Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Interview with a friend who has made a difference in the commercial real estate industry: Barry Ziering

Barry Ziering, Ph.D., joined UK based M&G Investments in 2019 and, with over 25 years of commercial real estate experience, leads the firm’s North American real estate branding and capital raising efforts.

Prior to M&G, Barry led those same efforts for Guggenheim Real Estate (2014-2018) and Blackrock (2002-2014).  He was also a voting member on those Firms' Investment Committees and held senior leadership roles.  Prior to joining BlackRock, he worked at Prudential Financial (PGIM) and Prudential Securities in a variety of roles including Real Estate Merchant Banking, Strategy and Research, and as a public REIT Analyst.

Barry has also been a guest speaker at Baruch College, as well as at Columbia and NYU.  He is a former member of the Real Estate Finance Editorial Board, as well as a former Chair of the Research Committee for the National Council of Real Estate Investment Fiduciaries (NCREIF).  He has published numerous articles in both industry and academic journals including Real Estate Finance, Journal of Real Estate Research, Journal of Real Estate Investment Trusts and Journal of Real Estate Portfolio Management. Barry received his B.A. from Rutgers College and his Ph.D. from the Illinois Institute of Technology. He currently holds FINRA series 7, 24 and 63 licenses.

Q. How did Barry and I meet?
A. As it’s been for me with a lot of folks Barry and I met at an industry event many years back.  The first impression he made on me was that he was a nice guy and he’s always had a great smile.  In our first conversation, it was clearly evident that Barry loved the real estate industry as much as I do. Over the years we’ve become friends and supporters of each other.

Q. How did you get your start in the commercial real estate industry?
 A. Steve, I was very fortunate in the late 80s to have worked at what was then Prudential Insurance. Real estate was still a relatively “new” institutional asset class at that time. I was an Associate in the Economics Department, which provided global macro and micro economic demographic data and econometric forecasts to all areas of the Firm, including the investment areas. From that vantage point, I was able to see the wide range of business arenas within the firm that could be available to me as I expanded my career. One of the areas I worked closely with was the real estate group.  While Prudential managed an extensive real estate portfolio for its balance sheet, its third-party real estate management business was relatively new and growing fast. Given my research background, my internal network, and a little bit of luck, I joined that group in research and strategy.

Q. What advice would you give to someone who has been in the industry for a short time or a student looking to get her or his start?
 A. Here are a few key themes I’ve always emphasized. 

People Skills Matter.  You’ll be joining a team whose members generally form a closely-knit social unit, and you need to “fit in”.  Be likable.  Have humility. Be a team player. Get along with others.  Be someone that other people like to be around. No matter how smart or technically proficient you are, your career journey will invariably be more challenged if you can’t do those things.  And if you manage to get hired but don’t exercise your people skills, you probably won’t last long.  Let’s be honest, we’ve all encountered those co-workers with whom we’d prefer to minimize our interaction. 

“Opportunity Favors the Prepared Mind”.  Think carefully about what that means.  It’s a powerful mindset that has been operationalized by almost all successful people.  It really involves 2 dimensions: good fortune (or luck) and self-preparedness.  While we don’t normally have control over what opportunities may come our way, we do make choices every single day that could potentially impact the rest of our lives material ways. Self-preparedness is a choice that you MUST embrace in order bolster your odds of success.  In my mind, that means you never stop learning and improving.  Always look to add new skills, increase your knowledge and enhance your abilities, irrespective of whether you can put them to immediate use.  By doing so, you will actually increase the probability that opportunities will come your way more often because, well, you guessed it:  Opportunity Favors the Prepared Mind.

Take Career Risks Early.  Don’t let fear of failure drive your career decisions. Aim high.  I’ve seen so many instances where highly capable people who wanted to grow their career were unable to do so because they were afraid of taking a risk. I assured them that every successful person has experienced failure in their career, even the most successful CEO’s in our industry.

Be Resilient.  Successful people don’t ever “give up”.  After a false start or a blow-up, they get up, dust themselves off, and get back on the horse.  Most importantly, they never attribute their failure to personal deficiencies.  Highly successful people tend to attribute failure to “external factors” beyond their control. I was always inclined to take career risks, which ultimately lead to extraordinary job opportunities where I was able to meet and learn from brilliant people across multiple disciplines. 

Establish Your Contact Network.  It’s hard to over emphasize the importance of establishing business relationships across firms and across disciplines. Establishing these relationships takes time and effort, but doing so will be an important ingredient in your ultimate success.  Your contacts are the people you’ll know for many years to come who, over the course of their careers, will be in many jobs across multiple firms. Being able to reach out to a vast network of contacts and friends cultivated over many years provides access to people, information, job opportunities, and even collaborative business opportunities.  Those contacts will prove invaluable over time.    

Q. As you look back on your career is there anything you wish you had done differently? If so, what?
 A.  Hindsight is always 20/20, but looking back I really have no regrets about my career.  I would not re-write the script.  Of course, like other seasoned professionals, I have experienced the best of times and the worst of times in this industry.  And while the worst of times were painful for everyone, those were the times where you would learn the most, and where new business opportunities presented themselves to those individuals/firms in a position to take advantage of them. More broadly, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been an active participant in the fast evolution of an asset class that, in the beginning, was considered by most to be an “just an industry” and not deserving of asset class status.

Q.  Who have been the biggest influences on your career? How? Why?
 A. It’s been people who energize organizations, define its culture, and drive its growth.  That means that managing one’s career cannot be accomplished in a silo.  I’ve had the good fortune to meet and/or work with some of the best and brightest minds, each contributing in some way to my career growth and advancement. But there are 4 individuals who stand out in my mind as being having the biggest influence on my career.  Here they are, in no particular order:

Charlie Wurtzbach: Charlie gave me my start in real estate. I met him in the late ’80s when he was Head of Research and Strategy at PGIM – Real Estate.  Recruited out of academia from UT Austin, his mandate was to establish a world class real estate research program to, among other things, help guide portfolio construction, create an empirical market selection process, and develop property type and regional diversification parameters.  That research group was one of the first of its kind to develop a program that was built with strong academic rigor and an empirical underpinning.  Working with Charlie was transformative for me and has served me well throughout my career.

Mike Miles: I met Mike, formerly head of the real estate program at UNC Chapel Hill, in the early 90’s when he took over for Charlie, who left to join JMB.  After several years at Prudential Financial, followed by a 5-year stint at Fidelity, Mike and his team ultimately joint ventured with Guggenheim Partners to create the Guggenheim Real Estate platform.  Although I worked with Mike for only a few years at Prudential Financial, our business association spanned many years and when I left BlackRock in 2014, he hired me at Guggenheim Partners to lead their Marketing and Sales efforts.    

Rob Falzon; I met Rob, currently Vice Chairman at Prudential Financial, in 1997 when we both worked at Prudential Securities, I as a REIT analyst and he as an investment banker. Rob was subsequently tapped to move to the private side and put together a team to create and run the PGIM’s first opportunity fund. He invited me to join his team and return to the private side at Prudential Financial where I worked with Rob for about 4 years.   

Fred Lieblich: I met Fred in the mid 90’s when he led SSR Realty Advisors and I was in Research at PGIM Real Estate.  We’d see each other at various industry conferences over the years and established a friendship and strong professional relationship.  Fred first invited me to join him in 1997, right before I was to start my new role on the public side at Prudential Securities.  I had to decline his initial offer, but I eventually accepted when he came back to me in 2001 with an offer to lead Blackrock Real Estate’s global distribution and marketing efforts.

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