always say in the Marine Corps: ‘It’s a small Marine Corps, we all know everybody.’ Everybody has a reputation, good or bad.
Coming into commercial real estate, I always have that in mind; in order to excel in this field, you have to guard your reputation. It’s a people-driven business; it’s not a tangible real estate asset per se, it’s all relationships and people that are making the deals happen. Knowing how people perceive you in the market and their willingness to engage with you and really trust you — that’s what it all kind of boils down to.
In order to be trusted, you need to be 1) competent and knowledgeable; people need to know you're the subject-matter expert in your field because you have to have credibility in everything you say and do. 2) You have to be willing to lead by example, do what you say and say what you do. And then finally, for the people you work with 3) have a genuine concern for them and care for them.
Avison Young principal Brian Cooper
City: San Diego
Military Rank: Navy Lieutenant
Years Served: Five
Military Memories: My deployments were to South America and Asia, and we did joint operations with military forces from a variety of countries. It was eye-opening to be exposed to such exotic places and cultures. You quickly realize the importance to others of America as an ideal. People hold you to a higher standard, and you become careful that you conduct yourself accordingly.
How has your military service shaped your life and career? I think the basic attributes of a successful naval officer translate well into commercial brokerage — both professions rely heavily on an ability to manage people and processes.
Columbia Property Trust help desk analyst Rachel Humphreys
Military Rank: Georgia Army National Guard
Years Served: Eight years, and still serving — currently deployed
Military Memories: Joining the Army at 17 years old with my twin sister, Elizabeth, made shipping off to basic training three days after our high school graduation pretty unique. Welcome to Adulting 101. Upon our return, we attended The University of North Georgia, and eight years later we’re both still enlisted. For the first time ever, we are separated since we are now in different units and I am currently deployed overseas. Obviously having my sister by my side allowed us to make many special memories as we learned and grew together. We’ve built strong relationships with people all over the United States and those bonds are unbreakable.
How has your military service shaped your life and career? The Army values are ingrained in everything I do. I’ve been able to use the skills I’ve learned in my job and my life by communicating with confidence and helping others. The structure and systems helped me stay focused in college and in my career. The combination of my military service and my bachelor’s degree have helped me succeed in the business world in many different aspects. Being part of our country’s military is a privilege and it is my honor to serve. The Army has helped shape me into the strong woman I am today.
SL Green Assistant Property Manager William Mark Cornachio
City: New York City
Military Rank: United States Marine Corps, left service as a Captain.
Years Served: Five
Military Memories: I was an artilleryman stationed in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and made deployments to Afghanistan and a few countries throughout the Persian Gulf. The military gave me the opportunity to travel the globe and serve alongside a talented, disciplined and exceptional group of leaders.
How has your military service shaped your life and career? After serving, you continue to approach work and life challenges with a mission-focused mindset. By inspiring others and recognizing the contributions of peers and subordinates, you strengthen your team and can accomplish anything.
Marcus & Millichap associate Austin Worrell
City: Oak Brook, Illinois
Military Rank: Air Force Senior Airman
Years Served: Five
Military Memories: I was given many opportunities [from] being deployed to Kuwait to having the privilege of serving in the Air Force Honor Guard. I met several people who helped me grow and experience so many great things.
How has your military service shaped your life and career? I learned discipline, tenacity and service with honor where I could be confident and proud of my contribution to the cause of protection and freedom. This helped sharpen my focus and commitment to serve our investment real estate clients with my best effort.
Columbia Property Trust Vice President of National Property Management Linda Bolan
Military Rank: Navy Supply Corps, Lieutenant
Years Served: 10
Military Memories: Being the fourth class of women to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy was incredible and a true honor. Also, later serving as the Food Service Officer on Diego Garcia, a remote island in the Indian Ocean, as one of just eight women officers on the entire island.
How has your military service shaped your life and career? My service in the Navy, in particular being a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, has helped open doors in the commercial real estate industry that would never have happened otherwise. Our alumni association is very strong and inclusive. It helped me obtain my first job in property management in 1993 with LaSalle Partners (now JLL) where I served for 22 years. It also helped me form a relationship with one of the icons in sports and the commercial real estate industry, Roger Staubach.
