As part of our series, CRE Future Leaders, we caught up with Adam Southard, managing director at Savills Studley’s Chicago office. With seven years of Wall Street banking and financial services experience, Southard offers expertise in corporate finance, accounting, public company reporting, and CRE financing.
Prior to joining Savills Studley, Southard worked in the investment banking division at Bank of America Merrill Lynch covering financial institution clients, providing corporate finance and strategic advisory services including mergers and acquisitions, common and preferred equity, as well as high-grade and high-yield debt.
Tell us about your background. Where did you grow up, where did you go to school?
Initially my family lived in a small town near Dayton, Ohio; then, when I was in middle school, my mother’s job was transferred to Detroit, so she, my sister and I moved to Michigan. After high school, I went to University of Michigan, where I studied economics. I later attend business school at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business.
When you were young, what did you aspire to be?
An architect. I’ve always been enthralled by old buildings, even from a young age. However, when I was in high school and began visiting colleges, I learned that architecture school required hand drawing for most assignments. I can’t draw to save my life, so that quickly put an end to that aspiration.
Nevertheless, architecture is still an interest of mine and I believe I enjoy real estate because it’s at the intersection of architecture, which is a personal interest, and finance, which is a professional interest.
How did you get your start in the industry?
My first role in the CRE arena came immediately after college. With an economics degree in hand, I took a job as an analyst in the commercial banking group at TCF Bank in Ann Arbor, Michigan which, at the time, was heavily skewed towards CRE lending. I then attended business school at Indiana University and subsequently joined Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s investment banking group in New York.
After a couple years of investment banking, I realized it wasn’t where I envisioned my future and recognized how much I enjoyed my experience in the CRE world. My then-fiancée (now wife) and I decided to relocate back to the Midwest, so I began cold calling CRE professionals in Chicago. One of the individuals with whom I spoke forwarded my resume to Studley (now Savills Studley) where there was a team looking for someone with corporate finance experience. After a rapid series of interviews, I moved to Chicago and joined Savills Studley about a month after our first conversation.
Did you have a mentor who helped you get on your feet, or is there someone you turn to now for support?
I’m fortunate to work on a team with two very senior individuals to whom I can go for support. Both Joe Learner and Robert Sevim have been advisors, advocates and supporters for me ever since I entered the real estate world.
What does a day in the life of Adam Southard look like?
While my day has general rhythms, there is no set schedule or routine. I’m typically at the office by 8:00 AM and most days start with a cup of tea, replying to email and reading news. Then the day is a mix of working on analyses for clients, conference calls and client meetings. I keep a running to-do list next to my keyboard; however, when a client request arrives the priorities of the list frequently get shuffled and I never seem to reach the end of that list.
After work, I generally have events several days a week, and then I enjoy spending the evenings at home with my wife.
What do you like most about your job?
For nearly all of our clients, real estate is one of their largest expenditures. So finding solutions to optimize their spending on real estate is impactful far beyond their real estate department. It’s rewarding that I’m able to use my background in banking and finance to help our clients develop transaction structures and negotiating approaches to produce outcomes that are favorable both quantitatively and qualitatively.
Looking to the future, what do you hope to achieve/work on that you haven’t already?
Both personally and professionally, I love to continue learning. As a result, I value when clients bring us challenges we haven’t seen before—the bigger and more complex, the better. It’s these new problems that are most exciting and make my job so intriguing. You only get better by doing something that is difficult.
How do you spend your time away from the office?
I enjoy reading, almost exclusively non-fiction. For about a year I’ve been working with a two-book system, in which at any given time I’m reading one book that is educational and another book that is just for fun. Also now that it’s warm outside, I’m looking forward to riding my motorcycle on the weekends.
However, my wife and I are expecting our first child in about six weeks, so I have a hunch that pretty soon most of my time outside the office will be with our little one.
What is your favorite place that you have traveled to? Where do you hope to go next?
By far my favorite vacation was to Scotland. My wife and I spent about ten days there, the first half was in the Highlands and the Isle of Skye and the second half was in Edinburgh. The Isle of Skye is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places I’ve ever been—around every bend and over every hill is a postcard-worthy view of mountains, valleys, bays, cliffs and ocean. Edinburgh is a Goldilocks city that feels both cosmopolitan and global, but also quintessentially Scottish. And everywhere we went the people were welcoming and the food was delicious, even the haggis.
With our first child on the way, our next trip will be much simpler and closer to home. Realistically, it will probably be renting a cottage in Michigan for a long weekend.
Who would you like to see answer these questions?
Kevin Antene, who our office hired last year as director of marketing. His insight and creativity make him a truly invaluable member of the team and I would appreciate hearing his perspective, particularly as it relates to client service.