CPE’s Stars to Watch 2018, Part 1

Ten of the industry’s top young professionals who are achieving success while making a difference for their companies.

Commercial Property Executive highlights the industry’s top 10 professionals under 40—innovators and natural leaders who are transforming their companies and making a mark in the real estate industry. Some have grown up in the business, while others developed a passion along the way. Ranging from entrepreneurs and architects to specialists working in development and financing, they have persevered to build successful business stories.

Kaunteya Chitnis, 30

Vice President, Investments, MCR Development
Joined the company in 2014

Kaunteya Chitnis
Kaunteya Chitnis

If one thing has become clear over the course of Kaunteya Chitnis’s career, it’s the fact that he was born to work in hospitality. He majored in hotel administration at Cornell University and fell in love with the real estate aspect of the industry, seeing an opportunity to make an impact.

After stints at Citi and Ernst & Young, he joined MCR Development. He credits the company’s CEO, Tyler Morse, for shaping his different approach to hospitality. “A lot of times you are taught to analyze things in a certain way and put them in a certain bucket because that’s how they were previously done. But it’s really about asking the right questions and seeking answers that will lead us to be most effective,” Chitnis observed.

Over the last four years at MCR, Chitnis has been responsible for notable projects that include the firm’s first adaptive reuse development in New York City, The High Line Hotel, and the TWA Hotel at John F. Kennedy International Airport. The latter, the revival of the TWA Flight Center terminal built by Eero Saarinen in 1962, broke ground in December 2016, with its first building topping out a year later.

“It took 16 years to find the right developer to redo that terminal building, and I’m proud of the fact that it was us,” Chitnis said. With 22 government agencies and 135 individual firms working on the project, Chitnis has had a lot to manage over the course of its production schedule. The 550-key hotel is scheduled for completion in the first quarter of 2019.

According to Brittany Richards, director at CitiBank, Chitnis has always had a way of standing out in the crowd. In one case, “we were in the midst of a transaction, and he realized there were discrepancies in the numbers we had. He basically worked a 24-hour shift to redo the spreadsheet, proof all the numbers and make sure everything was handled correctly,” she remembered.

Most Memorable Challenge: “The hotel industry is a very adaptive environment, so structuring our position as a small company, negotiating, putting together the right team were all challenges we encountered while working on the TWA Hotel project.”

Best Piece of Advice Ever Received: “You never know 100 percent of something. Someone will always know more than you do, so go out and seek that knowledge.” —I.R.

Kimberly Cozza, 39

Managing Director, Berkadia
Joined the company in 2012

Kimberly Cozza
Kimberly Cozza

A self-proclaimed Type A personality, Kimberly Cozza knew she was meant for the business world back in college. She studied real estate, urban land economics and finance at the University of Wisconsin, and right after graduation took her first steps into the industry, working as an analyst and performing commercial real estate valuations. She built a solid foundation that allowed her to shift to commercial appraisal and then lending.

Drawing on 15 years of experience in multifamily financing, including government-sponsored enterprise work, Cozza has built Berkadia’s Fannie Mae originations from $700 million annually in 2012 to $7.5 billion in 2017. That helped the company climb to second place on the Federal National Mortgage Association’s lenders list, up from 18th.

“She’s wicked smart, quick on her feet and you’re not going to get anything by her,” declared Matt Greer, executive managing director of capital markets for ARA, who previously worked with Cozza at Berkadia. “She realized early on that there are no shortcuts and you have to really know what you’re talking about in order to be persuasive and successful.”

For Cozza, success comes from embracing all opportunities and appreciating the people you work with on a daily basis. She is particularly appreciative when it comes to female role models.

“I’ve been privileged to work with and get to know personally HFF’s Senior Managing Director Mona Carlton and NorthMarq Capital’s Senior Vice President Sue Blumberg, when I was in my 20s. These women were strong, successful females and anomalies in their position, particularly at that time. As a young analyst, it was nice to have role models who proved to me that you never have to be treated any differently, just because you’re a woman in the industry,” Cozza stated.

Top Goal for 2018: Making Berkadia the No. 1 Fannie Mae lender.

Advice for the Next Generation: “Get to know everyone in all levels of your organization. Administrative and support staff are just as critical as the executive vice president and/or CEO, and I’ve been lucky to work with amazing individuals at all levels.” —I.R.

Jamie Georgas, 36

Managing Director, CBRE
Joined the company in 2005

Jamie Georgas
Jamie Georgas

Jamie Georgas is an atypical real estate success story. Just two years into her job in CBRE’s Chicago office in 2005, she officially joined the local leadership team as a business development analyst, focusing on the occupier practice. In 2011, she became one of the five leaders with overall responsibility for CBRE’s Chicago operation.

The anomaly, she says, was that she lacked brokerage experience. “It took me more and very different efforts to earn the title of a leader and ultimately the trust and approval of all of the brokers that I manage, because I was a young female who had never been a broker or a client,” Jamie admitted.

Currently, Georgas leads office tenant representation and sales management efforts for the Chicago area. She is also global chair of CBRE’s law firm practice group. A few years ago, she spearheaded the transition of the firm’s Chicago headquarters to Workplace360, CBRE’s program meant to promote flexibility, mobility and productivity through technology-enabled, 100 percent-free address and paperless offices. The transition was a feat that supported her belief that “culture is the most important thing. Period.”

Georgas strives for diversity not only when it comes to the cultural background of the people she brings in but also their professional experience. “For the past year, I have made a lot of very different hires into our industry, which has been impactful on the business. It’s something I have a lot of passion for,” she said.

Her interest in the industry was sparked by her parents, who also instilled an entrepreneurial spirit. Even during a gap year following graduation at Indiana University—spent backpacking in Australia and New Zealand—she went on interviews at a variety of brokerage companies. She credits her mentors—CBRE’s Jack Durburg, group president & CEO of the Americas; Chris Connolly, president of the Northwest-Mountain division; and Whitley Collins, global president of advisory and transaction services/occupier—for inspiring and motivating her.

Top Goal for 2018: “Productivity, efficiency and organization are the name of the game for 2018.”

What Others Say About Her: “Jamie is an exceptional leader. She is smart, strategic, collaborative, high energy and has one of the highest emotional intelligence quotients in our leadership team,” said Durburg. —A.P.

Meet the rest of CPE’s Stars to Watch for 2018, Part 2 and Part 3—commercial real estate’s top young talent.

You’ll find more on this topic in the March 2018 issue of CPE.