Shawn Clark maintains an active role in deal structuring, fund and project level financing activities, development management and asset management as president of CRG. He has over a decade of experience in the commercial real estate industry and is the founder of Illumination, a charitable theatrical event.
Tell us about your background. Where did you grow up, where did you go to school?
I’m originally from St. Louis. My paternal and maternal grandparents established their respective families in St. Louis in the mid 1950s. My parents were high school sweethearts at Parkway Central High School in Chesterfield, a suburb of St. Louis, and eventually settled down to start their family in St. Louis as well. I attended a college prep school, now known as MICDS, from kindergarten through 12th grade. Throughout high school, I worked a variety of construction jobs from labor to on-site supervision. With a focus on a construction career, I chose to pursue a bachelor’s in construction science and management at Clemson University. The program was attractive to me because of it was part of the School of Architecture and maintained a design-build emphasis. Throughout college, I would come back to St. Louis in the summers splitting my time working on construction sites and in the office doing project estimating.
When you were young, what did you aspire to be?
Growing up, I was exposed to the construction industry from as early as I can remember. My father started his construction business, Clayco, about a year before I was born. In the early years, Clayco was primarily focused on industrial and office buildings. Although the structures were fascinating, I always enjoyed the idea of homebuilding. It just seemed more personal to create a place where people lived and raised families.
How did you get your start in the industry?
After college, I moved to Aspen to start a home building company called Capitol Peak Builders. It was 2008, but the business was off to a successful launch with the award of our first custom home project in Basalt, Colorado. I poured my heart and soul into that home and the results were stunning. We exceeded the client’s expectations, but also got my first dose of reality after the project was completed and I had no pipeline. This was a major lesson for me that marketing and selling are just as important as project execution. Throughout the downturn we completed major residential remodels and performed commercial construction for developers and after several successful years of construction, the real estate side of the business began calling me.
In fall of 2011, I moved to Chicago and got my master of real estate finance and investment from DePaul University. In the meantime, I worked as a project manager for Clayco and was active in the establishment of Chicago as Clayco’s new headquarter location.
Did you have a mentor who helped you get on your feet, or is there someone you turn to now for support?
I believe teachers and mentors are an essential cornerstone of society. The power of sharing experiences and passing on important skills and lessons is just as important to any industry as it is to the individuals who benefit from the guidance. I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by many mentors. From the beginning, my father has always led by example, tough love and anecdotes. As I’ve progressed in my career, he has selected meaningful moments to offer welcome, and sometime less welcome, critiques. There are many other amazing business leaders and real estate veterans that have supported my growth, but my father has been by far the most influential person in life and business.
What does a day in the life of Shawn Clark look like?
Every day is entirely different, that’s what I love about ground up development and real estate investing. If I’m in Chicago, my morning starts at 5:00 am with Nespresso immediately in hand. After about an hour of local and national news, I’ll plan my day down to 15-minute increments and dig into emails for the next hour. I organize my day by focusing on the most difficult action items first. I’m typically in the office by 8:00 am to be with my team and I keep my schedule open until 10:00 am to knock out priorities. I usually reserve late morning for my most important meetings while I still have the most creative energy. The afternoons are a mix a meetings and free time to think and execute strategy. I spend a lot of time recruiting for key roles, raising capital for projects or fund specific strategies, touring markets with our development leaders and vetting new investment opportunities. One mentor advised me that there should be at least three good reasons to take a meeting—easier said than done!
What do you like most about your job?
Collaborating with talented people to deliver on a common goal. I get to work with communities, architects, builders, investors and my team to realize our vision. It’s fun to come to work every day and I’m surrounded be incredible folks who feel the same way.
Looking to the future, what do you hope to achieve/work on that you haven’t already?
We’ve built our real estate business on the foundation of a vertically integrated design and construction firm. We’ve had great success with our first build-to-core fund vehicle. We hope to continue building our platform around our investors and be known as a safe and intelligent place to invest. We recently launched our first Opportunity Zone fund at Decennial Group with an investment focus in the heartland with specific emphasis on the South Side of Chicago. At Clayco, we have robust programs in place for building a diverse construction workforce in the communities in which we work. It would be a dream to deliver transformative community development in underserved neighborhoods while creating job opportunities for locals and returns for our investors.
How do you spend your time away from the office?
I spend a lot of time coordinating research for RVCL, a rare genetic disease that took my mom in 2010. We use The Clayco Foundation to raise essential funds for the research, which we believe will benefit many rare conditions. With over 7,000 known rare conditions, rare disease is not all that rare. I spend a lot of time planning our annual fundraiser, Illumination, working with artists and performers to create a unique Halloween event and “Cast a Light on Rare Disease.” Other time is spent going out to dinners with my wife and friends, golfing in the summers and skiing in the winters. I really enjoy live music as well.
What is your favorite place that you have traveled to? Where do you hope to go next?
It’s a tough call but trekking the upper Mustang region of Nepal was a very special experience. For my next adventure, I’d love to spend time traveling South America.
Who would you like to see answer these questions?
Of the real estate community, Gerald Hines, Hamid Moghadam and Scott Rechler come to mind first.