JLL associate Zach Gramlich
Military Rank: Marine Corps Sergeant
Years Served: Four
Military Memories: “We the willing, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, with so little, for so long, we are now qualified to do anything, with nothing.”
This is a quote from Mother Teresa that has been adopted by Marine Reconnaissance and Special Operations Battalions, along with many other organizations throughout the world. From my personal experience I believe it especially holds true within these respective units. It was a mutual feeling we all shared and something we all took pride in.
All new team members were required to read “A Message To Garcia” by Elbert Hubbard upon arrival. The book was short in length, but when reading it in its entirety while in a push-up position, it became much longer. Needless to say, this is a story I have not forgotten. It is an essay based on a true story from the Spanish-American War in 1899 and the ultimate example of individual initiative and personal dedication to mission accomplishment.
How has your military service shaped your life and career? Almost every situation or problem that you are faced with in the military has been encountered before. Many times individuals become overwhelmed when facing what seems like a daunting or impossible task; they quit before they even start. There is a common underlying pattern that is at the base of every situation we face, they just take different forms. The ability to recognize these patterns and break them down into smaller strategic steps to accomplish the overarching goal has played a vital role in my life.
My military experience has made me appreciate the opportunity I have been given as a United States citizen and life in general. It has provided me with a perspective that keeps me grounded, allowing me the ability to detach and view life from a macro level and not be sucked into a 'First World problem' that in the grand scheme of life is irrelevant.
I feel it is my duty to put forth my best effort every day and live my life to the fullest for the men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice affording me the privilege to do so.
Sharing a common connection through a mutual understanding with fellow veterans has also played a key role in shaping my life and CRE career. There is an automatic connection I have with other veterans that does not compare to anything else I have encountered in my life. I believe the feeling is mutual between the majorities. Just as individuals were willing to lay down their lives down range, they are willing to go to the same extent here to invest in your success in the civilian world.
Colliers International Atlanta CEO Bob Mathews
Military Rank: Army Military Police Corps Captain
Years Served: August 1971-August 1977
Military Memories: My first tour of duty was working at a small nuclear weapons depot in Germany where I had a top-secret clearance. What we did is we took care of the physical security of the weapons. These were all warheads, surface-to-air missile warheads and ... tactical nuclear warheads. You sit there and say, wow. So you're responsible for that and they make you sign for it. They just make sure ... you're not to do anything stupid with it.
How has your military service shaped your life and career? [Serving in the Army] was absolutely a foundation experience for me, particularly when it comes to being able to understand and learn leadership and responsibility, obligation and to be responsible for your people and your client. If you look at just the Army values of courage, truth and integrity — all those things are what you learn in the military. I believe the U.S. military is a great place to start. And for some people it's the right way of life for them.
Newmark Cornish & Carey Managing Director Tom Conwell Jr.
Military Rank: Navy E-3
Years Served: 1991-1995
Military Memories: I spent time in the Persian Gulf, Asia, Pacific Islands and San Diego to Seattle. [I was a] National Defense Recipient participating in Desert Storm [and was] stationed on-board USS Samuel Gompers AD-37 in Alameda, California.
How has your military service shaped your life and career? I was taught to always pay attention to detail and look my best. The U.S. Navy shaped me by enabling me to understand different cultures. I also learned to work on many tasks simultaneously in an efficient manner.
JLL assistant general manager Tamersen Glenn
Military Rank: Marine Corps Captain
Years Served: Four years enlisted and 12.5 as an officer
Military Memories: Prior to joining JLL in June 2017, I served as a Captain in the United States Marine Corps leading Marines at Recruiting Station, Houston, for four years. Preceding being a Military Officer Recruiter, I served as an Adjutant (an HR manager) for 8.5 years and a HMMWV/five-ton truck mechanic for four years. I had two deployments to Iraq and one deployment to Sri Lanka (humanitarian assistance). My favorite rank is Second Lieutenant … you’re too new to the officer ranks to get into trouble, but in long enough to not get into trouble.
