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Origin Stories: How A Pandemic Brought Infectious Disease Expert Dr. Walter Okoroanyanwu (Back) To CRE

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

When developer and property manager Crocker Partners hired Dr. Walter Okoroanyanwu as its director of environmental health in July, it was a somewhat shocking indication of how the world was changing amid the coronavirus pandemic. Crocker enlisted Okoroanyanwu, an epidemiologist, to help improve the safety, wellness and sustainability of its 11M SF portfolio, bringing medical expertise and relationships to try to answer questions about how to protect tenants from disease.

Appointing a doctor to guide design and property management decisions was unprecedented, according to Crocker, but Okoroanyanwu has a background in CRE that made the transition from medicine to real estate smoother.

Crocker Partners' Dr. Walter Okoroanyanwu with his wife, Viola, and three daughters — Victoria, Vanessa and Vivian — in 2019.

Bisnow: How did you get introduced to CRE?

Okoroanyanwu: Growing up, my family owned a civil engineering and construction company that managed commercial real estate projects. I managed the company for 10 years when my father passed away until my younger siblings (who graduated in engineering) could take over. While managing the company, I was also practicing as a part-time consultant physician.

Bisnow: What was your first job in CRE? 

Okoroanyanwu: Outside of being CEO/chairman of my family business, this role is my first in commercial real estate. 

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

Okoroanyanwu: My focus and passion has always been medicine. I have obtained a bachelor’s in science in biology/chemistry, a medical doctorate degree, a master’s in public health and an MBA. My education, training and experience in administration and operations have prepared me for my role as the leader of Crocker’s Remobilization Task Force, the group that’s responsible for ensuring our buildings are safe and sustainable as people return to work. My medical background, paired with those of my team of regional managers and other CRE professionals, positions us for success in that mission.

Crocker Partners Director of Environmental Health Dr. Walter Okoroanyanwu

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? 

Okoroanyanwu: I was a practicing administrative physician in a multi-site, multi-specialty practice before joining Crocker Partners. I believe that managing multi-site clinics in a consistent, standardized fashion helped to prepare me to oversee a portfolio of multi-site commercial real estate assets.

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?

Okoroanyanwu: Not at all. I have always loved engineering and applying medical practices into daily life. I became a physician because it was challenging. I am always up for a new challenge. 

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

Okoroanyanwu: I have always had a great impression of the industry; having been raised in it, it’s like following a family tradition. I joined Crocker Partners at a momentous time for the industry and our world, but I’m encouraged by companies like this one that have taken on the onus of understanding and combatting the daunting issue of COVID-19. That alone has renewed my faith that there are conscientious leaders in this industry that place the well-being of others first. 

Crocker Partners' Dr. Walter Okoroanyanwu with his wife, Viola, and daughters in 2019.

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

Okoroanyanwu: My father was a civil engineering contractor and my mentor. He taught me and my siblings hard work with humility, kindness and respect for others. He made the whole family love the worlds of engineering and commercial real estate.

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

Okoroanyanwu: Listen more than you speak, which is not very easy to do. 

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

Okoroanyanwu: You must love what you do with a passion — otherwise, it is not worth doing.

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

Okoroanyanwu: Nothing. I’ve worked hard, but I also consider myself lucky that everything has come together into such a fulfilling career.