Words of Wisdom from Real Estate Alumni

October 4, 2013

If you are reading this, then you probably already know that the real estate program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was recently ranked as the top real estate program in the country. Given the program’s reputation and my desire to pursue a career in real estate, it is obvious why I considered UW-Madison as I evaluated graduate programs. But what does it mean to be a top ranked real estate program? The impressive faculty and applied learning opportunities certainly play a major role, but the alumni network, otherwise known as the Wisconsin Real Estate Alumni Association (WREAA), was equally if not more important in my decision to pursue an MBA in real estate at UW-Madison.

In my two visits to Madison to learn more about the MBA program, the Graaskamp Center staff and first-year MBA students both explained that WREAA members are typically very approachable and involved in the program. One student mentioned that if he could have given himself one piece of advice prior to starting the program, he would have started reaching out to alumni sooner and more frequently.

I took that student’s advice to heart and scheduled 7 meetings in 2 cities over the course of 4 days in early August. While the alumni I contacted were mostly located in metro Denver, which is where I would like to land post-MBA, I had more than just meeting Denver-based alumni in mind. I really wanted to learn more about their diverse careers, as well as listen to their career advice, and then share what I learned with MBA, undergraduate, and prospective students. After meeting with the 7 alums, a few constant themes of advice emerged:

  • Meaningful relationships are critical in real estate! And it takes work to build them. Don’t do anything to jeopardize your reputation. Stay involved in the WREAA post-graduation, and consider joining other professional organizations, such as ULI, to continue to build your network.
  • Focus on learning financial fundamentals while in school. This includes the technical aspects of modeling in Excel and Argus. Even if you want to be a developer, understanding the financial fundamentals of real estate is critical.
  • Develop strong communication skills. Especially concise and actionable business writing and presentation skills.
  • Develop a broad understanding of the industry, but eventually specialize. You’ll likely be more valuable to a potential employer if you specialize within a certain aspect of real estate.
  • Enjoy your time in Madison. Take advantage of opportunities such as Real Estate Club, as well as local and international trips. Be sure to enjoy an occasional beverage on the Memorial Union Terrace.

I learned so much more than what I have shared above, which is why I have included links below to full alumni profiles. The profiles include a mix of information including career paths, current roles and companies, reasons to be excited and sometimes frustrated by real estate, and advice for current students. A big thanks to all the alumni who participated!

Tim Podboy (BBA 2000, MBA 2006)

Chico LeClaire (BBA 1974)

Mike Komppa (BS 1972, MS 1975)

Tyler Downs (MS 2002)

Steve Bye (BBA 1973, MBA 1974)

Dan Metzger (BBA 1978)

Joe Bowar (BBA 1987, MS 1994)

Chad MesserWritten by Chad Messer. Chad is a first-year MBA student in the James A. Graaskamp Center for Real Estate. Chad is excited to be at UW-Madison where he can build on his previous experience in store development with Kroger. Post-MBA, Chad aspires to lead a career in real estate investment or development.