Like many founders, Andrew Benioff was simply building the solution he himself was looking for when he started the Philadelphia Real Estate Council. The real estate think tank focuses specifically on the Mid-Atlantic region and is comprised of an exclusive group of CEO's, principals, and CRE influencers who meet quarterly to collaborate and discuss the latest trends affecting commercial real estate.
Here, Andrew shares why he thinks this type of collaboration is so essential in the commercial real estate community, and how building a strong network set him up for success.
Can you explain your background in mortgage banking/real estate and what led you to get involved in the industry?
I worked in the luxury hotel business for 15 years, mostly in operations and finance. In the wake of 9/11 when the hotel and travel industry took a major hit, I decided it was the right time to pivot and make a career change.
I had always been interested in real estate so I decided to go to graduate school to study real estate and finance. I chose the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell and went on to work in mortgage banking from there.
In 2008 I started Llenrock Group, an advisory business serving mid market owners and developers. We help our clients underwrite and structure transactions, and acquire and recapitalize on investments.
You also founded the real estate think tank, Philadelphia Real Estate Council—what led you to do this?
Networking and attending events is a major part of commercial real estate and mortgage banking, and I felt that the opportunities available in my area weren’t particularly specific to the Philadelphia market. Yes, we’d get some of the bigger conferences a few times a year, but they were just local stops as the event moved across the country. I wanted something that really explored the local issues and had a more "for us, by us" feel.
In 2009, the market was down and things were quiet so I had time.
My goal has always been quality over quantity. I'd rather have 50 members that are all CEO's, than 500 people who don’t really add much value to the discussion.
And finally, I did it to satisfy my own curiosity around what was happening in CRE in the Mid-Atlantic market.
Can you tell me a bit about the goals of PREC?
The goal is to gather senior members of the Mid-Atlantic CRE community once a quarter to discuss the topics and trends impacting the market over breakfast.
Sessions are limited to senior professionals—mostly CEO’s principals and managing directors. Typically, we bring in a panel of experts and a moderator to get the conversation started around a few pre-selected topics, but from there, we let the audience run with it. It might start with a panel discussion, but soon members are jumping in and the conversation takes on a life of its own.
In addition to that, we conduct original research and produce 1-3 white papers per year on subjects impacting the market.
How do you decide which topics to discuss in the meetings?
PREC is led by myself and board of directors. We meet twice a year to review previous meetings and plan out the future ones. We decide on topics based on what the board members are reading, hearing and feeling in the CRE community.
We also look at what’s happening in the world, even if it won’t directly affect our business.
For example healthcare is a major topic—urgent care is blowing up and hospitals are changing. None of the board members are owners or investors in those types of properties, but it’s something we found interesting. I think what we all have in common is we’re interested in continuing to learn new things.
Why do you feel it's important for real estate professionals to seek out collaboration in their markets?
Some people just don’t get the need for this sort of collaboration, and that’s fine. If it’s not related to their submarket or if they think they already know everyone who matters, they may not be interested.
All of our members are intrinsically curious people. They don’t come to our meetings just to listen, they come to get involved in the conversation and really collaborate.
I also think it’s really important to have time for these types of events carved out in your schedule. You might put off meeting with so-and-so all year but, then once a quarter, you have that time set aside to meet with true influencers in the community, without having to worry about being pitched or sold to.
How has networking with other brokers helped you succeed?
When I was transitioning from the hotel industry to CRE, I was given the advice that if I wanted to change careers successfully, I needed to be networking constantly—and not just a call and that’s it. It was about continuous relationship cultivation. This person told me to ask every person I met with for 2-3 other introductions. He said that if I kept this up, I would have unlimited new business potential. And he was right. All of the deals I’ve done in the past nine years have come to me through my network. Your network is like a plant, you have to water it constantly for it to grow and bear fruit.