Origin Stories: Kenneth Morrison Keeps Building The Harlem Company His Father Started
This series delves into the myriad ways people enter the commercial real estate industry and what contributes to their success.
Harlem multifamily developer Kenneth Morrison has been in real estate for most of his adult life. Starting in 1988, Morrison began working for his father at the real estate company he would eventually lead — Lemor Realty Corp.
Originally from the Bronx, Morrison has been a longtime resident of Harlem, where he has developed most of his properties. He owns a total of 1,000 market-rate and affordable units across the two areas.
Bisnow: How did you get introduced to CRE?
Morrison: I started as a property manager in my father's company. We made the shift from third-party property management of small multifamily buildings and transitioned to multifamily development and management of REO or previously city-owned multifamily buildings in Harlem.
Bisnow: What was your first job in CRE?
Morrison: As a principal of my father's property management firm, we made the transition to development. My path toward CRE was not traditional in that sense.
Bisnow: What kind of education, certification or official training do you have in CRE? How critical was it to landing your first big role?
Morrison: My path toward CRE was very nontraditional. I learned development along with my father by using some of the transferable property management skills used while managing and improving affordable housing.
Bisnow: What is one skill you wish you had coming into CRE?
Morrison: Finance skills. I eventually learned them during my career, but having them at the beginning of my career would have allowed the firm to position ourselves better.
Bisnow: What were you doing before you got into CRE?
Morrison: Started as a real estate salesperson, moved into property management then multifamily preservation development.
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?
Morrison: Operating as a property manager and developer for so many years, I am ready to focus 100% toward development and moving away from running my property management company. When thinking about deals that didn't go as planned, I never allow a negative transaction to turn into thinking about quitting. I may question how I got there, or why I chose that particular deal or what I could have done different to prevent the issue, but quitting the industry is never an option. I couldn't imagine doing anything else but development.
Bisnow: Have you had a mentor or sponsor? How did that person shape your future in CRE?
Morrison: My father was my sponsor and mentor.
Bisnow: What is a key lesson someone taught you, either kindly or the hard way?
Morrison: There have been many lessons learned, and I am still learning. But keeping on theme, I'll start with something my dad taught me. He was very keen on playing to your strengths and hiring those to assist with weaknesses. Sometimes, I believed I could do it all, and it would not work out well.
Bisnow: What do you warn people about when they join the industry?
Morrison: Everyone wants to be a developer until the first pre-development check needs to be cut. Development is a cash-intensive business with very long payout horizons. Ensure that you have the wherewithal to enter the market and ensure your partners are with you throughout the deal.
Bisnow: If you could do your career all over again, what would you change?
Morrison: I would have focused on developing skill sets around equity and investment very early in my career. I would also have focused on diversifying the asset class and location of my portfolio much earlier in my career.