Jim's bio from the USAA RealCo website.
As Chief Operating Officer for USAA Real Estate Company (“USAA RealCo”). Jim manages the teams that are responsible for USAA RealCo’s asset management functions and asset dispositions. Jim’s remit also includes responsibility for USAA RealCo’s Capital Markets group, which sources and structures all debt financing on USAA RealCo’s portfolio and which also advises USAA’s Life Insurance Company affiliate with respect to its senior mortgage investment program. In addition, Jim chairs USAA RealCo’s Risk Committee.
It was during the heyday of commercial real estate technology. Jim had left his position at Hines and joined a consortium called Zethus. Zethus was going to, in the words of another friend in the commercial real estate industry, “boil the ocean.” I was moderating a panel on real estate technology at some sort of industry event at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. Jim was one of the panelists. One day, leading up to the panel, Jim was quoted in the Wall Street Journal. In my infinite belief that sometimes surprise is a wonderful ice-breaker, I read the quote to the audience and then asked them if they knew who had made the statement. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jim looking at me with at “What the heck?” kind of look. Well, no one guessed it and I used that as a way to introduce Jim to the group. That was the start of a long friendship between Jim and myself. Jim is a very modest person so I’m going to tell you something about him: he is a published novelist. Here is Jim’s ‘Official Site’ I encourage you to check out his books. He’s a very talented writer.
Q. How did you get your start in the commercial real estate industry?
A. It was my exit plan from a twenty-year career practicing tax law, during the course of which my main client, year in and year out, was Hines. In 1995 I had an existential crisis, to wit, I realized that if I did not make a move pretty soon, as a then 41 year old, I was looking at spending the rest of my days plumbing the depths of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended. In casting about for an escape hatch, my attention naturally turned to Hines because of their integrity, their collegiality, and their established excellence at what they do (all still true today, I’ll be bound). I let slip to Ken Hubbard, who then ran Hines’s East Region, that I might be primed for a career change, and he passed that along to then CFO, now Vice Chairman, Hasty Johnson. After an in person interview with the legendary Gerald D. Hines himself (who would have me know that my annual compensation might not be quite as, ahem, predictable as it was in the practice of law), I made the leap, on January 1, 1996, to the business side, and joined Hines in a capital markets role. I have never looked back.
Q. What advice would you give to someone who has been in the industry for a few years or a student looking to get his or her start?
A. Nothing, but nothing - not money, not fame, not exciting and fun transactions – nothing is more important than the honesty, integrity and trustworthiness of the people with whom you work. I have been blessed to work with some of the best people in the business, really at every career stop along the way, but particularly at Hines, at the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, and now at USAA Real Estate, where our core values are service, loyalty, honesty and integrity. Those are values that are not universally shared in the business world, as the newspaper headlines remind us regularly - but I must say that when they are the values that guide your behavior, both as respects your colleagues as well as others in the marketplace, they lend a kind of moral clarity to what you do. So my advice is, find yourself good people and stick with them. It’s even better if they have a big balance sheet - real estate is not a place for the faint-of-heart, or the undercapitalized.
Q. As you look back on your career, is there anything you wish you had done differently? If so, what?
A. Not spending my first twenty years in the workaday world as a practicing tax lawyer would have been a good place to start. In fairness, I did find tax law both interesting and intellectually challenging. But it failed to satisfy Aristotle’s test of happiness (as paraphrased by President John F. Kennedy): the full use of one’s abilities along the lines of excellence. I found that in real estate, especially here in the later stages of my career when I can sometimes fool myself into thinking that I sort of know what I am doing.
Q. Who has influenced your career most and why?
A. My first boss at the law firm Baker Botts, a man by the name of George H. Jewell. He was a gentleman through-and-through, the consummate professional, as smart as a tree full of owls, and as humble and compelling a person as I have ever known in my professional life. Working for him helped me understand the power of kindness, laughter, unselfishness and grace under pressure. While I have not always lived up to the standard he set, I have never stopped trying to. The way he conducted himself, as a colleague and a leader, has guided me for the entirety of my forty-plus year career.
A year-end message from Steve
All my best wishes to you for a healthy and happy New Year! Let 2018 be a year where all the senseless killing & hate end. "Come on people now, smile on each other, everybody get together, try and love one another right how." Written by Chet Powers (more popularly known as Dino Valenti) and recorded by a number of people. The most well-known version was released in 1967 by The Youngbloods).
Someone's house where I attended a Christmas Party. The woman is a mannequin!