How has your military service shaped your life and career? JLL is a great place to work, especially for veterans. My military experience certainly helped prepare me for my career afterward. JLL is somewhat similar with its ambitious performance-oriented culture that focuses on business results but realizes people are the firm’s most valuable asset. JLL values the Junior Military Officer leadership experience and supports veterans through employee resource groups such as JLL Veterans Network, which provides the camaraderie that is often lost when transitioning from the military to corporate America.
CBRE Executive Vice President/Mid-Atlantic Region head John Germano
City: Washington, D.C.
Military Rank: Marine Corps First Lieutenant
Years Served: Four
Military Memories: The memories consist primarily of the relationships developed during my service and the truly inspirational people I’ve met that serve in the Marine Corps. I have always felt proud of the military and remain in awe of the people that continue to sacrifice for our country. Another memory is the need to constantly push yourself to achieve more than you thought you could. The Marine Corps proved that you can do more than you think if you push yourself.
How has your military service shaped your life and career? The military, and specifically the Marine Corps, instill discipline, organization, persistence and contingency planning. Every one of these attributes transfer to, and are essential to, success in commercial real estate.
JLL Senior Vice President Mike Crane
Military Rank: Army Captain
Years Served: Six
Military Memories: I am extremely proud of my time of service in the Army, mostly due to the caliber of the men and women I was lucky to serve alongside and lead. The training and experiences I went through shaped me into the person I am today, and any success I have achieved in my career is primarily a result of those years in service of the country.
How has your military service shaped your life and career? Success in the military requires the ability to lead across multiple disciplines and individual skill sets to achieve a common goal. This has helped me immensely in navigating the various aspects of CRE, whether it be project management, brokerage, occupancy planning, lease administration, etc. More importantly, I met my wife of 12 years after serving alongside her brother in Afghanistan!
CBRE Colorado Springs associate Jared May
City: Colorado Springs
Military Rank: U.S. Army Major
Years served: Active duty 2003-2008, National Guard 2008-present
How has your military service shaped your life and career? This business, like the Army, is a people business. Those interpersonal relationships are the way you build a team and work as a team to accomplish a common mission or goal. It’s also about how you plan. You don’t just plan by forcing your ideas down at your team. You develop a plan together and execute the plan together. Planning a mission is really planning a job or a pursuit. On the brokerage side, we do a lot of pursuits and develop a plan of attack to win business over our competitors.
Newmark Cornish & Carey Senior Managing Director John Weatherby
City: San Mateo, California
Military Branch: Air Force
Years Served: September 1966-October 1974
What lessons from your military service carried over into real estate? I learned “Duty, Honor, Country,” the motto of West Point, in Officer Training School and have tried to live by those words over the years. The year in Thailand [in 1969] was a great experience, managing many construction crews under tight schedules. I learned to work with others under stress, tight schedules and to get the job done. [I] had a lot of responsibility at a young age, which taught me increased self-discipline and taking care of your men and getting the job completed satisfactorily. This has correlated into real estate.
Faris Lee Investments Vice President, Finance & Business Analytics Taylor Davis
City: Irvine, California
Military Rank: Army Noncommissioned Officer (E-5)
Years Served: Eight
Military Memories: I had the opportunity to lead a 150-plus person platoon in Fort Gordon, Georgia, through various training sessions [that included] weapons, strategy, transportation, communications and medical trainings.
How has your military service shaped your life and career? The U.S. Army core values are what I practice professionally and personally each day.
Marcus & Millichap associate Duke Wang
Military Rank: Marine Corps Corporal
Years Served: Four years and five months
Military Memories: Good experience, similar to the real estate field.
How has your military service shaped your life and career? Joining the military has shaped my life in a multitude of ways. I was thinking about how to answer this question by providing a short sentence but I really am not able to. The military has given me a sense of security in who we are as a nation. It’s given me hope and pride to be an American even more so now than before I joined. Knowing brothers who have gone and given their lives for the freedom this nation provides is something that humbles me in my life. There’s much more to say on this topic rather than just pride and service, but regarding the free enterprise system and building a real estate empire in the commercial real estate industry, that is just one small gift we have that many others have died for.