Chief Real Estate Officer for a private university

A private university sought a Chief Real Estate Officer in preparation for a retirement. It needed an individual who would be comfortable as a public face, voice, and champion of the office. The selected candidate is mission-driven, not just profit-driven, and has a personal connection to the institution as well as extensive experience in private real estate development.
A private research university, ranked among the top 10 national universities by U.S. News and World Report, sought a Chief Real Estate Officer in preparation for a retirement. The university receives more federal research and development funding than any other in the United States, has an endowment exceeding $4B, and is comprised of 10 academic and research divisions and numerous centers, institutes, and affiliated entities.

Its Facilities & Real Estate office handles the development of new projects, leasing of space, asset/property management, and the sale and purchase of real estate for the university and its corresponding health system. The departure of the Executive Director provided an opportunity to restructure and elevate this leadership position. As the new position was highly visible, the individual would need to be comfortable as a public face, voice, and champion of the office.

The university wanted to attract a candidate with a strong reputation and track record in complex and large-scale real estate development. In addition to experience in planning, design, financing, construction, property management, and asset management, the individual had to have leadership skills with at least ten years of experience managing a department, team, or division and the ability to work alongside the university board, internal customers, and external stakeholders. 

The ideal candidate would also be mission-driven—not just profit-driven—with the tact and diplomacy to operate in an academic environment and make business decisions that align with the university’s mission, vision, and values. With those parameters in mind, the client selected Helbling to conduct the search because of our combined expertise in higher education facilities management and in real estate development. The client also valued our ability to provide hands-on collaboration at all stages of the search process.
Search consultants from Helbling toured the campus and facilitated multiple meetings to determine candidate qualifications, ideal attributes, search priorities and other factors, which led to the development of a job description and sourcing strategy. 

The size of the university, its urban location, and the complexity of its real estate portfolio meant only a few people at similar higher education institutions met the complex criteria. The firm conducted a national search of real estate development and management executives focusing on major urban markets in order to develop a well-rounded and diverse pool of candidates from higher education, healthcare, corporate, private real estate development, and other industries. This was achieved by aggressively targeting top-tier passive candidates and networking for recommendations.

Helbling partnered with the Senior Vice President of Finance & Administration, the Vice President of Facilities, Chief of Staff, and Manager of Talent Acquisition, and supported a search committee of 10 representatives from the university and its health system during the process. The team ultimately narrowed the candidate list to seven individuals who came from five major metropolitan areas, and interviews began roughly 45 days after recruitment was initiated.  
The search committee selected a candidate with more than 25 years of experience in private real estate development and design/construction operations who led and managed a development team of 20. His financial and business acumen were equally impressive. Having received his Master’s degree from the university, their top choice also had a personal connection to the institution and its mission.

Since joining the university staff, the candidate has expertly managed stakeholders, created four new positions within the department, and completed four strategic hires. He played a lead role in a major $300M+ real estate acquisition that will allow the client to expand its primary campus. He has continued to lead efforts for roughly 4M square feet of additional real estate development for both the university and health system. Additionally, he formed a partnership with developers of a new hotel adjacent to campus.

The new Chief Real Estate Officer respected Helbling’s expertise and the way we treat candidates during the search process. His personal experience led to a continuation of the relationship and the one-time candidate has become a valued client.  

Learn about Helbling's search process