CPE Announces the 2020 Stars to Watch

Meet CRE’s Next Leaders.

What qualities are required to make a stellar impact on commercial real estate at a young age? The same qualities that have propelled illustrious CRE careers for generations: tenacity, inventiveness, foresight, and above all, a fierce and unquenchable belief in oneself.


This year’s crop of CPE Stars to Watch—each no more than 40 and representing all facets of the industry—showcases all these qualities and more. Some were groomed for CRE by forebears. Others joined the field after training for other careers. But they all share a capacity to reach deep within themselves for stores of intelligence and industriousness few others possess.

Read on as we introduce you to a group of stars who are certain to shine brightly for decades to come.

Frank Cassidy, 31
Director, Walker & Dunlop

Why He Loves a Difficult Deal

Frank Cassidy

At Walker & Dunlop, Frank Cassidy is known for his attention to detail and willingness to go the extra mile. 

A recent case in point involved D.C.’s Allen House Apartments, a dedicated Section 8 multifamily property comprising 96 apartments that supplies much-needed affordable housing to D.C. residents.

Cassidy journeyed from Philadelphia to The District to facilitate a property walk-through and personally met with every individual participating in the transaction, including ownership board members, management agents and additional stakeholders.

His knowledge of the asset and his financing insights ultimately helped the investor better grasp the financing terms and the permanent loan structure involved. The result was the long-term preservation of almost 100 units of affordable housing in one of the costliest U.S. cities.

Cassidy’s knowledge and expertise begins with complex and time-intensive financing programs offered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Housing Administration, and extends to senior housing, assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing. His grasp of affordable housing includes Section 8 Housing Assistance Payment contracts, government subsidies, low-income housing tax credits and mixed-income housing. His knowledge of loan products and financing options, and how each will assess and underwrite a transaction, also inspires admiration.

Persistence yields results: An innate flair for complex deals may be his most distinctive talent. The more byzantine the deal, the more he appears to enjoy surmounting hurdles others might avoid, including negotiating terms and furnishing solutions.

“There is never a transaction too complex, no deal too large or small, and no financing type that he doesn’t tackle head on,” said Jim Griffith, the president & CEO of JAG Healthcare, an owner of Ohio skilled nursing facilities.

Cassidy says first he strives to comprehend his clients’ objectives, then parlays that intel to chart a customized course for their individual portfolios. He supervises each transaction from start to finish, offering well-conceived financing solutions, and handling the underwriting, due diligence and closing.

“My guiding philosophy is perseverance,” he said. “Persistence beats resistance. Even if clients have shut me down in the past, I continue to call … and ask if I can help.”

On Earning Clients’ Trust:

“I just enjoy the process of problem-solving and putting together the pieces of the complex financing puzzle. To me, challenging transactions are simply another opportunity to earn the trust of my clients, and ultimately help the borrower better position themselves and their asset.” 

Jake Cinti, 27
Senior Associate, Transwestern

Broker Specializing in Social Change

Jake Cinti
Jake Cinti

Not every fast-rising real estate professional enters his or her career with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a master’s degree in social work. But Jake Cinti, of Transwestern’s New York City team, does not have an ordinary practice.

Cinti plays a key role in Transwestern’s Nonprofit Practice Group, which helps nonprofits of all sizes minimize occupancy costs and leverage the dramatic savings available to tax-exempt organizations.

In his two years as a team member, he has participated in projects totaling more than 1 million square feet, in a broad array of nonprofit sectors. Cinti’s projects include the record-shattering sale of Goodwill’s 180,000-square-foot Astoria building in New York City, and KIPP’s acquisition of new school sites in the Bronx. He helped guide the sale of Sheltering Arms’ 30,000-square-foot headquarters at 305 Seventh Ave., as well as its subsequent relocation and expansion to two other sites—one in Manhattan and another in Harlem.

Cinti does not see his current role as a big departure from social work. In graduate school, he recognized that social impact could be pursued through every professional arena.

“Through the introduction to Transwestern, I realized real estate is a key part of the puzzle in fostering positive social change and building capacity in progressive organizations,” he recalled. “From the outfitting of their program space to their budgets and available incentives, decisions nonprofits make about real estate can transform the way they serve their clients, and lead to tremendous savings that help them grow their missions.”

Influencing his decision to join Transwestern was the
opportunity to meet Stephen Powers and Lindsay Ornstein, co-leaders of Transwestern’s nonprofit practice, whom Cinti calls “mission-driven businesspeople who are clearly change-makers.”

In a joint statement, Powers and Ornstein said of Cinti: “What impresses us about Jake is how he combines a strong set of real estate knowledge and instincts with a passion for supporting the nonprofit community. (He is) an excellent asset to the Transwestern Nonprofit Practice Group and our clients.”

Orchestrating change: For Cinti—a gifted musician who plays the guitar, drums, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet and piano—an early immersion in the arts was instrumental in his later success. From an early age, Cinti says, he was “surrounded by art and other types of creative expression, which helps with performing and organizing on the micro and macro levels, and with being a collaborator and thinking creatively.”

