Dean Scott DeRue says the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan is the ideal place for a real estate center. Among the most successful real estate professionals in the world are Michigan alumni, including Sam Zell, founder of Equity Group Investments, and the namesake of the school, Stephen Ross, who founded and still heads the largest real estate development company in the country.
Another alum, Ron Weiser, founded national real estate investment firm McKinley Associates in 1968; that company now owns or manages real estate in 20 states valued in excess of $2.8 billion. Weiser, a University of Michigan regent who earned his bachelor’s degree from Michigan’s business school in 1966, agreed with DeRue that Michigan Ross is the perfect place for a real estate center — which is why he made a $10 million gift earlier this year to launch the Weiser Center for Real Estate.
“The Ross School has a long history of excellence in real estate and I think this is just going to amplify that long history,” DeRue said in the school’s February announcement of the launch of the new center. “I would hope that we are regarded already, globally, as one of the leaders in this space, and I think the Weiser Center for Real Estate is only going to further elevate our excellence in real estate and give students new opportunities that no other business school offers.”
‘HOW REAL ESTATE PLAYS AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN ALL TYPES OF BUSINESS’
The new Weiser Center for Real Estate will serve as a comprehensive real estate center that offers a suite of practice-oriented courses at both the graduate and undergraduate levels focused at the intersection of business and real estate, DeRue said, where students will learn from real estate professionals, apply their knowledge in practice, and prepare for the complex field of real estate business.
The center will collaborate with schools across the U-M campus, the dean added, including the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, and real estate firms to offer Multidisciplinary Action Projects and other action-based learning experiences, in addition to courses on real estate finance, real estate law, real estate investing, asset and property management, sustainable development, and more.
“The Weiser Center for Real Estate will transform the real estate offerings at Ross and the university by providing students with practical training, supporting applied research and thought leadership, and serving as a catalyst for interdisciplinary collaboration at Michigan and beyond,” DeRue said in the school’s announcement for the new center.
“Students will gain the knowledge, skills, and connections they need to launch successful careers in real estate. Students will also learn how real estate plays an important role in all types of business, and how understanding the principles of real estate is essential for managing global and distributed organizations. The center’s engagement with industry professionals and companies will elevate our reputation as a leading center of excellence in this exciting field.”
“I look forward to the center becoming the hub for real estate at the university and Ross,” Ron Weiser said in the school’s news release. “I am thrilled to be able to help bring this exciting program to fruition at Michigan Ross.”
‘TRULY A STUDENT-MANAGED FUND’
The long-term impact of the Covid-19 outbreak and its reverberations across the U.S. economy on Michigan’s Weiser Center, or UCLA Anderson’s Ziman Center, or UNC’s Wood Center, remain to be seen. Kenan-Flagler’s Dave Hartzell says coronavirus and its ramifications immediately worked their way into the school’s instruction this spring, even as students and faculty acclimated to virtual learning.
“In all of our classes in the spring, COVID was a part of every case and most discussions, given the importance of today’s events on our current students in terms of job opportunities and real estate markets,” Hartzell says. “We went virtual over spring break. So within the spring semester, that was seven and a half weeks completely virtually. And I’m a little older than the average faculty member — I’ll be 65 in September — and also a slow adapter generally. But man, over spring break, we all worked our butts off faculty-wise and cranked it up.
“And I think our kids especially — they’re younger than my kids, so I can call them kids — but they answered the bell, so it was fun.”
UNC Kenan-Flagler’s real estate capstone development course is taught in the fall, by which time the real estate fund will most likely be “pencils up” again, Hartzell says. If Covid-19 changes how student fund managers make investment decisions, it will be by emphasizing the importance of the fundamentals.
“I’m a huge believer that despite Covid and all of the resultant dislocations, we will still invest and develop in real estate with the same process, the same analytical tools as we have always done, with the usual updates based on real estate innovations,” he says. “Covid and other crises have huge impacts, and I think that these fundamentals become even more important within a crisis.
“From a learning perspective, it’s been awesome. Since we went virtual like everybody else in the industry, we’re not really investing. We sort of say we went pencils down, because we are still trying to figure out what pricing is and what have you, and a lot of the sponsors are more worried about the assets that they hold. And what that’s done has provided a great opportunity to learn about asset management and crises, which again is just a really great experience for the kids.
“We’ll find opportunities. It’s just when we get to the other side, what will those opportunities look like? Again, we’ll keep watch over the assets that we still have participation in. And when I say we, this is truly a student-managed fund.”
See the next pages for a directory of U.S. B-schools with prominent real estate programs and centers.