Stars to Watch 2014: James Flynn

Managing Director & Co-Head of Multifamily Affordable Investments, Centerline Capital Group

Memorable Achievements: Among Flynn’s recent accomplishments was the restructuring of a portfolio of 38 distressed multi-family assets totaling $430 million in debt and $200 million in equity. Centerline Capital was the special servicer for the bonds and had the top loss position on the debt. The transactions took three years to complete.

In resolving the assets, Flynn had to work with multiple parties—debt guarantors, private lenders, equity investors and lawyers for government entities. One of the challenges in such tasks is making sure all the “I’s are dotted and the t’s crossed,” he commented. Naturally, getting all parties involved to agree is an involved process.

Other accomplishments have included purchasing Class B limited partnership interests and receivables in a $100 million multi-family portfolio for an anticipated four times ROI. Flynn’s work has also included responsibility for the negotiation and sale of 300 assets with real estate valued at over $1.5 billion during the past five years. And in the bankruptcy of AMAC, a publicly traded REIT, he disposed of warehoused commercial mortgage assets, prepared a reorganization plan, filed in bankruptcy court and implemented the reorganization plan for the company.

Best Advice Received: “Two pieces of advice have struck me over the years: Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. When you hire, you are looking for partners. People who have brilliant people working for them have been tremendously successful.” And: “Mistakes that you can’t fix are the ones that you do not address. There is not much in real estate finance potentially that cannot be fixed. You can’t fix it if you do not address it. Meet the challenge and try to lay on and fix the mistake. The longer you take, the harder it is to correct.”

Secrets to Success: Hard work. “You do not find many who achieve success who did not work hard,” said Flynn, who put himself through law school. “I have gotten here through being a self-starter. That is what I am most proud of.” In addition, he noted that being open to and respectful of other points of views is the best way to be persuasive. “That kind of attitude is more effective than being dismissive or overbearing.”

Greatest Challenges: Going through the organizational changes at Centerline during the recent downcycle. “Rebuilding the team was rewarding when those who have stuck through the changes are able to see their accomplishments.”

Advice to Others: “Do not settle or fall into group think. Real estate is a large asset class but a small world. The worst is to get caught in following the crowd.” According to Flynn, organizations that thrived during the downturn were the ones that engaged in independent thinking.

What Others Say About Him: “My view is that Jim quickly grasps the issues in order to develop a plan of action,” said Dan Nussbaum, managing director of municipal markets at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “Many people in the business just gather information. He is action oriented and focused on getting to a plan.” Nussbaum had worked with Flynn in the restructurings of Low Income Housing Tax Credit transactions in which Centerline was the syndicator and lender, with Merrill Lynch involved in the credit enhancement on the Tax Credits.

“He was a practical team leader (who worked) through pretty complicated structures,” observed W. Kimball Griffith, vice president of multi-family affordable sales and investments at Freddie Mac. “He was always focused on the key points and is not distracted by noise.” Freddie Mac was the credit enhancer for some of the bonds that Centerline restructured.