Getting results in the nonprofit sector requires the ability to understand complex real estate concepts, while remembering the end goal, which is the impact the projects will exert on marginalized people in New York City and beyond, Cinti said.

On What Motivates Him:

“Our nonprofit team is full of expert leaders with formidable knowledge of nonprofits and real estate, who are fundamentally focused on making a positive difference.”

Melissa Donohoe, 40
Vice President of Institutional Investor Relations, Columbia Property Trust

A Deep Knowledge of Real Estate

Melissa Donohoe
Melissa Donohoe

Investor relations is always an important role, but in today’s real estate environment it is even more critical.

“What I am spending most of my time doing is not fundraising,” said Melissa Donohoe. “It is staying close to investors—being front and center with them.”

Donohoe, who joined Columbia Property Trust this year when the company acquired Normandy Real Estate Management, oversees all investor relations and fundraising aspects for six active fund vehicles totaling $1.3 billion of capital commitments. The funds were initiated by Normandy, and Donohoe successfully raised more than $400 million of fund and separate account capital commitments—establishing new institutional relationships for the firm—and helped formulate investment strategies for the funds. She also worked with the firm’s acquisitions team to secure approximately $750 million of coinvestment and joint venture capital against specific real estate projects.

Throughout 2019, Donohoe helped senior management secure the partner and investor consents they needed to close Columbia’s acquisition of Normandy. She also launched a new product targeting high-net-worth individuals and wealth management firms—a new investor base for the Normandy Opportunity Zone Fund that was introduced in 2019.

Completing the circle: When Donohoe joined Normandy as the head of investor relations in 2013, she brought her in-depth understanding of real estate capital markets and property types, having been an underwriter and asset manager at a number of leading firms. Her debt underwriting, origination and structuring for commercial mortgage-backed securities distribution, and subordinate debt syndication to institutional investors total more than $20 billion.

Donohoe got her start in real estate in 2002 in the commercial real estate debt and CMBS group at Deutsche Bank.  “I liked the transactional nature,” she said. “I liked the culture of the group. It had a lot of numbers. Real estate is a hard asset versus something more ephemeral.”

After six years of construction lending and large debt offerings, she moved on to Apollo Real Estate Advisors (now AREA Property Partners LP) and then Ares Management, where she helped execute more than $1 billion in high-yield real estate debt funds and was responsible for the asset management of the company’s value-add and opportunistic funds.

“Because I have that fundamental knowledge,” said Donohoe, “I am able to be that liaison with investors and speak directly about our deals, as opposed to having to bring in someone else from the team.”

Donahoe graduated from Georgetown University with a finance degree, and enjoys mentoring undergraduate and graduate students, particularly young women enrolled in the school’s Steers Center for Global Real Estate. “I want to support more women in our industry,” she said.

What Others Say About Her:

“Melissa’s commitment to excellence and her drive to succeed are evident in all she does. She possesses a wide range of real estate and capital markets experience, which enables her to apply a comprehensive and creative perspective to investor relations. Melissa is a true problem solver and team player, and her work has been invaluable for Columbia.”

—Jeff Gronning, Executive Vice President & Chief Investment Officer, Columbia Property Trust

Elizabeth Hart, 37
Vice Chairman, Newmark Knight Frank

Anticipating What Tenants Will Want

Elizabeth Hart
Elizabeth Hart

Elizabeth Hart prides herself on looking ahead and achieving wins for all the parties in each deal.

“I try to look at the transaction and the neighborhood holistically, and look at how the deal will impact the people involved in the transaction,” said the Newmark Knight Frank vice chairman.

Those skills were definitely deployed last year, when Hart signed Pinterest to a 490,000-square-foot prelease at 88 Bluxome St. on behalf of developer Alexandria Real Estate Equities. It was the largest lease signed in San Francisco in 2019, and the first lease in the Central SoMa redevelopment project, which includes office space, affordable housing, a community pool and an art walk.

The transaction was awarded Deal of the Year and Hart was named Broker of the Year—the first woman to receive this accolade—by the San Francisco Business Times.

Last year was also a big one for Hart because she became the first female vice chairman for Newmark Knight Frank’s Northwest region, and one of only five female vice chairmen at the company.

Coming of age: Hart started her real estate career 15 years ago, fresh out of the University of California, Berkeley. A career aptitude test solidly matched her with real estate, so she felt she had to give it a try. She began as a broker assistant at Cornish & Carey (now NKF), with few connections to speak of. While other brokers were focused on traditional clients, Hart targeted technology firms. “At the time it was post-dot-com, and there weren’t a lot of people focusing on technology companies,” she said.

But what started as a necessity proved prescient, since large technology tenants would eventually dominate the market, and Hart’s list of market-making leases would later include Uber (1 million square feet), Stripe (300,000 square feet), Open DNS (121,042 square feet) and Zendesk (113,662 square feet). “They came of age as my career developed,” she said.

Representing technology companies was Hart’s specialty for her first seven to 10 years in the business. Over the last five to seven years, she has been helping developers plan and lease ground-up developments that incorporate everything tenants need to function currently now and in the coming years.

