Michigan Ross Makes A Big Real Estate Splash

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Poets&Quants: How did the Weiser Real Estate Center come about? 

Scott DeRue: It’s very exciting. Ron Weiser is an alum of the school and a long-time supporter of the university across a number of schools and colleges here on campus, from medicine to policy to business. And he’s had a long and successful career in real estate. I was sharing with him our aspirations around really building a world-class center of excellence around real estate education and engagement, that combined both education and training for our students, research, and thought leadership, really driven by our faculty who are doing really interesting work in the real estate space. And we talked about engagement with companies and organizations all around the globe on how they leverage real estate to create value in their businesses.

Together with that vision, we created a concept really for this Weiser Center for Real Estate that combined all those elements of education, research and engagement with companies. He got excited about that, and this is just the beginning. I think there’s a long road ahead, in terms of what we can do in building this sector into really a global center of excellence around real estate research and education.

Real estate is a small but consistent path for MBAs. Is Michigan hoping to grow the number of its graduates going into real estate?

It’s a common path. There’s the big institutional investors — Blackstone Equity Group, that Sam Zell owns, that’s another path. But there’s another path where, no matter what type of global organization that you work in, the distributed nature of organizations today means that companies of all sorts — tech companies and consumer companies — have to really have well-thought-out, sophisticated real estate strategies to understand how they build their businesses. That’s a big part of this as well. The graduate certificate and the undergraduate minor we offer will both equip students with the knowledge and the skills that are necessary to excel in real estate, no matter which of those paths they follow.

We see growing demand, both at the graduate and undergraduate level, in real estate. We’re one of the few schools in the country that has a real estate fund, where the students actually invest in property-level deals. They go and they identify the deals, they do the due diligence, they write the investment memos. We have an investment committee of real estate professionals — such as Jeff Blau from Related, Bill Stein from Blackstone — that approve or don’t approve the deals. And then we invest real capital in those deals.

I use that as a great marker of testing demand, because the demand for that experience has grown dramatically in the last five or so years. That just demonstrates the interest level that our students bring, both at the undergraduate and MBA levels, in real estate. By creating this center, where we’re going to have new courses, new faculty, new action-based learning experiences, I think that’s only going to further accelerate an increased demand for these types of career paths.

Will there be a ceremony or a ribbon cutting?

We will certainly have a ribbon cutting, if you will, or ceremony. That will probably be an event that brings together alumni and thought leaders and faculty and students who are interested in real estate, and the Weiser family, Ron and Eileen, to come together and celebrate the gift, the impact that it has already had and will continue to have on the school.

We’re still planning on when the best time to do it is. I’m optimistic it’ll be this school year. Sometimes there is value in waiting until the fall because there’s all that energy coming back to campus. We probably have some of the investments that we’re going to make, whether it be in faculty or new courses, new programs, even be ready to announce formally at that point. We’re still debating that.


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