Terry ‘Vic’ Howell serves as development manager with Focus, specializing in multifamily adaptive reuse and new construction, retail tenant fit-outs, restaurants and amusement spaces. He has led the development efforts on an Evanston multifamily project, The Link, which included zoning, entitlements, construction and lease-up.
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 in a city famous to non-locals for its IKEA. My choice for a university was based on finding a good architecture program, so it really could have landed me anywhere. Fortunately, The University of Notre Dame has a great program and was close to home. My degree is in architecture with a concentration allowing me to take several classes in the business school. One of the many blessings of the Notre Dame Architecture program is the requirement to study for a year in Rome. It provided an immersive setting for the coursework and many fond memories. I am also now quasi-conversational in Italian.
When you were young, what did you aspire to be?
Like many children, I was fascinated with Lego blocks and model kits. Pretty much anything with a lot of pieces that you could put together and transform into something impressive would steal my attention for hours. That translated into an interest in architecture as a career, though I did not have any exposure to the construction/real estate industry and did not really know what an architect did. I started with some CAD classes in high school and have been reshaping my understanding of an architect ever since. Now well into my career and working in development, I realize the early fascination of putting a lot of small pieces together into something exceptional was always the goal. I am happy to say I get to be a part of that process every day now.
How did you get your start in the industry?
I was very fortunate to have some great internships while in school. I tried to span different scales and roles in architecture and construction to see what felt right and I ultimately landed as a construction project engineer with Wight & Co. out of school. After a brief self-assessment, I realized it would be best for me to get my architectural license while fully engaged at an architecture firm. I moved to Antunovich Associates for several years where I was given the opportunity to earn my license while continuing to work in numerous market sectors.
Did you have a mentor who helped you get on your feet, or is there someone you turn to now for support?
The REjournals server could not handle the length of the list I could provide. I surround myself with high-performers and study their process, asking questions to find out how others think and process information. There are a couple folks that have been great resources as of late. Tony Gosetti with CallisonRTKL was matched with me through an internship program at Antunovich Associates and we quickly became sounding boards for each other to discuss career goals and challenge each other to keep motivated. Those check-ins continue to this day, well after we’ve both moved into other roles. Vicky Lee is the vice president of development at Focus but before that, she was an upperclassman and model student that I looked up to at Notre Dame. She is a great role model and already a superstar in the industry. I could not ask for a better resource of information and process now that we have reconnected at Focus.
What does a day in the life of Vic Howell look like?
I try to get in some mindfulness meditation in the mornings before a bike to the office to prepare for the multitude of tasks that may come across my desk. Regardless of the project status in deal pursuit, entitlements, design or construction, there is always more to do than hours in the day. It is an exercise in prioritization and time management, but it is an exercise I enjoy. And the final product in this industry is the most rewarding thing I can imagine. I would not trade the frenetic pace for any less of a feeling of pride when you get to interact with a completed project and see its impact on the world. Post-work does not come until later in the evening most days, but I spend that time relaxing and preparing for the next day’s adventures with a task list ready to tackle the next morning.
What do you like most about your job?
At its core, the job of a real estate developer is to take a site and bring new life through the development of a property. My fascination with the built environment is about every step of the process and how those pieces fit together to form something people touch and feel every day. From design to financing and construction, I get to touch every piece. That has always been my goal, and I am very blessed to have found an industry where I can truly do what I am passionate about every day.
Looking to the future, what do you hope to achieve/work on that you haven’t already?
I aspire to be a part of equitable development in whatever form it takes. My short-term goals are focused on learning more and finding ways to use my abilities to make a positive impact in any way I can. I recently joined the ULI Chicago public policy committee to be a part of the conversation and move toward real change. I am also committed to the mentorship and development of the youth in Chicago. I have been blessed with many mentors in my career and I want to be a role model for students of color who may not otherwise have the exposure to the industry or know what is possible with a little guidance and hard work.
How do you spend your time away from the office?
I have recently spent a lot of my free time engaged in conversations with former classmates nerding out on architecture and equitable development. Outside of that, it is mostly relaxing with my wife, cooking, watching movies and connecting with friends and family. If you catch me on the right day, I might be exploring a fitness routine that I will be deeply committed to for a couple weeks before it inevitably fades.
What is your favorite place that you have traveled to? Where do you hope to go next?
The year in Rome while at Notre Dame was the most influential period of my education in a lot of ways. We visited countless Italian cities that I fell in love with. The food, art and architecture are unmatched. I want to revisit some of those cities with my wife now that I am older with a different world perspective to find a new level of appreciation.
Who would you like to see answer these questions?
I would love to see Tiara Hughes with SOM answer these questions. She is a remarkable leader, and I cannot comprehend how she has the time and energy to take on all the initiatives she is engaged in.