Foresight is particularly essential now, as tenants contemplate what their offices should look like post-COVID-19, and, with so many employees working at home, just how much space they will need. “Things are not going to be as they always were,” Hart said.

In addition to securing big tenants for San Francisco real estate projects, Hart gives her time to the local community by serving on the board of the 1 Brush Initiative, a nonprofit focused on public art projects and art education in the city.

Her advice to newcomers is to strive to work with people who share your values. “Spend time figuring out who you are and what you want to be and allow that to exist within the confines of commercial real estate.”

What She Says About Her Clients:

“Many of the people who have been my clients have become my greatest mentors because they have spent so much time teaching me about what they want to see as a good result. That has been valuable to my career and how I see real estate in the future.”

Will Hutton, 27
Director of Acquisitions & Capital Markets, Nightingale Properties

Rejection-Proof Investor

Will Hutton
Will Hutton

Will Hutton’s overarching philosophy is: Nothing beats persistence. Pressing on toward goals and objectives, no matter what stands in the way, remains critical to his success, said the acquisitions star of Nightingale Properties.

“I have been part of a lot of very high-profile deals,” Hutton reported. “It is not necessarily he or she who pays the highest price who wins a deal, but often he or she who has the best to offer … not only (for) price but also the terms and long-term relationship between the buyer and seller established over time.”

At New York City’s 300 Lafayette, the Wichita, Kan., native and Cornell University graduate signed a contract to buy a barren construction site, then leased the property to Microsoft before the May 2019 closing. He spearheaded New York City’s most noteworthy high-profile investment sale of 2019, directing the acquisition, financing and recapitalization of the 711 Fifth Ave. Coca-Cola Building. In another 2019 achievement, he shepherded the cash-out CMBS refinance of Philadelphia’s Market Street, as well as the acquisition of downtown Manhattan’s 111 Wall St.

Additional recent high-profile deals include The Bellevue, 1500 Market St., 1635 Market St., 1835 Market St. and 1500 Spring Garden St. in Philadelphia, and Lincoln Place in Miami.

Under his direction, Nightingale has captured the title of Philadelphia’s largest privately owned landlord, and is among the major office buyers in New York City and the nation.

When not finalizing transactions, Hutton actively champions the New York City art scene as a Friend of the Whitney Museum of American Art. He’s also an energetic participant in leadership and nonprofit efforts on behalf of the National Blood Clot Alliance, Susan G. Komen Foundation and Children’s Tumor Foundation.

Staying patient: Hutton would remain in touch and build relationships with owners who initially don’t want to sell. He would let them know Nightingale wanted to buy, but only when the time was right.

“By the time they were ready to sell, they were more receptive to working with us because they knew us from our annual or biannual check-in,” he recalled. “We were their first phone call. We might have been second in price, but that long-term relationship won us the deal. In real estate, persistence is key. You come across a lot of rejection, and that is what creates opportunity. That has created some of the best deals we’ve been a part of.”

Hutton believes his career has been propelled by the deals he has forged
over the past 18 to 24 months. More than simply enormous transactions, they have also been intricately nuanced and challenging undertakings.

On What Drives Him:

“When you come out on top, especially when you have not expected it, it gives you the feeling that nothing in the world can stop you.”

Alan Isenstadt, 33
Senior Vice President & Senior Banker, KeyBank Real Estate Capital

Client-First Focus You Can Bank On

Alan Isenstadt
Alan Isenstadt

Alan Isenstadt’s commitment to clients is legendary around the New York City offices of KeyBank Real Estate Capital.

As a member of KeyBank’s Northeast Regional Income Property Group, Isenstadt structures and originates on-balance sheet and capital markets financing for clients’ real estate projects across the U.S. In addition, he provides clients with traditional banking products such as deposits, payments and private banking. 

“Alan is passionate about executing and delivering for his clients and prospects in the New York City market,” Norman Nichols, an executive vice president at KeyBank Real Estate Capital, said of Isenstadt’s work ethic. 

His skill at identifying dependable capital sources and executing transactions for middle-market and large real estate companies resulted in a record 2019, with 24 deals generating a total of $580 million in originations. That number included $130 million in balance sheet originations and $450 million in capital markets originations.

It is more than just the numbers that help make Isenstadt a standout leader. “What really gives me pride, and what the bank values, is the ability to work well as a team, helping to mentor others and working with product experts to deliver a wide range of solutions to our clients,” he said, adding that growing the platform around the company’s clients is not an accomplishment he can achieve single-handedly.

Early advice: Isenstadt’s earlier roles during his eight-year tenure at KeyBank included working in the bank’s institutional real estate group, debt capital markets and syndicated finance divisions. At every step along the way, he never forgot an early nugget of sage advice.

“One of the things Angela Mago, the president of Key Commercial Bank and KeyBank Real Estate Capital, said when she was speaking to our analyst class back in 2011 is, ‘You have to own the risk,’” he recalled. “Everything you do, whether it is the work product or taking a position, you really have to stand behind that. It’s all about owning the work product.”

