The Changing Dynamics of the Commercial Real Estate Industry

The expertise of close-knit families in the New York commercial real estate world was tapped on March 29 as parents and their children in the profession met in Lower Manhattan to share contrasting, multi-generational perspectives on issues and trends. Nearly 100 Lehigh students traveled from South Mountain to 180 Maiden Lane to gain skilled insight and network with industry leaders.

The event, titled Commercial Real Estate: The Rise of a New Generation, was co-hosted by Tara Stacom ’80, executive vice chairman, Cushman & Wakefield, and Brad Eric Scheler ’74 ’05P ’08P ’09PG and Jonathan Mechanic ’12P, partners, Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson. The event also was sponsored by the Stacom Family Executive Speaker Series and MHP Real Estate Services.

Cognizant of her good fortune as the daughter of industry veteran and Lehigh alumnus Matthew Stacom ’41, the dynamic broker established The Stacom Family Speaker Series in 2009 to connect students in the integrated real estate minor at Lehigh (ire@l) and alumni with notable figures in the field. Her goal is to raise awareness in the New York real estate community of the excellent talent pool that Lehigh is producing.

“The program is gaining great traction, but an event like this, supported by the superstars that we are going to have on this stage, will catapult Lehigh and ire@l’s name in the real estate community,” said Stacom, who earned her undergraduate degree in finance at Lehigh and is a member of the board of trustees. Lehigh students minoring in the ire@l program or following a finance curriculum track learn key elements in commercial real estate such as brokerage, management, finance, design, valuation, development, urban planning, real estate law and construction.

More than 300 people attended the event that offered a stellar view of the Upper New York Bay and Brooklyn and included: commercial real estate professionals; Georgette Chapman Phillips, Kevin L. Clayton ’84 ’13P and Lisa A. Clayton ’13P Dean of the College of Business and Economics; Patrick Farrell, provost and vice president for academic affairs; and Lehigh University Board of Trustee Vice Chair Kevin Clayton ’84 ’13P, managing partner, Finley Ridge Group. Co-host Scheler is chair of the board of trustees.

An outcome of the annual event that Stacom wants to achieve is “…to drive better hiring and better internships for our students…and letting them think that this world of real estate in New York is possible, and they can own it too.”

Stacom, who has completed some of the industry’s largest and most complex leasing, sales and corporate finance transactions, including the commercial space available in One World Trade Center, brought together the 13-member panel that paired senior executives with their children who entered the business within the last five years. Several of the panelists were Lehigh alumni and graduates of the ire@l program. 

“The dynamics of commercial real estate have changed dramatically from one generation to the next,” said Stacom. “By bringing together multiple generations within the same real estate families, we’ll gain insights into where the industry is heading.”

Experienced and Youthful Viewpoints

Split into two panel discussions, Stacom moderated the first panel and asked questions that drew advice for the student members of the audience about career progression, becoming employed, specializing in the field and the importance of building contacts.

Panelist Norman Sturner, president and CEO, MHP Real Estate Services, said that for those in the industry, there is “No sense eating your lunch at your desk. Go take someone to lunch or dinner. Make a visit every day—without being a nuisance.” He added there is no maximum to what a person can earn in commercial real estate.

Dispelling the myth that all people in real estate are the same, Rob Lapidus ’13P, president and chief investment officer, L&L Holding Company, said there are many different aspects in a real estate career. “There are people who buy buildings, build buildings, plan buildings…so there are so many different disciplines that you can bring to the table,” he said.

Jonathan Mechanic ’12P moderated the second panel on the role of social media in the industry, women in the profession and millennials in the workforce.

The mindset of millennials to be fulfilled and happy in their career is beginning to influence the way his company is listening to its employees, said panelist Mitti Liebersohn ’12P, president and managing director, NY Operations, Avison Young. Liebersohn said there are about 40 employees born in the 1980s and 1990s who work at the company.

“That doesn’t mean that they are not competitive. It doesn’t mean that they are not going out there to be successful, but they are doing it in a different way,” said Liebersohn.

Panelist Darcy Stacom ’81, chairman/head of NYC Capital Markets Group, CBRE, and Tara’s sister, said it is harder for women to stay in the industry, because there is not a deep mentoring group of women for support.

“These women are just competing to get there. It is very hard for them to turn around and also mentor at the same time,” said Darcy, who is a board member of the Women’s Network of CBRE.

Darcy’s daughter, panelist Amber Kraus, analyst, Tishman Speyer, said the best advice she can give women in any industry is to “keep your head down and work hard and let that speak for itself. Let your work become respected, and through that, you, too, will gain respect.” 

Regarding social media, panelists Remy Liebersohn ’12, senior associate, Cushman & Wakefield, and Marc Mechanic ’12, associate, Meadow Partners, shared the view that it is vital to adapt and use social media and advanced technology in real estate. Mechanic gave the example of creating 3D renderings of retail space as a tech savvy marketing technique.

During the Q&A, Scheler asked panelists to give direct advice to the Lehigh students. The seasoned and younger panelists replied to be analytical, follow your passion, utilize your Lehigh network, and gain experience in an internship to find out what you like.

Max Weiss ’17, finance and accounting double major and real estate minor, said learning about development, investment and real estate analysis in the classroom was great, but it was his internship at Manatus Development Group in Manhattan that made him realize what he wants to do with his career.

“I got to see my boss take a dirt lot in the Bronx near Yankee stadium and convert that into a nice charter school for the kids in South Bronx. It kind of opened my eyes to what power real estate developers have. They can influence a neighborhood and can really shift how a community works,” said Weiss.

As a Lehigh student, panelist Alex Lapidus ’13, associate, Cushman & Wakefield, thought she was going to pursue a career in the entertainment industry but changed to real estate because of her experience underwriting buildings during her senior Real Estate Practicum Capstone course.

“I called my parents three weeks before graduation and said, ‘OK, I want to do something else’,” said Lapidus, who double majored in supply chain management and marketing.

The event began and concluded with networking receptions for students and professionals.

“I thought it was an excellent program,” said David Ledy ’70, partner, U.S. Realty advisors, L.L.C. “I was particularly pleased by the quality of the older generation and their success in the real estate industry and to have a younger generation nipping at their heels. So, it was a good point/counterpoint and, I think, a really optimistic perspective for students to glean.” 

Story by Dawn Thren

Photos by Rebecca Groller

View a photo gallery from the event.

Learn more about Integrated Real Estate at Lehigh (ire@l).

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An insider’s look at Manhattan

Real estate students tour the World Trade Center with Tara Stacom’80.