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Origin Stories: Lendlease's Caaminee Pandit On Using CRE To Leave An Impact

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

Caaminee Pandit is a development manager at construction giant Lendlease, an Australian company that has been working to expand its development presence in the U.S. in the past few years.

Last summer, it joined with Australian pension fund Aware Super to buy a development site at 1 Java St. in Brooklyn, and has begun the process of developing a mixed-use project with 800 new units. The company also co-developed the Rafael Viñoly-designed luxury condo tower 277 Fifth Ave. with Victor Group. During the coronavirus pandemic, it locked down $250M in financing for 100 Claremont Ave., another residential project it is co-developing on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

Pandit is speaking here about learning on the job and finding a company that aligns with one's own vision and values.

Caaminee Pandit and her dog, PomPom, at her graduation to become a therapy dog.

Bisnow: How did you get introduced to CRE?

Pandit: I grew up in the suburbs of Indiana, and my first significant exposure to a large city was during college: My freshman year summer internship was at the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, where I worked on post-Katrina land revitalization policy. I was inspired by real estate’s ability to create a meaningful impact on both the built environment and within the social fabric of our communities.

Bisnow: What was your first job in CRE?

Pandit: My first job in CRE was as a Fellow at the National Equity Fund in Chicago. It was through a Princeton fellowship program that matched graduates with public service organizations. I worked in their New Markets Tax Credit group and was exposed to various financing structures for commercial revitalization projects across the country.

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

Pandit: At Princeton, I studied sociology with a focus on urban studies. This curriculum covered a broad array of topics from housing policy to placemaking — topics which underpin the decisions of many in real estate (such as developers and city planners) today. There was not a formal real estate curriculum, so most of my day-to-day skills were developed on the job. I also enrolled in real estate financial modeling training in my free time to develop financial modeling skills in Excel.

Caaminee Pandit at Lendlease's 100 Claremont St. project.

Bisnow: What is one skill you wish you had coming into CRE?

Pandit: I’ve found business acumen as well as the ability to network and cultivate relationships tremendously important for a career in CRE. I’ve worked to develop these skills throughout my career.

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? What changed?

Pandit: I entered the industry after college without prior real estate underwriting training, so everything I learned was on the job and I therefore faced a steep learning curve. I was lucky to have supervisors willing to train me and support my growth.

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

Pandit: I view CRE as a vehicle through which one can have a meaningful impact on the built environment and the surrounding neighborhood. When I first entered the industry, I did not realize the extent that collaboration underlies the role of a developer. From coordinating with the surrounding community, design professionals, city agencies and financiers, there is a significant amount of collaboration and care that goes into each development project.

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

Pandit: I have had many mentors through ULI. Each one has guided me through career decisions and professional development at various stages throughout my career. I also utilized my alumni network, especially early on in my career, to learn about the various pathways within real estate and the skill sets necessary to succeed.

Caaminee Pandit and her fiancé, Alex, in the Galapagos Islands.

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

Pandit: My dad, who was our only working parent, passed away at a relatively young age. I quickly learned the importance of financial management for our household, which is not only a life skill, but an important corollary for business.

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

Pandit: Search for a company that aligns with your vision and values; this advice is relevant for any industry.

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

Pandit: I work to focus on the present rather than dwell in the past, and as a result, I feel like every experience has been a learning opportunity that provided for growth both professionally and personally.