Isenstadt is equally dedicated to his community service outside the office and to his clients. He is active in the American Jewish Committee, and was recently named to City Access New York’s leadership board. “I’m passionate about this cause because the AJC’s mission is to advocate for human rights and social justice, combat anti-Semitism and promote long-standing Jewish values,” he said.

His Goal for the Industry:

“It’s important to take a leadership role in our society today—to strengthen the diversity, to reach out and grow our talent base, and to promote females and diverse talent in business. … I’m challenging myself and others to bring home that message.”

Joe Karmin, 32
Executive Vice President, Transwestern Commercial Services

Knowledge Is His Superpower

Joe Karmin
Joe Karmin

Had Joe Karmin not chosen commercial real estate as a career, he might have made a great detective or an award-winning investigative reporter. That’s how dogged he’s been in tracking down every last scintilla of insight about the ultra-competitive Chicago-area industrial real estate market.

“I didn’t know a ton about industrial before I had to hit the ground running,” said Karmin, who works for Transwestern Commercial Services in Rosemont, Ill. “My mentors told me this is an eat-what-you-kill business. You have to work hard and know your market better than others. Don’t be an expert in everything. Truly be a specialist in one specific product type.”

Taking note of the geographic area he was assigned, Karmin began driving the streets on weekends, talking to as many business owners as would divulge information. Each one provided the additional detail he required to work in that submarket. Soon, neighboring companies were using his expertise to make better-informed business decisions.

Top producer: Fast forward a decade, and Karmin is known for an uncanny grasp of his turf, which centers on Chicago’s O’Hare, DuPage, I-88/Fox Valley and I-90 submarkets. He specializes in representing private and institutional tenants and owners at the local and national levels.

Since joining the firm in 2010, Karmin has completed nearly 17 million square feet in transactions, totaling more than $450 million. In 2019 alone, his sales transactions were valued at $52.8 million, and his lease transactions totaled $30.8 million. His clients include Wayfair, Colony Display, OSG USA Inc., Dayton Street Partners, Venture One Real Estate, Liberty Property Trust, First Industrial Realty Trust and Westmount Realty Capital.

Karmin has won Transwestern’s Industrial Top Producer of the Year Award for the past three years. Additional awards include Transwestern Rising Star and Young Professional of the Year awards. When he’s not capturing business and accolades, Karmin is an active member of the Association of Industrial Real Estate; a Society of Industrial and Office Realtors candidate, with designation slated for this year; and a supporter of several causes, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago and Beth El Synagogue.

“I think it’s important to get better every day,” said Karmin. “You need to get smarter, to adjust to new trends especially during this time of COVID-19, you need to know your market and product type better than ever. Most importantly, you can never be satisfied. You can always do better.”

What His Mentor/Partner Says About Him:

“It’s his tenacity. He really is a bulldog, a guy for whom ‘no’ means ‘maybe.’ … He seeks to gain information. Until he does, he’s relentless.”

—Justin Lerner, Executive Vice President,Transwestern

Patrick Keeley, 38
Senior Vice President & D.C. Region Lead, Columbia Property Trust

The Team Quarterback

Patrick Keeley
Patrick Keeley

When Patrick Keeley speaks about his career, he reflects not only on his personal accomplishments but collective achievements. “Complicated executions require a very specialized team,” said Keeley.

“You need lawyers, leasing brokers, architects and project managers running the construction of the value-add improvements we’re doing. You need lenders, equity capital partners and investment sales brokerage teams. Without that team, you will not succeed. I’ve been very fortunate in being surrounded by a great team. … I view my role as the quarterback of that team, but without the right players in each position, you’re not going to succeed.”

But few have proven more important team members at Columbia Property Trust than Keeley, who blends his strong industry knowledge, sourcing skills and astute management approach to secure acquisitions, and directs the financial performance of the firm’s D.C. investment portfolio. He joined Columbia in January after the firm’s acquisition of Normandy Real Estate Partners, where he had ascended from summer acquisitions associate to principal focused on mid-Atlantic investment activity.

During his Normandy tenure, Keeley directed more than $650 million in real estate investments for multiple funds and investment partners in the D.C. region. Through the end of 2019, he led Normandy to 18 acquisitions that were mostly in the office sector. The value-add investments totaled some 5.6 million square feet, with a total purchase price of approximately $1 billion. He also helmed lender negotiations and broadened Normandy’s capital partner relationship network, closing property-level joint ventures with a dozen capital partners. His significant network features TPG, Blackstone, Starwood Capital Group, Citizens Bank, Aareal Bank, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs.

Additionally, Keeley supervised the execution of property management business plans, including capital improvement initiatives, tenant relations, operating efficiency and marketing. In that role, he negotiated and executed major signings, including a 234,000-square-foot lease with global lifestyle and fashion enterprise PVH Corp.

Managing risk: Keeley’s father was his key role model. After 20 years, the senior Keeley left the law firm where he’d made partner to start fresh in investment banking. “Making a career change when you are supporting four kids, that’s a big risk, and he wasn’t afraid to take that risk,” Keeley observed. “Ultimately, he was much happier after making that change. Seeing that approach to life and career made a big impact on me.”

