I would do it again.
Teach CRE Entrepreneurship at Georgia State University’s J. Mack Robinson College of Business, that is. Back in August, I wrote a blog about my plans to teach my first university class, and now I’ve done it.
Georgia State’s Masters of Science in Commercial Real Estate program is unique in that it’s taught by industry executives and can be completed in three short, but intense, semesters. It serves a wide age range of students, including recent real estate graduates as well as mid-career professionals seeking to enhance their real estate knowledge or, in some instances, change their careers.
The Sonenshine Class Set-Up
If you know me, you know I am a storyteller, and honestly, I believe people learn best from stories. In my class, I wanted students to be exposed to the stories of a variety of CRE leaders, so I organized a guest speaker series with industry entrepreneurs of divergent backgrounds.
These speakers shared their stories and offered sage advice:
- Jon Barry, Founder and President of Spectrum Maintenance Services, a hybrid property management and maintenance company. Jon started as an industrial broker with JLL and went through several business reiterations before building Spectrum. Jon shared 10 Epiphanies with the students, one being he felt more job security working for himself than for someone else.
- Chairman and co-CEO David Birnbrey of The Shopping Center Group wasn’t the best UGA student, but he had drive and personality. With a partner, he built a local retail tenant representation firm into a diversified, national retail powerhouse. Birnbrey addressed what’s happening in retail today as a result of e-commerce, data-driven marketing and changing habits due to COVID-19.
- Principal, CEO Dallas Smith of Dallas Smith and Company, the largest African-American owned CRE firm focusing solely on tenant representation, addressed challenges he’s faced as a person of color in a white-dominated industry and shared how he’s successfully competed against large, national office tenant rep firms. Smith’s firm recently represented Microsoft in securing the Hines’ Atlantic Yards lease at Atlantic Station.
- For 40+ years, Cheri Morris has been President of Morris & Fellows, a firm that develops, leases, owns and manages upscale mixed-use communities and has been instrumental in the development of Alpharetta and Woodstock. Cheri chronicled her career: she started with an accounting degree, progressed into retail marketing, and then became one of the country’s few female commercial developers.
The students benefitted from hearing from these professionals—the challenges they overcame and the reasons they persevered—and also picked up valuable, actionable feedback for their own careers. These lectures were a main highlight of the class.
The Disruptor Advantage? A Clean Slate
Another class highlight was the discussions around industry disruptors, including the rise in e-commerce, the impact of COVID-19, and the increase in ride and space sharing. For these students, disruptors equal opportunity. Not burdened by aging or obsolete properties and technologies, this new cohort of CRE leaders can make a fresh start with new paradigms. Their slate is clean.
Stan the Sherpa
What made this class unique was that it was more subjective than objective. There was no textbook or analysis. The class was about helping students decide what they want to do, how they are going to do it, and which resources they need to be successful. It was also about discerning whether they were willing to take the risk and go the extra mile to thrive.
Students and young professionals are now given tools for a successful journey, but they need a guide to help prepare for that journey and its potential challenges. In that respect, I was their sherpa.
I look forward to guiding the climb again.