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Weekend Interview: The Badger Group President And CEO Paul Badger

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.

Paul Badger founded The Badger Group in Philadelphia in 1996 and has been an advocate for improved representation in commercial real estate for people of color ever since. For him, the increased focus the industry has had on that issue in the past two-plus years is validation that is no less sweet for being overdue.

One of the biggest improvements for representation in Philadelphia real estate has been the emphasis the city has placed on diverse representation in bids for major development projects.

The Badger Group has been a direct beneficiary of established companies looking around Philadelphia to bring in capable, experienced partners that also fulfill representation requirements. Before 2020, the company had already joined with The Goldenberg Group and HFZ Capital on complex projects in Center City and North Philadelphia, respectively. 

But the most recent partnership secured by The Badger Group could also be the most impactful: as an equity partner with The Durst Organization on the private development set to accompany the capping project on Interstate 95, which will create a new park between Walnut and Chestnut streets at the Penn's Landing portion of Philly's Delaware River waterfront.

The following has been lightly edited for clarity.

The Badger Group President and CEO Paul Badger, seen in the Philadelphia Eagles press room at their home stadium of Lincoln Financial Field

Bisnow: Baron Rothschild once said the “time to buy is when there’s blood in the streets.” Where is the blood today?

Badger: Current efforts to curb inflation, high construction costs, and a tightening by the capital markets have now caused the market to rapidly deteriorate. Many projects are forced to pause or stop because they no longer pencil, and those projects with adjustable-rate mortgages are already feeling the tight squeeze. If this continues, we could begin to see bloodshed across multiple sectors which could create opportunities to acquire distressed properties. This includes the already-lagging office market that has yet to fully recover from the pandemic.  

Bisnow: What is your most controversial CRE opinion and why are you right about it? 

Badger: I would like to see more collaboration between our industry and our political leaders in Philadelphia. I believe our city is a very special place, and CRE is on the verge of greatness. What I believe will help us achieve it is for political leaders and industry leaders to do a better job working together to create thoughtful, meaningful legislation that will help our city create jobs, income, and opportunities for all of its citizens.  

I believe I am right because there are many examples of when this type of collaboration was successful here and in other cities, however we have not done it consistently enough. 

Bisnow: If you weren’t in real estate, what path would your career have taken?

Badger: After business school and prior to starting my real estate business, I worked in product management for Johnson & Johnson. In that role, we had oversight on some of their major consumer product brands in North America. If I had not entered into real estate, I would have likely continued on my path in corporate America and would have ultimately pursued other entrepreneurial interests.

Bisnow: If you could make one change to the industry, what would it be?

Badger: The one change I would make to our industry is to create improved diversity, equity and inclusion. As the owner of a minority business enterprise, I have lobbied long and hard for increased access to opportunities and resources for my firm and other minority, woman and diversely owned enterprises.

The Badger Group President and CEO Paul Badger with his family

I believe there is great value in having diverse opinions, ideas and approaches to problem-solving that you cannot get from a monolithic work environment. I have seen tremendous improvement over the last few years, but there is still a long way to go.

Bisnow: What is one thing you would do differently from early in your career?

Badger: The one thing I would have done differently would be to have taken more calculated risks earlier in my career. As I look back, there were two specific opportunities that would have made for great projects had I taken the chance and gone for them. Fortunately, I learned from those situations, and was able to quickly find the right balance between risk and reward.  

Bisnow: As a leader, how do you decide who is worth mentoring and who is simply not a good fit?

Badger: I believe that to whom much is given, much is required. As a result, I feel it is my duty to help others, and mentorship is one way to achieve it. As much as time allows, I try to give as many people as possible an opportunity for mentorship. Once you begin to engage with a mentee, you can quickly tell who truly has a passion for the business versus those who just want to “kick the tires.”

The people who demonstrate the drive and determination needed to be successful are typically the people who I prefer to invest my time in mentoring. It is a very rewarding experience when you have a positive impact on a person’s career or life.

Bisnow: What are your thoughts on the metaverse? Does it have any relevance for CRE?

Badger: I see the metaverse as a platform that has tremendous upside opportunity. If you follow the huge investment that firms like Meta and others are placing on it, I believe we have barely scratched the surface. I watch as my children and their friends are so engrossed in games like Roblox, Minecraft, etc., that they would play all day if they were allowed.

As this new generation grows up with the concept of the metaverse, it will become second nature for them and will be a way of life, much like video games had their influence on baby boomers.

The Badger Group President and CEO Paul Badger speaks at a Center City Business Association event.

Bisnow: What do you see as the lasting impacts of the pandemic on CRE?

Badger: One of the long-lasting impacts of the pandemic will be the continued stress on the office market due to the shift from in-person to remote work and conducting business virtually. How that balance gets struck will ultimately determine the demand for office space and the fate of current and proposed office projects. While I believe that many businesses will resume in person, there will also be many requiring fewer office hours, conducting more virtual meetings and having people working from home.  

Bisnow: As you know, 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?

Badger: As a minority business, I have been at the forefront of this movement for well over a decade, so it is one that I take very seriously. I currently have the privilege of partnering on several major projects in Philadelphia in which my firm offers diversity with our project ownership. On these projects, I attempt to imbue diversity, equity and inclusion in all aspects from equity ownership, hiring diverse consultants, contractors, subs, etc. 

Internally, I seek to have diversity within my company that includes representatives from all parts of society. In addition, I seek to include diversity and positive social impact to all my projects.

Lastly, I am fortunate to have leadership positions in several major industry organizations such as The Development Workshop, the Building Industry Association, HAPCO, etc. I use that platform to try to promote, educate and advocate for DEI in our industry. I also currently chair and/or founded over five DEI committees that are tasked with a similar charge, including the newly formed Philadelphia chapter of African American Real Estate Professionals.

Bisnow: So, this is the weekend interview. What’s your typical weekend routine?

Badger: I am blessed to have two beautiful daughters, ages 9 and 6. My weekends are a mix of some work while chauffeuring the kids to birthday parties, play dates and other activities. I also try to squeeze in a little down time for travel, exercise or recuperation from the demanding workweek.