In this episode of The Distribution by Juniper Square, Managing Director Brandon Sedloff sat down with Matt Slepin, Managing Director and Co-head of Real Estate at ZRG Partners. Since 2017, Matt has been the host of the podcast series, “Leading Voices in Real Estate,” where he has conversations with leaders in the real estate industry about their career journeys and the businesses that they run.
In this interview, the two discuss the importance of investing in human capital at a real estate firm, what it takes to build lasting connections, and what leadership really looks like. Here is a portion of that conversation, edited for clarity. Watch a recording of the entire back-and-forth here or listen to this episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Brandon Sedloff: I think we can all agree that the thing to do in a market like this is to invest in your people and plan for the future because the strong will get stronger. Is that what you're hearing and seeing? Are executives willing to invest today in the infrastructure and the people they need to be more resilient and come out of this market stronger?
Matt Slepin: Executives today have been through one, two, three, or four economic cycles, so they know they will eventually see the end of this cycle. There's a wall of capital waiting to be spent, for that pricing bottom to hit, the uptick to happen, and new capital to be invested in real estate. But is now a chance to right size? Yeah.
If you're a developer and you won't do any starts for two years, you can't lose your whole team, but you'll lose some team members. Sometimes you'll lose the people on your team who are lose-able, but companies can't afford to lose the folks that drive their businesses in a positive way. There are also transformations going on with the decarbonization of our business and I don't think we've begun to see the hiring activity around that within the commercial real estate space yet.
Now, companies that don't know who they are, have to find their place in the business and reinvent themselves in this new world—I worry about those businesses.
Brandon Sedloff: It's not uncommon for me to have conversations with executives where they tell me that in order to run a real estate business, they need everybody in the office four days a week minimum. And I tell them that Juniper Square managed to grow a technology business very intentionally in a remote way. Now, both of us can be right, but I'm curious to hear your perspective on what role is the physical office play for nurturing human capital.
Matt Slepin: I've been with many leaders who say, Hey, I'm used to five days a week, you got to do five days a week. I've been doing it my whole life, so you have to do it your whole life, too. And I think those companies are going to have trouble with that.
I work from home. I love it. It's been a blessing. But I do worry about young people being trained, finding career paths, being mentored, and finding their place within their organizations. People who are hyper-ambitious want to attach themselves to a mentor or a peer group. I also think face-to-face meetings are important because relationships in our business are absolutely essential. So how do you develop relationships that are real and lasting? If all of it's going to be on Zoom, that doesn't work. It's the dinners, it’s drinks, it’s ball games, it's hanging out, it's running with someone, cycling together. Those things matter.
So how can you do all of that and have some flexibility to say, yeah, I work from home three days a week because I don't want to waste my time commuting.
If you work from home two or three days a week, then what's accomplished during those times that you do come together? And how can that be really gelled for culture, for training, for mentoring? I think we're going to find new ways to accomplish each and every one of those things.
We had a global conference earlier this year and every one said to me, “oh, you're tall.” They only know me within a square box. But in an organization, if you know your partners and touch and feel them, as well as do Zooms, then you can collaborate better, and that’s what’s important.
Brandon Sedloff: If you're a candidate who is looking to find a real estate company that enables great leaders to emerge, what do you suggest they look for?
Matt Slepin: I'll change your word from leadership to success in your career. Because most people may not become “the leader”. When we say the word leadership, we think of the leader or the number two in the company, but maybe it winds up being the head of asset management or head of transactions, or head of development—there's still leadership within the discipline.
Everyone talks about great culture, but not every company is a great culture. And you know it when you see it. We know the companies in our industry that they're great to work for. They promote people, they respect people, they listen to people, and they pay people well. Sometimes it's a small company you want to go to at a certain point in your career, sometimes it's a large company. You might want a company where you can experiment in multiple roles or wear several hats until you find what you gravitate to.
I think it also depends on the leaders. Are they teachers? Are they mentors? Do they want to help you get there? That's another attribute that I look for all the time. And is your direct manager going to be that way? Maybe the firm has the best CEO in the industry, but your boss is a pain in the neck. They might just use you as a tool versus seeing you as someone to mentor and grow.