Friday, February 16, 2018

A friend who has made a difference in the commercial real estate industry: Mary Beth Shanahan McCormick (aka MB)

Mary Beth Shanahan McCormick is Executive Director of the Center for Real Estate at Fisher College of Business, The Ohio State University.  She is also a Senior Lecturer in the Finance Department.  The Center is focused on becoming a leading provider of transformative lifelong educational experiences to an active community of real estate students and professionals.

Mary Beth was responsible for directing the real estate investments for Ohio Public Employees Retirement System for many years.  She has served as a Director for multiple public and private REITs and as Senior Advisor for Almanac Realty Partners. She has held a number of leadership positions for a variety of national and regional real estate associations, including Chair of the Pension Real Estate Association (PREA). Mary Beth is a member of the Urban Land Institute (ULI), the National Association of Corporate Directors, and PREA.  Mary Beth Bachelor’s degree and an MBA from The Ohio State University.

Mary Beth (MB) and had met casually at some PREA conferences.  We then got a few opportunities to chat in more depth (of course, in those days, MB worked for a large pension fund and when she was at PREA, everyone wanted a few minutes of her time).  We learned that we both have sons that are musicians and gradually started to get to know each other.  The most poignant thing I remember is that when MB was the chair of PREA, she gave a wonderfully moving eulogy of an industry colleague that had passed away.  It was beautiful.

Q.  How did you get your start in commercial real estate?

A.  By accident, or perhaps it was destiny!  In a roundabout way, I found out about a position at Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS).  Going back in time, when I was in grad school, I worked at the Ohio State University (OSU) placement office.  After that, I worked for another company that was not in real estate. While there I got promoted three times in nine months and I felt this is either really good or really scary!

I called the OSU placement office to post the position I was just promoted out of and was talking with my friend there. She said, “We just got a call from this guy at OPERS and it sounds interesting. You may want to call him”. So, I called Tim Getz. It was a coincidence, although I don’t believe there are coincidences – things happen for a reason. I wasn’t interested in moving because I had just gotten promoted. Remember, this is in the late 80’s. Real estate had only been an investible asset class for the pension fund for a few years. I think the assets under management at the time were, golly, about $200 – 300 million.

I talked to Tim about what he was doing at OPERS and it sounded very interesting. But what really sold me on it was that I’d be working for my grandmother, who was a member of the pension system. I’d also be working for the retirees, widows and orphans of the State of Ohio. I’ve always wanted to have a positive impact on people’s lives and it seemed like this was a really good way to do it.  If I could invest their money well they’d have a more secure retirement.  It seemed like a great way to use all my education and all my background. I also liked the fact that it was basically a start-up, I’d be the third person joining, and I could set up the systems I wanted – everything was still a work in progress.  It was a great opportunity. That’s how I ended up at OPERS in real estate – purely by accident. 

Q.  What advice would you give to someone who’s been in the industry a short time or a student who is looking to get his or her start?

A. Here at the Center for Real Estate at Ohio State University, we work with many students who are considering real estate as a career, and I get that question quite often.  I tell them a couple of things:  at the end of the day all we have is our reputation – don’t screw it up now.  Be honest when you deal with people, be upright.  You’re setting the tone now for how people will regard you for your entire career.  Then I tell them that the real estate business, like every other business, is really all about people.  It’s not about the sticks and bricks, it’s about the people who buy and sell buildings, it's about people who lease space and people who they lease space from; it’s all about relationships.

I suggest that they meet as many people in the industry as they can. I also tell them that there’s something in real estate for everybody – I truly believe this. Whatever you love to do, whatever you’re best at, there’s something here in commercial real estate for you to do.  If you’re a quant you can be an analyst for a private equity firm, on Wall Street, or for a pension fund. If you’re more of a people person you can be in business development or be a broker.  If you’re a visionary you can be a developer and can change the way a city looks or work on sustainability and the city of the future. You can help create a better way so that our grandchildren have more efficient buildings and better places to live.   I really think the sky is the limit for anybody in real estate. 

Q.  As you look back on your career is there anything you wish you had done differently and if so, what?

A.  One of my life lessons: I wait too long to make a change.  I tend to give people too many second chances, including myself.  I think I’ve been too slow to do what I know in my heart needs to be done.  If something not’s right, it’s wrong, and time rarely changes that.  I’ve been too slow to change positions, I’ve been too slow to let deals go, or make other changes I know need to happen. I linger in denial too long. 

Q.  Who have been the major influences in your career and how?

A.  I’ve been so fortunate. People have always been incredibly generous with me with their time, their wisdom and their advice. I'm reluctant to start listing names, because I know I can't list everyone, but I'll name a couple of folks. 

I learned a lot from my first Chief Investment Officer, Bob McLaughlin.  I quote him all the time to my students because he saw things in such an interesting way. Bob came up with these great remarks like, “Don’t confuse your bank account with your I.Q.” and “Junk yards make money, museums don't.” I learned a lot from him.  I learned a lot from Tim Getz, who is very good at predicting capital flows and also very creative.  John McGurk showed me that you can be highly ethical and highly successful at the same time.  Jim Curtis of Bristol Group, who studied under Jim Graaskamp and is a genius in his own right, taught me about investment fundamentals and the need to thoroughly understand everything about the market and the property.

When I was at PERS, we’d have discussions: “Do you want a real estate investment manager who can make money or someone you can trust?”  I always said, “I want both.” I needed to make money for the people I represented, and I like to sleep nights.  We were lucky to find managers who were able to do both and knock it out of the park.

Early on I decided to find the smartest people in the room at conferences and sit with them, to learn from them, and I quickly learned that the people who are best at what they do are often the nicest.  This is how I got to know Michael Giliberto and Bernard Winograd, two very smart and kind people. Marjorie Tsang is another great example - she's a great resource and sounding board, very wise.

This is a great question, but I can go on for hours about the wonderful people I've worked with, who've influenced my perspective.  I've been very fortunate.

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