Keeley brings a keen appreciation for risk-adjusted return to his scrutiny of opportunities.

“The more complicated execution becomes, the thinner the field and the better the risk-adjusted returns, assuming you can put the right team together and navigate the complexities of that transaction,” he said.

On Building a Winning Team:

“It all starts at the top, and at the top we had great leadership that helped me grow. That leadership continues post-merger. … It’s a great fit from a people and skills standpoint.”

Zak Mirkowski, 30
Managing Director, Savills

The Persistence to Succeed

Zak Mirkowski
Zak Mirkowski

The route to a thriving commercial real estate career has to start somewhere. For Zak Mirkowski, it began on the streets of Bloomington, Ind. While at Indiana University, he and a roommate operated a food truck serving fellow Hoosiers several nights a week. Enrolled in a business management major focused on entrepreneurship, he gained an even better education in that discipline from running his own rolling enterprise.

Today, Mirkowski serves as a managing director and a member of the Industrial Services Group in Savills’ Chicago office, where, upon his arrival two years ago, he almost instantly catapulted into his role as one of the firm’s top brokers. 

From the Windy City, he analyzes and cultivates critical business and growth opportunities for clients across the country. Juggling clients from the soft goods, logistics, e-commerce, cold storage, branded retail and other industries, he closed 16 deals encompassing more than 2 million square feet in 2019. Those transactions yielded a total volume of more than $115 million.

Meanwhile, Mirkowski has blazed a trail in securing new business for the firm, while mentoring new team members and seeking fresh opportunities for the office.

His zeal for hard work goes back to operating a food truck from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. four days a week at Indiana University, while also taking 62 credit hours of coursework over a 12-month period in order to graduate in 2013. 

“That taught me to set the bar high, make a plan and attack it,” he said. “If you do the right things and are consistent, you will achieve your objective. No matter how tough things have been, having that persistence allows you to meet your goals.”

Giving back: When not closing deals at Savills, Mirkowski actively participates in the charitable organization One More, which he and a group of Indiana friends founded to memorialize a friend who passed away. “We raise funds and do outreach through Habitat for Humanity, which has kept me busy in the summers,” he said.

His career strides, he said, are tied to being goal-oriented and passionate. “There’s a lot of distraction that surrounds day-to-day life,” he added. “Everyone wants to be the next Bill Gates, tomorrow. I’m not saying you can’t do that. The first step is to believe in yourself. The power pushing you forward is believing.”

Savills, Mirkowski said, is a perfect fit for him because it values entrepreneurial ability and helps organizations solve complex challenges. “It’s been a fun ride over the last two years.”

What a Client Says About Him:

“Zak is extremely organized; his follow-up and attention to detail are impeccable. I’ve been in this business since 1991, and dealt with literally thousands of brokers. Zak is in a class by himself.”

—James Chickini, Vice President of Real Estate, La-Z-Boy Inc.

Nancy Moses, 39
Senior Vice President, Trammell Crow Co.

Understanding the Value of Time

Nancy Moses
Nancy Moses

Nancy Moses joined Trammell Crow Co. 15 years ago as an administrative assistant. How did she climb the ladder? By chipping in to help others trim their workloads. “I asked the managing director, ‘Can I save you some time?’” she recalled.

“I started with tiny tasks where I saved him five minutes a day, and it grew to larger tasks where I was saving him an hour. It was a learning process for me, but it really saved him time. Contractors and architects saw I could make something happen, so I started to gain trust. I was obtaining experience, but also earning respect from my peers.”  

Moses is a member of TCC’s Healthcare Leadership Group and Professional Women’s Network Committee, a leader of her group’s Women’s Network Impact Circle, and has served as a TCC ambassador promoting real estate diversity. She is also a mother of three and an MBA student.  

Having successfully delivered more than 1.2 million square feet of office and healthcare development projects in metropolitan Los Angeles, she has another 1.1 million square feet of projects under construction. She recently delivered the turnkey MLK Community Health Building in Willowbrook, Calif., and is now leading development of a turnkey Class A, 21-story office building in LA’s Koreatown.

Helping others: Her dedication and determination led to sourcing and managing her own line of work, and she has become an authority on health-care design best practices, health care development management and the value of a strong work ethic. In the process, she’s become a highly sought problem solver for clients from JPMorgan Chase to the University of Southern California, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital.

“Nancy puts it all together—budget management, schedule management, client management and business development,” said Greg Ames, managing director with TCC SoCal in Los Angeles. “Her work raises the bar for the entire office.”

Moses has never forgotten her early lesson in the benefits accrued by helping others save time. “Now when I’m working with clients, I’m always trying to learn how I can make it as easy as possible for them to make decisions,” she said. “I’m pulling together pictures and documents, and putting them all together to help make it easier for them to comprehend. I’m asking, ‘What exactly do I need to give them so they have what they need?’”

One of Moses’ professional mentors has been her mother, who also climbed the corporate ladder from administrative assistant to successful real estate professional.

