As part of our series, CRE Future Leaders, we caught up with Kurt Bender, founder and principal of Bender Companies. Bender has more than 12 years experience in commercial real estate investing, operations, project management, and finance. He founded Bender Companies in 2011 and oversees all operations and financial responsibilities of the company’s multi-family assets and is directly responsible for leading the team of on-site managers.
Tell us about your background. Where did you grow up, where did you go to school?
I grew up in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago and went to Barrington High School. I attended a local college for a few years and eventually decided to jump into my career and start gaining real world experience within the real estate industry. I moved to Lakeview a few years ago where I now live with my wife.
When you were young, what did you aspire to be?
I have a distinct memory growing up where I was with my mom at the bank, and I walked up to the president of the bank in his office and said “I want your job when I grow up.” I was ten years old and had no idea what that even meant. I quickly grew out of that, but didn’t really lose my interest in the finance industry.
How did you get your start in the industry?
I got an early start when I was 14 years old as a result of my grandfather owning a duplex and a multi-tenant industrial building. He was a carpenter by trade, so naturally he did all the maintenance and repairs himself. Through hands-on training, he taught me the maintenance side of property management and eventually I got more involved in leasing and administration. In 2011, after learning the basics of property management, I decided to start Bender Companies. I was able to purchase an eight-unit multifamily property with a partner, as well as take on a few third-party management contracts. At that time, I was doing all the maintenance, leasing and bookkeeping myself. I also flipped a few houses in 2012-2013. I was busy to say the least.
Did you have a mentor who helped you get on your feet, or is there someone you turn to now for support?
My grandfather was a great mentor for me, he showed me what it meant to work hard and take pride in what you do. Nowadays, I try to attend as many industry events as possible and network with other CRE professionals.
What does a day in the life of Kurt Bender look like?
Wake up between 5:30-6:30 depending on the day, read an article or the news on my phone, then head to the office. In this industry and more specifically in my position, no day is the same. One day I might be driving a few hours for a site visit or a potential property tour for an acquisition, the next day I might be in the office working on operations. The one constant in my schedule is actively working on finding and funding the next deal. I’m either on the phone or having in-person meetings with brokers, lenders and potential equity partners. I’m typically at the office until 6:00 p.m., then heading home for dinner and some relaxation. I’ll begin prepping for tomorrow and responding to emails while music or the TV is on in the background.
What do you like most about your job?
I like having a new challenge every day. Since no day is ever alike, it’s important to be able to adapt quickly, recognize when something isn’t working and come up with a solution to correct it. I enjoy being a problem solver, I think it’s one of the most important attributes of being a leader and a successful business person.
Looking to the future, what do you hope to achieve/work on that you haven’t already?
I think Bender Companies has a long runway ahead. We’ve really just started scaling up into the larger, 100-plus-unit multifamily complexes within the last 12-18 months. I hope to continue to grow the overall portfolio and start bringing in institutional capital.
How do you spend your time away from the office?
When I’m not in the office I’m spending time with family, exercising at the gym with a game of basketball, traveling and educating myself within the CRE industry.
What is your favorite place that you have traveled to? Where do you hope to go next?
This is a tough one, I’ve had some great trips in the last few years. I honeymooned last November in Germany and Sweden, part of that trip was the “TreeHotel” in northern Sweden. It’s a treehouse hotel in the middle of nowhere that’s been featured in many architectural magazines. We went on a snowmobile tour guided by the owner who built the hotel.
Who would you like to see answer these questions?
My grandfather, though he passed away over a year ago. He continues to be my inspiration and motivation to always improve.