As part of our series, CRE Future Leaders, we caught up with Greg Gonzalez, director of student housing at Berkadia. Gonzalez advises on investment sales transactions, mortgage banking and equity placement. His responsibilities include new business development, building client relationships, asset analysis and underwriting, strategic marketing and disposition advisement for both purpose-built student housing and university orbit conventional multifamily assets.
Tell us about your background. Where did you grow up, where did you go to school?
I grew up in Texas and went to college at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to study engineering. I got my undergraduate and master’s degree in civil engineering with a minor in business.
When you were young, what did you aspire to be?
I never thought I’d be in investment sales, but I always had an affinity for math and people. This job is a great blend of both.
How did you get your start in the industry?
Working for a general contractor in Phoenix, Arizona right out of school, I knew that the physical connections and building of the real estate was not what interested me the most. Working with the various owner representatives on projects and talking through how and why their vision became a reality, and who (investors and banks) supported their project, I felt that the CRE portion of real estate was where I’d be happiest. I always wanted to live in Chicago, so I quit my job, packed my bags and started knocking on doors.
Did you have a mentor who helped you get on your feet, or is there someone you turn to now for support?
Bryan Koop from Boston Properties was a great mentor at the onset of my career in CRE, and we continue to keep in touch to help realign my mentality. He’s one of the smartest and most well-read professionals I’ve had the privilege to meet. A career in brokerage is not easy. The people that you come up with know the challenges better than anyone and can celebrate your successes with you. I have built an incredible network of colleagues that I consider friends in the space. I’m fortunate to be able to leverage that network as a sounding board for deal specifics questions, career advice or even suggestions for new dinner venues.
What does a day in the life of Greg Gonzalez look like?
Part of what I love about this job is that each day is unique, and I have an incredible amount of control over what it looks like. I wake up excited to go to work because I can be heavily entrenched in a financial model, working with our marketing team on unique ways to position our assignments, talking to people all day that I know and spending some time getting to know people in the space that I don’t. For every facet of what I like to do, there is an outlet. For me, that freedom, flexibility and happiness is why I walked away from a steady civil engineering career path and took a chance on CRE.
Looking to the future, what do you hope to achieve/work on that you haven’t already?
I really like what I do for work. I also very much like problem solving. I want to continue to learn more and more about the dynamic student housing industry and all parts of the capital stack, so that the marketplace knows if there is a question Greg Gonzalez and Berkadia should be your first call for a solution. Not only will I gain that from time with clients, but I’m fortunate enough to work with Kevin Larimer and Pete Benedetto, two of the most tenured advisors in the student housing space. We already are solution providers because of their entrenched tenure and track record in the sector. One of the best parts of my job is continuing to learn from them to be able to deliver solutions to clients.
How do you spend your time away from the office?
My office is in Chicago so in the summer, I try to spend as much time as possible outside playing pick-up basketball or sand volleyball—I’m always looking for any excuse to be active. I try to stack work travel in the winter so that I can spend the weekends in different places when possible but always with good friends.
What is your favorite place that you have traveled to? Where do you hope to go next?
As an architecture nerd and history enthusiast I could spend a lot of time in Rome. The fact that there are thousands of buildings older than our entire country’s existence is very cool to me. Also, the unique and creative design solutions in ancient architecture are fascinating. Read up on the Coliseum—one of the most well-designed and versatile sports stadiums ever built! Next trips on my list are Split, Croatia and Madrid, Spain.