Sage Advice From Her Mother:

“Be yourself, always be kind, try your hardest and never be afraid to ask questions.”

Kai Pan, 35
Senior Vice President, Valuation & Advisory Services, JLL

The Problem Solver

Kai Pan
Kai Pan

If he wasn’t in real estate, appraiser Kai Pan would probably be a doctor like his grandfather and uncle, because he shares their passion for helping people.  

“I am really guided by my one passion, which is making someone’s job easier,” said Pan, who leads a team of five at JLL that perform appraisal and consulting services related to multifamily lending, litigation and tax matters. “What problems can I solve and be someone’s easy button?”

While Pan’s desire to help others begins with colleagues and supervisors and extends to the clients he advises, it also “scales up” to advancing the industry as a whole. He sits on JLL’s Global Valuation Data Committee, which is charged with transforming the company’s data and technology platform.   

“That’s what I am working hard toward,” he said. “I am looking forward to being in a leadership role and transforming the entire industry to solve market needs through technology and data.”

Pan, who holds a finance degree from the University of Texas at Austin, is a certified real estate appraiser in 13 states and holds the MAI designation from the Appraisal Institute. Additionally, he received the JLL Top Gun Award in 2017 and 2018, having achieved more than $1.5 million in total revenue for each of those years.

Drawn to appraisal out of an interest in real estate investing—he is a real estate owner in his own right—and finance, Pan started his career at National Appraisal Partners, before moving on to Integra Realty Resources in 2016, and then JLL, where his mentors have included JLL Valuation & Advisory Services Managing Directors Eric Enloe and Tony Lenamon.

“I began my career as a generalist, but specialized in multifamily,” Pan said. “I am able to use my general knowledge and apply that to multifamily.”

Pan has significant experience with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac multifamily, senior housing and health-care properties. His work at JLL includes conventional and small-balance multifamily, affordable housing, workforce housing, senior housing and student housing.

In these uncertain times: Kai believes he has excelled as an appraiser because he is able to deal with uncertain data, market conditions and motivations. That skill is particularly helpful right now since transaction activity has been low and there are few comparables to speak of. 

“It’s not about the surface level—it’s digging into the underlying factors right now that drive a potential value change,” Pan said.

His advice to newcomers to the business is, “Say ‘yes’ to the hard thing. Don’t be afraid of uncertainty. Lean into the research. You’ll be known as a problem solver and an expert, and that will drive your career forward.”

What a Mentor Says About Him:

“Kai doesn’t just think about today’s environment but looks ahead to what our clients will need in the future. Kai is patient, leads by example, and is one of the best mentors in our overall business—always investing in our people.”

—Eric Enloe, Managing Director, JLL Valuation & Advisory Services

Jonathan Pratt, 32
Senior Director, Berkadia

A Believer in the Power of Big Data

Jonathan Pratt
Jonathan Pratt

In Berkadia’s D.C. office, Jonathan Pratt leverages his fascination with big data’s ability to provide critical analysis. Since joining Berkadia three years ago, he has parlayed that interest into originating more than $1 billion in debt across agency, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, life company, bank and debt fund deals. His output reached unprecedented levels in 2019, when he originated more than $542 million in debt, and closed 17 deals.

“The future of commercial real estate investment is taking a data-driven approach to deals, and I am trying to position myself to be on the leading edge of the transition,” he said.

Pundits have talked the talk about a convergence of big data and commercial real estate for some time. Pratt has walked the walk, logging years immersing himself in this synergy. He has explored how CRE data is collected, identified new strategies in applying its insights, and back-tested those strategies to determine their efficacy.

“This commitment to, and passion for, data analytics has helped me build trust with my clients that has translated into large transactions earlier in my career than I ever could have imagined,” he observed.

Two lessons: One might say Pratt has commercial real estate in his blood, having grown up in a CRE-focused family. His father put an Urban Land Institute textbook in his hands when he was 14. “I’ve been around commercial real estate in one way or another all my life,” he said.

Through his career, first with family firm Foulger-Pratt and later at Capital One and Berkadia, Pratt has sought advice from mentors and imparted similar wisdom to those who have followed in his footsteps.

“I’ve had a number of great mentors in my career, but none more impactful than Tina Quirin, Kristen Croxton and Greg Reed from Capital One,” he said.

“These three taught me two very important lessons. First, you need to be kind to everyone, but hold them accountable at all times. Second, you need to be a master of every detail. These are lessons our team keeps written on the white board in our office at all times.”

Pratt selected his team partners, Rossana Bouchaya and Maggie Burke, because they share his professional values of being kind, accountable and detailed. Pratt believes commercial real estate is entering a new era, and the strategies of previous generations will not be as effective as they were in the past.

On Staying Ahead of the Crowd:

“Find a new strategy or new perspective, and chase down every opportunity to test or share that new strategy or perspective.The desire to bring something new to the world of commercial real estate is what fuels my passion for big data analytics.”

Ryan Room, 39
Executive Vice President & Regional Manager, Property Management, JLL

He Took a Leap of Faith

Ryan Room
Ryan Room

Ryan Room excels at forging connections, and it’s why he was asked to lead change in JLL’s Philadelphia region in late 2017.

