by Dan Rafter
Jud Henry, senior vice president of Chicago’s EnTrust Realty Advisors, has a mission: He wants to encourage more minorities to enter commercial real estate.
Henry knows that the CRE business is a great opportunity for the entrepreneurial-minded. Unfortunately, most people in commercial real estate, as he says, “don’t look like him.”
Henry recently spoke with Midwest Real Estate News about the opportunities in commercial real estate and why minorities are still under-represented in the industry.
Loans to ham sandwiches: I started in this business in 2007. What led me to it? In 2005 and 2006 I started to do some of my own investing, mostly in residential flips. Banks were giving loans to ham sandwiches back then. I remember watching people on HGTV doing all these flips. I thought, ‘I can do that.’ I found the deals and my brother-in-law was handy. He did the repair work. We just did one-off deals in a market that we understood. During a two-year span, we made some money and we lost some money. It heightened my interest in real estate, but I became bored. I wanted to get involved in a bigger market. I wanted to learn sales.
Bad timing: At the end of 2006 and in early 2007, I ended up working on the sales team for a high-rise condo development in downtown Chicago. The timing was really bad. In 2007, every newspaper you picked up was talking about the real estate bubble. I had my first child. I was working on a commission-only basis. I had a long commute to work. It was a gut check for me. I knew I loved real estate, but what else was out there for me?
Making the move to CRE: I kept hearing about commercial real estate. But I also kept hearing that you needed to know someone to get started in it. There was someone I knew pretty well who served on a non-profit board that I also sat on. We met for a bagel and coffee one morning in late 2007. I listened to what he did in the business. He told me, ‘Jud, you’d be great. Let me put you in front of people.’ He also told me that there aren’t a lot of people who look like me in this business. He gave the best advice. He told me, ‘Work the business or it will work you.’ I took his advice and went for it. I ended up at CBRE.
Find the differentiator: My friend said something else. He said, ‘A lot of people in this business will forget who I am. But they will remember you.’ That’s because I am different in this business. I wish I wasn’t so different. I think there should be more minorities in this business. But being who I am does set me apart from some of the other people in this business. That really is one of the biggest things. Because this business is so competitive, you have to differentiate yourself somehow. I try to differentiate myself by providing top service and by knowing as much as possible about the industry. And I work at a boutique firm. We are very good at what we do, but we are different, too.
I had to go into commercial real estate knowing the reality that I look different than most people in this I have to work hard, and I have to do great work.
The unicorn: We are a minority-owned business that does institutional-caliber work. That is to our advantage. We are the unicorn in this business. That is our story.
Access and awareness: Why isn’t there greater diversity in this business? I point to access and awareness. I grew up in a very hard-working blue-collar family. My dad wasn’t a member at a country club. I couldn’t reach out to him and say, ‘Hey, dad. I want to get into real estate. Can you put me in front of club members who work with real estate firms?’ I had to dig deep. I had to reach out to the one person I knew who was willing to talk to me. It can be hard for many minorities to gain the access they need to break into this business.
Awareness can be a challenge, too. You don’t see a lot of the large firms at historically black colleges or universities recruiting students. If you are a young, talented black person, you might not know much about commercial real estate.
Compensation can be an issue, too. I grew up watching my parents live paycheck to paycheck. Going into a commission-only business, you eat what you kill. The idea of not being paid for six months is not attractive. Typically, a lot of my peers pursue careers like law, medicine or engineering. They know that in those careers they are going to get a regular paycheck. Many minorities are more risk-averse. The commission-only thing makes minorities veer away from this business, speaking broadly.
The right career: What I like about this career is that there is no cap on what you can accomplish. There is no limit on the amount of money you can make. That is great if it fits your personality. I get to work with some really interesting people and decision-makers, too. I get to work with and represent some fascinating companies. It’s fun to get behind the scenes and see how those individuals work. You can learn so much by working with good, sophisticated people.
I also like the flexibility. You are your own profit center. You are an entrepreneur, through and through. It’s nice to work up and know that your day is probably going to be different than what it was yesterday.
Family time: We have four kids, so I spend a lot of time with them when I’m not working. I don’t have much free time, which is OK. I have a daughter who is 9, a son who is 7, a son who is 5 and, just last year, we adopted our fourth child, a boy from Ethiopia who is 2 years old. My wife stayed in Ethiopia about a month. I stayed 15 days. That was an amazing experience.
When I do have free time, I love to travel and to play golf. I love to eat sushi. I’m a pretty happy camper if I can do all three of those things in one day. That would be the perfect day if I could do those things with my family and friends.