Gaining entry into, navigating and achieving sustainable success in the commercial real estate industry can be a complicated and intimidating process for young professionals, a situation that became increasingly complex with challenges presented by the pandemic.

Alex Mawry, Development/Construction Project Manager for Merritt Properties; Michael Tait, Leasing Representative for St. John Properties, Inc. and Chair of the NAIOP-MD Developing Leaders Program and Morgan Wimbrow, Real Estate Advisor, MacKenzie Commercial Real Estate Services, LLC participated in a discussion which focused on the importance of mentors, resourcefulness and resiliency, while mixing in a bit of luck, to help forward their burgeoning real estate careers.    

Diligence, creativity and luck 

Michael Tait (MT): “Nothing about my degree in kinesiology pointed me toward a career in commercial real estate and, in fact, my original goal was to become a strength and conditioning coach. I guess forming strong relationships and working with others toward a common goal is the unifying element. With an uncle in property management and a mother that is on the legal leasing side, it seemed as if real estate was in my blood, and I ultimately landed a job with the CoStar Group. That provided me with a glimpse into the fascinating world of commercial real estate, and I was immediately enamored. Soon after, I met my future boss Karen Cherry, and was offered the opportunity to lease The Howard Hughes Corporation’s Downtown Columbia office portfolio. I wake up every day loving what I do.” 

Morgan Wimbrow (MW): “With a father working in a significant leadership role with a major commercial brokerage firm, you would think my path into this industry would have been pre-ordained and easily executed. But real estate was never a topic at the family dinner table and, truth is, l didn’t think I had the confidence or skillset to pursue a career in the industry. Instead, I helped with the fundraising aspect of Governor Hogan’s reelection campaign, where I fell in love with meeting and feeding off other people’s energy. Sitting behind a desk all day was something I knew I could never do, so I decided to start an internship at MacKenzie Commercial Real Estate Services to test-drive the industry. With every day presenting something different, combined with the need to problem-solve and learn new things, I knew this was my calling. I actually embrace the long hours and chaos.”

Alex Mawry (AM): “Despite having minimal knowledge about the role of a commercial real estate brokerage professional, the summer ahead of my junior year I started contacting every local brokerage house, using the Baltimore Business Journal’s Book of Lists as a guide. Only Blue & Obrecht answered my email and I landed an internship on their Leasing Team. Maybe Smalltimore played a role because, during the interview with principal Richie Blue, we discovered that my uncle and grandfather had known he and his wife for years. Now that I had my foot in the commercial real estate door, it was recommended that I learn more about the construction sector, because that discipline plays such a vital role in every aspect of a company, especially leasing. I subsequently transitioned into the development/construction side after getting an opportunity with Merritt. I have never looked back, as this role is fast-moving and requires the need to listen intently and learn on the go.”

Mentors make a difference

MT: “I owe so much of my success to Karen Cherry. She provided me with the opportunity to enter the leasing side of the business but, more importantly, she helped foster and shape my career development. Anyone can simply hand you a phone book and instruct you to initiate cold-calling. Karen was invested in my success and was hard on me when I needed it, but also picked me up when I was having a rough day. The best advice she gave me was to ‘not become a paper-pusher.’ Do your best to try to understand every aspect of the deal, which includes the other side. I am beyond grateful for the opportunity at St. John Properties because I am literally surrounded by amazing professionals that constantly guide and support me.”

MW: “There is no playbook for success in commercial real estate and, because my father kept his work life fairly separate from his home life, there wasn’t a constant education. I consider myself fortunate to have been assigned Chris Bennett as my mentor. He may not think the same as I am constantly bombarding him with questions, all throughout the day. Every single deal is different from start to finish and you can never stop learning your craft. Chris constantly reminds me that research, knowledge and persistence is important in my role finding real estate solutions for both tenants and landlords.”

AM: “Josh Asbury, a leader on our team, has been crucial to my professional development and I essentially function as his right-hand man. I work in tandem with him on almost every project, which provides me with an up-close perspective of the industry, and the importance of integrity and building strong relationships. Something as simple as observing how he conducts meetings, is always prepared and organized and asks the right questions is invaluable. Josh constantly reminds about the value of listening.” 

Optimism during an economic slowdown

MT: “We’ve all seen the headlines predicting a leasing slowdown, but have not experienced this, especially on the flex side. We believe we’re well insulated from potential negative impacts through our variety of product types. Since the majority of our office space is situated in the suburbs, we’re of the belief those will perform well despite the working dynamic changing. Employees are adopting hybrid work situations in some cases, but still value the collaborative benefits provided by traditional workspaces.”

MW: “My father is a serial optimist and he drilled into my brain the value of opportunity and remaining positive. Yes, some deals have died due to high construction prices or other factors brought on by a weakening economy but he reminds me that something else will emerge and everything will be fine in the long-term. It is important to pivot, sharpen the tools in the tool box and grind through things. I am fortunate that while working at MacKenzie I can pivot to focus on sales and leasing of medical, flex, industrial and retail.”

AM: “The commercial real estate sector thrives because of its cyclical nature and, while we may be entering a slower period, this region has always fared much better than the rest of the country. We believe the industrial/warehouse sector will continue to be strong and deals are still occurring in all asset classes across the board. Merritt Properties is a long-term holder and investor in real estate and tries to develop a portfolio of properties that can thrive in any economic environment.”

Networking and hard work

MT: “My advice for young professionals looking to enter the field is to determine which vertical suits your skillset, be it brokerage, development or interior design. Next, try to find a good mentor to help guide you, like I have now in Matt Lenihan. And join the NAIOP-MD Developing Leaders group. That is where you can engage with your peer group and meet local commercial real estate leaders. You never know where a conversation and relationship can lead.”   

MW: If you think you want to work for a brokerage firm, then arrange to shadow for a week and look behind the curtain. It is not all about glamour and attending events. I learned within week one to have thick skin — be mentally tough, especially being a young female in a male-dominated industry. There is so much hard work behind the scenes. Most importantly, do something that is outside of your comfort zone everyday as that is the only way to improve.”

AM: “Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Real estate is a relationship-based business and benefits those that can develop and call on a large network of people to help in any situation. I regularly turn to my peer group to help problem-solve and enjoy helping others as well. Commercial real estate is unique in that it is competitive but also collaborative.”