Room was able to put that region back on the map, boosting market share of Philadelphia office assets under management by 45 percent, as of late 2019. Thirteen buildings were added to the Philadelphia region in 2019, and the area witnessed growth of 40 percent in revenue and a surge of 51 percent in profit margins, compared to the previous year.

Also challenged to ensure the right professionals were in the right posts, Room increased the property management team’s head count by 20 percent, while building a culture that was fun and inclusive. In the process, he made JLL’s Philadelphia region a destination workplace.

His efforts netted him JLL’s Rising Star Award in 2018, and the MVP Service Line Award for most valuable service line provider for the region in 2020.

This was not the first time Room had effected positive change. Prior to his move to the City of Brotherly Love, he was key to the success of JLL’s Midwest region, adding to the firm’s Indiana presence by 6.8 million square feet. JLL’s Indiana property management business featured almost 30 property management professionals serving 8.5 million square feet, across 56 properties and 17 client accounts. As a result, Room received JLL’s 2015 and 2017 Midwest Office Business Development Manager of the Year awards.

Listen more: Room believes his ability to create connections with clients and colleagues starts with listening more and speaking less. 

“In order to get to know someone and truly address their needs, give them the opportunity to share first, and then respond,” he said. “I’m in the business of selling solutions, so if I don’t listen to, and understand, what my clients need, it makes it difficult to serve them. I have an ability to connect with people. I get to know them and what makes them tick.”

Room’s move to Philly two years ago, after a successful stretch in Indianapolis, rousted him from his comfort zone. That’s something he believes is essential to wringing every last ounce of return from one’s potential. “Don’t be afraid to be uncomfortable,” he said.

On Taking Calculated Risks:

“It’s easy to work at something and say, ‘I don’t know if I have the capacity or knowledge to do that.’ But if you don’t take that leap of faith, you’ll never know. Believe in yourself; that’s the key. If you never do more than you can do, you’ll never be more than you are.”

Caitlin Simon, 38
Executive Managing Director Of Investor Services, Cushman & Wakefield

Thinking Like an Owner

Caitlin Simon
Caitlin Simon

When Cushman & Wakefield needed a star to proactively tie together the company’s various service lines to help clients achieve their goals, they looked for someone who could see the big picture and think like an owner. That person was Caitlin Simon.

“I very much have the investor mentality,” said Simon, who joined Cushman & Wakefield in 2017, following 10 years at Shorenstein Properties. “They were smart to be looking for that, because I’ve been in the investor’s shoes. I think that is a differentiator and puts the client first on everything.”

Today, when real estate’s typical uncertainty is heightened in every way, Simon said, it is easy to see the benefits of combining capital markets, asset & occupier services and agency leasing. 

“We’re seeing this cross-collaboration more than ever, actually,” she said. “That’s been one of the silver linings of COVID-19—seeing the whole platform being utilized by clients in a way that it hadn’t historically needed to be.”  

In 2019, she assisted in more than 50 business wins for the firm and helped shape research content and client solutions in areas such as technology, tenant experience and flex space.   

This year, Simon was elevated from managing director to executive managing director, and was named a member of the firm’s global advisory board and executive leadership program.

The owner’s view: At Shorenstein, Simon was part of the capital transactions group, sourcing and executing more than $4 billion in office transactions across the Eastern U.S. She also managed a 1 million-square-foot office building in Center City, Philadelphia, overseeing a $21 million renovation budget and interacting with the property’s leasing team and architect to design a new lobby, amenity package, building-standard common areas and speculative suites.

Simon calls Bob Underhill, Shorenstein’s executive vice president of fund management, her biggest mentor. At Cushman & Wakefield she has been helped by Maria Maloney, the president of asset services, and Carlo Barel di Sant’Albano, the chief executive of global capital markets & investor services, among others.

“Caitlin is an outstanding partner in the investor services and capital markets team,” said di Sant’Albano. “Her energy, professionalism, commitment and insights always bring a valuable perspective on market events. Her determination and commitment to provide high-quality advice to our clients raises the bar for everyone who works alongside her.” 

Simon is an active member of Women Executives in Real Estate and the Urban Land Institute. Outside of real estate, in addition to raising two young children, she has completed numerous triathlons and a Half Ironman. She compares the effort and preparation required to complete that feat to the hard work needed to be successful in real estate.

“There is no one path in real estate, and that is some of the beauty in the industry,” said Simon. “There are a lot of ways in, and a lot of different ways you can go. As long as you put in the hard work, you have the ability to create your own path.”

On Diversity in the Industry:

“Over the last 15 years, we’ve certainly made progress. That doesn’t mean we are close to being where it should be. I do think that the conversation has changed recently, and there is certainly a lot more focus on the correct ways to make sure that we have a more diverse and inclusive environment.”   

Jaime Sturgis, 32
Founder & CEO, Native Realty

Redefining Real Estate Brokerage

Jaime Sturgis
Jaime Sturgis

As a child, Jaime Sturgis rode along as his entrepreneur parents motored through towns to size up potential sites for their chain of audio equipment stores. Those early memories would serve him well when in 2017 he founded Native Realty, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based full-service real estate company that has grown sixfold in three years.

“I learned a lot about real estate, not only about site selection but also marketing and the psychology of consumer demand,” said Sturgis.

As Native’s CEO, Sturgis recruited a team of high-producing brokers and sales associates, while garnering household-name renown for redefining the term “real estate broker.”

Native Realty has carved a niche for its holistic approach to the urban enclaves where Sturgis and his team live, work, play and invest. He and his cadre of youthful, ambitious brokers scrutinize emerging urban markets for unrealized opportunities, then generate leasing and investment sales activity in these communities. Among his biggest successes is Flagler Village in his home turf of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

There he transformed a string of empty warehouses into a thriving district, peppered with eateries, nightspots, art galleries, multifamily housing and performing arts spaces, inking more than 750,000 square feet in transactions over three years. He is now embarking on a similar mission to remake other Broward County districts.

As his firm’s top producer, Sturgis has set Native Realty’s total revenue on a blistering year-over-year pace, taking it from $5.8 million in 2017 to $28.9 million in 2018, and to $47.1 million in 2019. Along the way, he captured the Young Leader of the Year Award from the Urban Land Institute last October. The following month, at the South Florida Business Journal’s Structures Awards, he earned the Terry Stiles Deal of the Year Award for curating Flagler Village’s Flagler Uptown and The Hive.

Though his parents were successful, Sturgis boasts that nothing was handed to him: “I paid my dues like anyone else,” he said, noting he burned through every dollar of the savings he’d amassed over his lifetime during his first two years of business.

“I was working 14 or 15 hours a day making nothing, and all my friends were out partying. I just kept my head down and kept going. And today I’m starting to reap the rewards of all that early effort.”

His advice to others? “Stay committed to it,” he responded. “Everything in life, especially for my generation, seems to be the expectation of instant gratification. But in my opinion, that is not the way of the world. It’s a misnomer. People say, ‘I don’t have the time for it.’ That’s not true. You just don’t care enough to make time. You have to put in the work and put in the time, keep your eye on the prize and believe in yourself.”

Lessons From an Entrepreneur:

“It goes back to risk-reward. There’s a difference between someone giving you something and you creating it.”

Mike Wojewodka, 39
Senior Vice President & Partner, MRA Group

Always Learning

Mike Wojewodka
Mike Wojewodka

Two weeks after Mike Wojewodka joined MRA Group, right after college, company founder & CEO Lawrence Stuardi announced he would be grooming Wojewodka to be his successor.

At the time, Wojewodka didn’t fully grasp the implications of that remarkable statement. But he chose to embrace the concept, and has never looked back. An insatiable learner, he immersed himself in grasping the fundamentals of real estate, and ultimately mastered every facet of the business.

Today, he is a senior vice president & partner of Horsham, Pa.-based MRA Group. He has justified Stuardi’s early faith by shepherding the development of more than 2.5 million square feet of health care, technology, commercial and life science office space, and becoming a leader in the greater Philadelphia area life science real estate community.

Stuardi “started as a boss, turned into a mentor and became a very dear friend,” Wojewodka said.

Among Wojewodka’s most notable recent achievements was the development of the Pennovation Lab Building, which was developed by MRA Group on behalf of the University of Pennsylvania last year. The 65,000-square-foot, scientifically advanced, multitenant laboratory and office building is designed to accommodate companies that have secured early-stage funding.

Two years earlier, Wojewodka spearheaded the acquisition of the former Rohm & Haas Research & Development campus in suburban Philadelphia. He redeveloped and redefined the 133-acre, 14-building Spring House Innovation Park, and has since helped make it the premier life science R&D campus in the greater Philadelphia area. Acquired for $10 million, it is now valued at approximately $100 million.

Wojewodka registered an early career triumph in directing MRA Group’s six-year redevelopment of the 138-acre, 800,000-square-foot former AT&T Optoelectronics global headquarters. Guiding the redevelopment through multiple twists and turns, he became the key figure in transforming the campus into TEK Park, a multitenant technology campus that now houses more than 30 companies and 1,000 employees. The campus was purchased for $9.3 million and sold seven years later for more than $50 million.

Better for all: Much of MRA Group’s development efforts involve creating laboratories for life sciences companies, medical office buildings and ambulatory surgery centers. “In some way, I like to think the real estate we develop plays a part in job creation and betterment for everyone,” Wojewodka said. “It’s a vehicle for us to do well and do good at the same time.”

Over his 16-year career at MRA Group, Wojewodka has worked directly with many of Philadelphia’s leading health- care systems and life sciences companies.

Those who have worked with him say he’s forward-thinking, ambitious and unafraid to make mistakes or try out new ideas.

His Doctrine for the Newbie:

“Put forth your best effort, be genuine and don’t be afraid to say, ‘I don’t know.’ If you ever find yourself sitting at a table and you realize you’re the smartest person at the table, get up and find a new table. … Surround yourself with people smarter than you. It will challenge you and help you become the best you.”